Peeling back the secrets of Farrow & Ball

Darkly panelled walls from Farrow & Ball

Darkly panelled walls from Farrow & Ball - Credit: Archant

Last week I was invited to a presentation by Farrow & Ball. Truth be told, I arrived rather uneducated in the topic of liquefied solvent composition. Isn’t paint just paint?

Farrow & Ball aren't just about paint. Their wallpaper is something special too...

Farrow & Ball aren't just about paint. Their wallpaper is something special too... - Credit: Archant

The answer: no, it’s not.

What’s fascinating about this brand is not so much the exclusivity that their products do indeed offer but the thought that clearly goes into every shade of colour, every design of wallpaper and every decorating technique. For instance, think about your living room for a second. Is it north-facing or south-facing? Have you ever actually considered this before? I have, but that’s more because I have spent many a Saturday morning cursing the sun as it barges its way through the gaps in my bedroom curtains, which happens to be east-facing, consequently rendering my living room west-facing (great for romantic sunset watching).

What difference does it make though? Rather a lot, actually.

Farrow & Ball champion bold colours on wood finishings

Farrow & Ball champion bold colours on wood finishings - Credit: Archant

Founded in the 1950s in Dorset, the Farrow & Ball factory still stands where it first stood. And although the company has most certainly moved with the times, every colour from then through to today is still available (some readily, others upon request) with all batch numbers remaining the same as they were in the old days.

But why is this name so revered? Why is a colour consultation recommended when investing in this brand of interior decor?

In essence, it’s the way in which the paint is designed and assembled. Farrow & Ball use natural pigments during creation, enabling the paint to radiate when the light hits it. Rather than churning out industrial ink-based paint that simply sits on a wall, this brand is all about making the wall pop.

Grass inspired wallpaper on a feature wall

Grass inspired wallpaper on a feature wall - Credit: Archant

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A room decorated in Farrow & Ball is more than just a 1-Dimensional experience. The colours jump out strikingly, bringing the space to life. Other than establishing which point on the compass your rooms look toward, there’s more to consider: is your room a night room or a day room? Is it rather large or very little? It’s when these questions are posed that Farrow & Ball are ready with very clever answers.

The brand centres around it’s ‘neutrals’ collection, of which there are six core families. This is the starting point. The best part about choosing your neutrals is that it’s not dependent on how the light hits the room or how long the space is or which way the wind is blowing. You just get to pick the ones you like the best; be it the traditional neutrals, the contemporaries, the red or yellow-based neutrals, the easy greys or the architectural cools.

Don't be afraid of the dark: embrace deep shades in smaller rooms

Don't be afraid of the dark: embrace deep shades in smaller rooms - Credit: Archant

Then it’s time to get out the compass. This is the really fun part - expanding on the neutrals, adding colour to it.


If you’re happier with subtlety and simplicity then this brand will still work for you. The fact that I can count 52 shades from their colour chart that err on the side of safe and unimposing means that even if you’re the type that thinks mixing two tones of white in one room is daring then you’ll find something here (may I recommend White Tie and Clunch).

Incorporate your lighting ideas into your re-decoration project

Incorporate your lighting ideas into your re-decoration project - Credit: Archant

I was talked through the four modes of decoration that Farrow & Ball champion, three of which are far from regular. Naturally there’s the standard dark wall/light woodwork that you’ll typically see in a home. But Farrow & Ball are ballsy enough to suggest reversing this. Light walls and dark woodwork looks good! Wood, after all, is naturally darker. Why mess with that? Why not paint your coving, windowsills, door-frames and skirting a deep shade of Pelt and your wall space a light yet contemporary Dimpse. Even being less overt with the woodwork still works beautifully. Switch Pelt for Mizzle for instance.

Then comes the concept that would have many a Dickensian wainscoter turning in their grave: painting paneling.

We’re not simply talking about a lick of gloss - Farrow & Ball push a method which sees a room painted a single colour, including the wood paneling throughout it. One might argue that this jeopardizes the feature accent that paneling provides. It doesn’t. Quite the opposite. In the words of Farrow & Ball, this allows the panels to talk.

Farrow & Ball silvery tones

Farrow & Ball silvery tones - Credit: Archant

Then there’s the wallpaper, which is not just a visual experience but a tactile one also. There are the traditional variants of damask, cloud pruned topiary or horn-beam hedgerows, and then there are retro deco-style counterparts. In the case of both type, one theme runs consistent: drama.


Despite my imagination taking me to a quaint hamlet in Dorset where Mr Ball and Mr Farrow designed these paints amidst a field of buttercups and daisies, there is a darker side to the brand. Don’t get too excited – I’m not suggesting there is a malicious history behind colours such as Railings, Green Smoke or Pitch Black (we are talking shades of paint after all). I refer to the way the company uses striking, deeper tones so bravely.

Art deco wallpaper is just one style you can achieve in your home

Art deco wallpaper is just one style you can achieve in your home - Credit: Archant

This brand encourages its clients to embrace darkness in the appropriate spaces of the home. Take smaller rooms - downstairs lavatories, hallways, utility rooms, en-suites, box bedrooms - one might automatically assume that the best way to make these rooms appear larger would be to paint them a bright, light shade. Farrow & Ball beg to differ. Taking to these walls with a pigment rich scheme will play on the intimacy of the space and actually force a more theatrical effect onto it.

In similar fashion, the brand use darkness to add height to a room. By painting skirting, walls, coving and the ceiling (yes, the ceiling) all one colour, the lines literally become blurred. And the darker the better. The effect this produces is one of towering, never-ending vertical lengthiness. Similarly, there’s an almost Alice In Wonderland trick to messing with dado rails (and messing with your mind). Raise the rails to give the impression that the room has more height to it, and separate with two colours - darker below, lighter (but not too stark) above.

Farrow & Ball have pleasantly surprised me. While there’s nothing wrong with long-established methods of decorating and softer shades that skip along, hand-in-hand, with lovely sounding tones such as Fawn, Yellowcake and Nancy’s Blushes, the contemporary man writing this piece yearns for daring, dark and devious. And although I appreciate the traditionalism that runs through every pigment of their emulsion, I take with me their innovation and ability to trailblaze.

As I pore tantalizingly over Farrow & Ball’s colour catalogue I am drawn more to the slightly lurid and racy variations, and begin fantasising slightly about stripping my carpets, removing my skirting boards and painting my entire bedroom head-to-toe in Incarnadine, Dead Salmon or Aresnic.