Paperhanging: The Lost But Most Profitable Skill In 2022

What if I told you that you could easily make six figures installing wallpaper? What if I told you that this forgotten trade, which used to be somewhat common, now easily commands over $200 per hour minimum, and barely anyone realizes it.

There is a dearth of paperhangers (official word for wallpaper installers) in the United States. The popularity of wallpaper has exploded in the past 10 years.

In 2012, we were seeing articles like “Is Wallpaper is Back in Style,” and “Is Wallpaper Popular Again.” It was almost like in the early 2010s we didn’t believe this trend was actually serious and a few over-excited home décor enthusiasts were getting spoofed.

However, we’ve all come to realize that this is, in fact, a real trend that here’s to stay for the foreseeable future and while there is no shortage of companies, like these, who SELL wallpaper, there is an extreme shortage of people who actually HANG wallpaper.

How Did We Get Here?

So why are there so few people who actually install wallpaper? You would think you’d be able to pick up the phone and find plenty of tradesmen who do this kind of work.

The answer is simple: nobody was buying wallpaper for 20 years. You can call it the “Middle Ages” of wallpaper in the US because it was as dark for most paperhangers as medical technology was in the 1350 AD.

There is a debate as to whether it started in the late 80s or early 90s but during this time home builders decided it was easier to offer a free washer and dryer than wallpaper. To be fair, the whole process of having the new buyers pick out wallpaper and coordinating it to be installed added another time-consuming step to an already time-consuming home buying process. Ponying up for a new Maytag got rid of this headache fast.

But its effects were devasting to the wallpaper industry. Most millennials and Z grew up without as much as seeing a strip of wallpaper inside their homes.

With every passing year it drifted out more of the country’s subconscious until finally many people didn’t even know it existed.

And so, during approximately 20 years installers left the trade and no new members entered the trade. The craftmanship, skill and knowledge that it takes to install wallpaper was lost.

Fast forward to 2011 and wallpaper was barely alive, on life support. Thank goodness for the Northeast.That was the only area that never fully abandoned wallpaper due it its abundance of colonial homes that never look quite right with just paint.

What Saved Wallpaper

We don’t really know what brought it back. Was it HGTV? A&E? Joanna Gaines? Or the circle of life? Regardless, wallpaper came roaring back and now everything is talking about doing a small area somewhere in their house.

It will never be as popular as it used to be. Gone are the days when every home had wallpaper in almost every room of the house. That’s over. Now it’s more of a niche item that’s used in a few areas on an accent wall. Consider it a fun new thing, that’s not really new, but new to most people now that they do to add some thrill and excitement in their lives, like sky diving.

Unfortunately, everyone wants wallpaper but there are no installers anymore. How ironic. When nobody wanted wallpaper there were plenty of installers sitting by the phone; when everyone wants wallpaper again there are barely any left!

There are literally less than five installers for many major metropolitan areas with millions of people in them. And some of them have less than that.

Life is great if you’re a wallpaper installer right now. It’s like investing in a stock that does nothing for a decade and then shots up 300% in one day. Most paperhangers have their calendars full with customers begging to fitted into an already overbooked schedule. To say there is not enough demand to meet the supply is an understatement.

There are no deals. No discounts. No negotiations. Any installer can name any price he wants and the only reason why some haven’t raised their prices is because they don’t realize what very advantageous position they are actually in at the moment.

How To Become a Paperhanger?

Two suggestions.

First, there is a course that was just made by the Wallcovering Installers Association. It is split up into 10 modules that are $125 each. Very cheap, if you know what traditional school costs.

But there is a better way.

I would suggest you find a paperhanger and work for them. Trust me, they are all hiring! Every paperhanger is backed up and could use a hand. You might not be able to hang wallpaper yet but you can do all the other things they need. Again, every paperhanger in the United States needs help and complains that nobody wants to work. They would be happy if someone called them, eager to work, even if they have no experience.

The fact that you want to work will excite any wallpaper installer and if you are dependable and on time you will be the answer to their prayers. Many of them that are left are getting up there in age (50s is young with paperhangers) and having someone who can just carry tools, drive, or hold something is of immense help. Once you learn the basics, they probably will start sending you on some easy jobs to do alone while they take the harder projects that include grasscloth or specialty woods.


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