SLAPPING A COUPLE of coats of emulsion on the walls is probably the quickest kind of decorating, and a cheap way of brightening up a room. But without a bit of preparation, the effect can be spoiled by peeling or flaking, or the pattern showing through. The basic rules are as follows:

1 Old patterned wallpaper can be painted over, but it should be wiped clean with a sponge and soapy water first. Stick any peeling edges back down with wallpaper paste.

2 It is better to strip the paper off first. A steam wallpaper-stripper makes life much easier. Get one from a hire shop for the weekend.

3 If the plaster is in good condition, you may be able to paint straight on to it. Sand it down lightly with sandpaper wrapped round a sanding block. Fill cracks with filler, after brushing any dust out, and wetting with water from a garden spray.

4 If the plaster is in poor condition, fill the main cracks and then wallpaper it with a heavy grade of lining paper. This is extra work but is cheaper and better than replastering. Use a steam roller to make sure edges are stuck down.

5 Paint walls with a roller rather than a brush. Use a broomstick stuck into the handle to do ceilings without having to stand on anything. Use a long-handled radiator roller to reach into awkward spots. Thin the first coat of emulsion with water to help it go on more easily. Don't worry about the patchy effect; the second coat will cover it up.

Jeff Howell