Create Your Own Vintage Ephemera Wall

by Warren Clark March 14, 2019

Some time ago, we bid on and won a large box of vintage photographs at a local auction, and we knew right away we wanted to do something fun and interesting with them. After giving it some thought, we decided to put them to use as a one-of-a-kind wall covering for our spring update to the shop. And if you've been in recently, you've probably noticed the updated display wall. Overall it was a pretty easy project that just required a few supplies, a little time, and lots of patience!

While we chose vintage photographs as our medium, you could use practically any paper ephemera (vintage sheet music, book pages, greeting cards, etc) to create an accent wall and focal point in your home that is as unique as you are using these simple steps. 

First, you're going to need to choose a wall and prep it. You're going to want a wall that is as smooth as possible. The wall should be patched and primed before you begin your application.

Next, you'll want to gather all of your supplies. Choose your medium and collect enough of whatever you're using to cover your surface. We'd recommend you overestimate, as it's better to have leftovers than not enough! You'll also need wallpaper paste, a roller, a squeegee/smoother, and a damp cloth. Cover your work surface with cardboard or some other covering to protect the area. Now it's time to get to work.

You'll want to start in a corner and work your way around the entire perimeter of the wall to start with. Pick your corner, apply paste to the back of your first photo, and then apply to the wall and smooth out any wrinkles with your squeegee. Then repeat the process.  We chose to start in the the top left corner of our wall and work from left to right, top to bottom.  We used photos of varying sizes for added visual interest.

As you're applying the photos (or whatever else you may be using), you will want a very slight overlap along the edges to allow for shrinkage as the the wallpaper paste dries. If you're using items of varying sizes, you will create the occasional gap or space.  That's perfectly okay!  You can go back in later and fill in those gaps.

Once you've framed the perimeter of your wall, you then go in and start filling in the rest of the space working from the edges. As your applying photos and smoothing them over with the squeegee, you will likely end up with paste oozing from the edges.  That's where the damp cloth comes into play. Just wipe the extra paste off the wall before it dries and keep on going.  Soon enough, you'll have a full or nearly full wall.  If you have any of those previously-mentioned gaps or spaces, now is the time to go in and cover them with appropriately-sized photos.

Finally, once the wall is fully covered, allow the paste to dry at least 24 hours. After that time, you MAY want to go back over the surface very lightly with a damp cloth to remove any residual wallpaper paste that may be left on some of the photos.

And that's all there is to it! Pretty simple and easy.  And here are a few tips to make it even easier:

  • This is probably NOT a project for total perfectionists. It's next to impossible to keep absolutely straight lines.
  • Sort your photos (or whatever else you're using) by approximate size and shape in advance.
  • Keep the smallest photos set aside to fill in small gaps.
  • Also set aside a few of your favorite pieces to assure they receive the most prominent placement.
  • Avoid using items that are too thick.  They don't adhere as well and/or tend to curl up on the edges as they dry.
  • Don't be afraid to personalize your project with photos or other items that are special to you. If you look closely at our wall, you can find pictures of some of us as children, some of our parents, and even a few "non-vintage" photos of our shop dog, Dingo!


Warren Clark
Warren Clark


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