From the time I learned that I was pregnant with Elias, I started dreaming about his nursery. I wanted something that would “grow” with him… that I wouldn’t have to re-do every year as he grew up. Of course, over his 3 long years of life, he’s moved rooms and has had to deal with Momma’s decorating itches… I really cannot leave things alone for too long. But I’m back where I started – wanting something that would go from being cool to a 3 year old to being cool to a 15 year old (is that too much to ask?).
The answer came from my mom – who saved every single map insert into National Geographic magazine from the late 80’s on. Thanks, Mom! I’ve known that the maps were available for my taking for a while… so I decided I would wallpaper Elias’s room in the maps! A map-lover’s dream come true! I thought about doing this a couple years ago, pre-kids, and way back then I found one site online about doing this – but when I went back to search for that site again, I had no luck finding it. It was all up to me and my imagination.
I prepped the room by painting it a smoky light blue (there is more gray in the paint than there appears in the pictures). Then I waited for a whole day when I could work uninterrupted. 6 months later (thanks to Laura, my sister-in-law), the boys were gone for a day, and I ran to the home improvement store and grabbed a bucket of wallpaper paste and some wallpaper hanging supplies (brush, metal angle thingie, little tiny wooden roller).
To prep, I wiped down the walls with a damp cloth, to take down any dust or cobwebs or whatever else gets on the walls of a 3 year old’s room. And I separated out my maps to be sure I had enough and could find the ones I wanted easily. My mom had saved about 60 of the maps, with a couple old road maps and travel maps thrown in to boot. Some of the maps were ones I really didn’t want to hang – like the “Migratory Patterns of North American Birds.” Serious. Also some other history related ones… and I was going mostly for the blue-geography-book ones. Since I had enough maps to be picky, I set the bird and history maps aside… I had a big world map I wanted in a prominent place, as well as a map of the US. Then I had maps of each of the continents (including Antarctica!) and maps of individual countries, and I had a map of Virginia, too….
There’s a picture of the room before. I had already started to set things up and separate my maps out when I remembered I needed a “before” picture. This is one of the walls I covered in the maps – I chose to do 2 of the walls – the one with the door to the room and the one opposite it.
Please forgive me for only having one picture of the work in progress. I was racing against the clock, and I had wallpaper paste all over my hands – so this one picture was all I could do.
The picture gives you a basic idea of how I did this – slap some wallpaper paste on the wall, stick a map up, and repeat. And that is the basic idea. However, here is what I learned:
- On top of the maps, wallpaper paste (mine was labeled as wallpaper border paste – no different from wallpaper paste from what I understand), and wallpapering tools, you will also want an exacto knife, paper towels, wet cloths (lots – for your hands), drop clothes, scissors, extra maps, and patience.
- Remove all outlet and light switch covers and window hangings. I left up the brackets for the roller shade that is over Elias’s window, but I took down the actual shade. Thankfully, I haven’t made the valances for his room yet, so I didn’t have to worry about that.
- Start in one corner of the room (as shown above) and either work your way up or over or down…
- Brush enough wallpaper paste on the wall to cover the area of one map (not a really thick layer of paste, but don’t be stingy, either), and then place the map in the corner first and align with the wall and floorboard. Press the rest of the map to the wall, and wait for a minute, because…
- The map will soak up some of the paste and expand a bit. You’ll notice the expansion in the folds of the map – you’ll swear that you had all the folds and creases pressed out, and then all of a sudden, they will reappear. Gently use your hands to spread out the map a bit more – it will scootch pretty easily over the wallpaper paste to let you press those creases and folds out again.
- Use the metal angle thingie to gently press the extra wallpaper paste and any air bubbles out from behind the map. If you can’t get the paste or air bubbles out, take your exacto knife and make a small slice in the map over the paste or bubble, and gently press out. You really won’t be able to tell where you sliced the map when everything dries.
- Gentle is the word here. South Carolina and the north of Spain were almost completely destroyed in my rush to get things done – South Carolina was early on, and the north of Spain was later, when I thought I knew what I was doing.
- You can spread any extra paste from your brush or that is squished out from behind the map or winds up on your hands on the wall where your next map will go – you’ll just brush it out with your next round of paste.
- When you come up to a window, or the ceiling, or the wall, you might find you are short or over a bit. If you’re short a bit – not enough for a full map – cut a strip from one of your extra maps (the road maps worked out really well for these patches). If you’re over a bit, use your metal angle thingie to create a straight edge against the window trim/ceiling/wall and trim away the extra using your exacto knife. Go slow and gently here, too – the paper is wet and easily ripped if you go tearing over it with your exacto.
- I did have to cut down the maps over the window and door a bit – keep those extra scraps to help you patch other areas.
- Put a fan in the room to help everything dry – I just kept the kids out of the room for the rest of the day, but Elias was able to sleep in there that night, and it was not smelly at all.
- 2 walls (approximately 9’x12′) took 36 maps of varying size plus extra for patching and 2 small containers of paste.
I am so pleased with the result! I was thinking about painting over it with a tinted glaze to antique the maps a bit, but once I got everything up, I didn’t want to mess up the beauty of the maps!
Elias was so excited, too – and he’s already learned so much! Seriously! He knows where we live on the US and world maps, and he knows all about Egypt and Antarctica, and he knows about constellations, too, from one of the space maps I hung up. When Daddy goes out of town for business, we show Elias where he is going, and we also have used it to show him where different missionaries are that we know.
Don’t be afraid of this project – if you fell in love with this, I promise you it is easy enough for a novice wallpaper-hanger to do! I’ve hung wallpaper before, and this was way easier! I detailed all the things I learned so you can learn by my mistakes, and so this would be documented out in the internet somewhere…
National Geographic actually sells their map inserts in their online store… but they’re pretty pricey for a DIY project (at least to me). Here’s another site that sells the National Geographic maps (even pricier!), and here’s a site that sells all kinds of maps. You’ll have better luck searching on eBay – enter a search on National Geographic maps, and you’ll see tons of individual maps for sale as well as lots of maps – you might be able to get a ton of maps without spending a ton of money! Also, try old Atlases (from library sales or yard sales) or individual maps from yard sales. If you Freecycle, you might be able to put out a request for maps and get a ton, too!
So go find some maps and make your little one (or you!) a map room that will last them for years to come!