If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you probably know that I LOVE colour. Colour, patterns and surface are three of the things that make me tick. So imagine my excitement when my very favourite paint company invited me down to Dorset to view all three with the new patterns in their wallpaper collection. Yes, just a little bit like someone had chosen me for the prime netball team (insert whatever your high school ambition was here!). I love Farrow and Ball because they have genuinely transformed many of the spaces in my home. Paint for me has the greatest impact of any design decision and it’s something that I plan most meticulously in my home (I have been known to buy enough sample paints to sink a small ship in search of just the absolute right hue), as a result I know the Farrow & Ball colour chart better than some friends birthdays!
Their paints started in the mainstream as a heritage paint brand working closely with the restoration and conservation of historic buildings, but it’s inimitable tones successfully integrate across all design styles and most shades look equally as great in super modern settings. One of the reasons, I believe, that it’s an architect & interior designer staple is due to how successful the brand is at transitioning so well amongst these styles. It’s also really hard to copy, say on a colour matching machine from a well known competitor, the high quality pigment and resin worked on by hand in small batches to precision that’s well above industry standard means that whilst you can copy a linear tone, a Polaroid if you like, of the colour you want, you can’t recreate its actual depth (or beauty) without its recipe. The company has become a part of the lexicon of British interior style, being chosen by Greyson Perry in his 2014 deconstruction of modern taste as a touchstone of the middle brow, particularly with reference to the paint names, if you know your Elephants Breath from your Mouses Back then you are a part of this satire – yes me too!
When I saw the historic house we would be starting our day in it felt entirely appropriate. It made me think of old school interior design – ladies in pearl necklaces instructing on good taste, which is actually utterly seductive when mixed with Farrow & Ball’s humour and unfussy sense of place. A little about the beautiful house which played host to the wallpaper launch, well, Deans Court is a privately owned home, which has been on site in one form or another for 1,300 years. It’s current structure (last updated in 1868) is a beautiful red brick Georgian villa. The home has a special relationship with Farrow & Ball as a historic building based in the area the company was founded in 1946 and which now showcases many of their colours. The house was pretty magical, we were shown round by the owner William and his tour was great fun, full of anecdote and interesting asides from his family’s past and the continuing restoration. Aside from the family of poor polar bears a descendent had captured long ago and turned into taxidermy rugs (couldn’t resist a shot with one) my highlight was the drawing room (pictured below) painted in Hague Blue. This is a colour I recently used in my own bathroom makeover but which looked entirely different, alive with alternate colours, in this setting. F&B paints come as near to living paint as I can imagine, they seem to camouflage with their surroundings whilst the depth of their pigment allows them to morph into different shades depending on their environment. We were shown two rooms which had been designed by Liberty in the 1920’s and one stole my heart. The images below contain a detailed shot of the paint in this room which was stippled on and looks like snakeskin to me (!) it’s also very on trend (and a century early indeed) mixing green and blush pink to beautiful effect. I’ve never seen paint like this in real life and it was a real treat. The house and grounds were stunning and I am more than slightly tempted to go back and stay in one of the delightful holiday cottages on site, which you can see here.
In one of Deans Court’s gorgeous rooms, Farrow & Ball’s lovely Head of Creative Charlotte Cosby showcased the new wallpaper collection. In celebration of F&B’s 70th birthday the collection is based on designs from the archives, specifically from the 1940’s. I love the idea of going back into the archives on company anniversaries and it’s usually really successful, mixing something authentically vintage for modern tastes, especially a company like F&B who have such a commitment and reverence to the past. How cute is this press kit (below)? There are three new papers in the collection, they are: Arcade, Gable and Enigma. They are all lovely. I am supposed to say this, but they genuinely are.
One of the loveliest aspects of Farrow & Ball wallpaper, which is pretty well unique to them, is that instead of using inks to print pattern they use the actual Farrow & Ball paint (slightly watered down). This means that you always know that you will find a colour match with their paints but it also means that their papers achieve a textural surface which is full of artisan variation. The first paper we looked at was Arcade, which is a really stunning, romantic interpretation of Deco motifs, Charlotte’s favourite colourway of this was the green which I love too, the pink and gold seem to really dance off this background in a very delicate way. The second print was my absolute favourite, it’s a charming pastoral scene called Gable and nearly didn’t make it past the first draft after a conversation about whether people could see it working in adult spaces. For the record, it does, look at this kitchen or this guestroom in it. When the black and pink colour way was unravelled I could have died it was so cute, I’ve decided that one very lucky little boy is going to be getting it on the fireplace wall of his bedroom. What I love about this print is it’s naivety and true vintage feel, it’s not chintzy but it has a wonderful touch of English rural, almost an English Toile de Jouy in silhouette form. The final print unveiled was Enigma, you guessed it, named after the WW2 encoding machine. It’s bold geometric pattern was a massive hit with my fellow bloggers and although I don’t think it suits the personal style of my own home I can see it looking exquisite in a polished interior scheme. The paint has a very raised effect on all of the F&B papers due to method mentioned above, almost like damask, but this is particularly true of Enigma which almost feels like the pattern has been placed upon the paper, a real textural curiosity, I like it best in the blue and gold colour way.
After a yummy rustic lunch at Deans Court, we went on to Farrow & Ball HQ which is an awful lot smaller than you might imagine for a global company with stores in so many other countries. I’m not sure it’s much bigger in total than my house times two! We did a thoroughly fun craft making a lampshade out of F&B papers, but I confess that I can’t share it as I put the lamp holder on the wrong way round (oops, did I mention that I was functioning on very little sleep?). We then began our tour of the paint and paper factories. This was another revelation to me, the way that the wallpaper is produced, seeing small scale machines with paint brush attachments that literally stroke the paint onto the paper before being dried and then block printed with pattern. It was far quainter and small scale than I had ever imagined and given the current attention to where and how things are produced made the paper even more seductive to me.
Again the paint factory (about the size of a school gymnasium) was a bit of a surprise. It was really cool to see the ratio of people to machines involved in producing this paint. It’s made in small scale batches and tested by humans (albeit assisted by technologies) for different stages of precision. The first barrel of paint being made that I came across was a paint I know well, I guessed correctly that it was Teresa’s Green which we’ve used in our last two living rooms. I don’t share this just as a smug aside but because I think it illustrates just how unique the company’s colours are. Farrow & Ball make many shades which fall within the opalescent green-blue/blue-green spectrum and yet each shade is utterly distinctive, distinctive enough that if it’s a colour you love you will recognise it instantly (even when wet in a big barrel). It’s for this reason, that only two rooms in our current house (or the previous one) are not Farrow & Ball shades. The paint is never bland, always rich and beautiful but with a depth that I find undefinable, I’ve definitely said this on blog posts before but so many of their shades feel endless, like you could actually immerse yourself in them when you look into them but at the same time they also recede away so as not to intrude. Clever, huh? I now understand a little more of the magic but I’m still very impressed.
I asked one of the girls giving us the tour what the company’s top selling shades were. It’s one of those things you get a vague idea of when buying their paint, for example I know that when Homebase stock a colour I’m using its fairly popular (in the top 100) but I know I’m using something more unusual if I have to go to Farrow & Ball themselves to buy it. The answer was that the top three shades are the three lightest (All White, Pointing & Wimborne White). Now don’t get me wrong but, I know that there are huge differences in Farrow & Ball’s neutrals (I was the girl at work who told the builders that the tins of Strong White in their tins was most definitely not what they were hoping to replicate on the wall and I was correct even down to the white I guessed) I found this a little disappointing. I’ve used Pointing and Wimborne myself to decorate with, they are lovely shades of off-white, but for me Farrow & Ball really comes into its own with richer pigments so I thought I would leave you with my favourite 8 Farrow shades, most of which I’ve used myself.
From top to bottom, left to right: Nancy’s Blushes, Setting Plaster, Hague Blue, Churlish Green (this could have made the list for its name alone!), Slipper Satin, Oval Room Blue, Teresa’s Green and Down Pipe.
What do you think? With F&B it’s hard for me not to sound like I’m writing a fan letter so you’ll have to excuse my enthusiasm. I would like to thank Farrow and Ball for putting on such an enjoyable day down in Dorset.