So we thought we would let the experts tell you about Farrow & Ball. Here is a fun article from Shari Kulha of the National Post who has had the opportunity to use the product in her home….many times.
DORSET, England — It’s what Queen Elizabeth and Jiminy Cricket have in common.
Its paints have covered the walls of Balmoral Castle and Kensington Palace, and its wallpaper has adorned Jiminy’s house at EuroDisney. But it’s not just for the bold-face crowd.
Over some seven decades, Farrow & Ball has grown to become one of the go-to sources for interior designers and architects who need a high-spec product — but experience has shown me it is also well suited for average people looking for unique finishes to use themselves.
Though I’ve been an adventurous serial redecorator for more than three decades, this paint intimidated me when I first used it last winter. The paint is thick and almost gelatinous in the can. As it glugged into the paint tray, I worried that perhaps I had overreached my skill level. But as soon as I rolled a few feet of Pitch Black on my living room wall, I saw the light. The result was just like the deep, rich, ultra-matte finishes I’d seen it produce in hotels, restaurants, art galleries and homes. The ambience throughout my house changed; the rooms were inviting, dramatic and somehow more elegant.
I stared at my walls day and night. I used different colours in other rooms. I felt like, finally, I had a sophisticated home (I’ve repainted in 11 of the 35 places I’ve lived, some several times over). Inherent in each colour seemed to be a purity that I had never experienced; each stayed true day and night.
That comes down to metamerism (meh-TAM-er-ism), which describes the perceived colour differences when two walls, painted the same, match under one type of light but not under another. It’s a frequent complaint of homeowners, who find their painstakingly chosen taupe reads beige in daylight and grey in artificial light.
It is this refractory characteristic, Farrow & Ball says, that makes its product unique. And its geographic location may be key.
In the ancient market town of Wimborne (pop 6,700), about two hours southeast of London, Farrow & Ball (farrow-ball.com) occupies a handful of units in a small, modern industrial development. On a recent private tour of it — the only Farrow & Ball factory in the world — I watched its paints mixed and papers printed, by such a small group of workers it seemed impossible that they alone fulfill the company’s global demand.
I watched a paint technician create a batch of signature deep gray Down Pipe (one of 132 colours), in two steps: He mixed up a batch of neutral base mix in a vat and had it quality tested. Then, looking for all the world as though he were making a huge batch of cake batter, he used an ordinary kitchen spatula to scoop dark pigment from a two-litre-sized plastic tub and added it to the vat for mixing.
“Recipe” sheets tucked in plastic sleeves (“mix until smooth; add water”) ensure each paint type meets the company’s standards. Blendiing high-quality English china clay (“ground like a fine icing sugar”), chalk, resin and water create a zero-VOC, all-natural product.
And it is these ingredients that give the paint its high metameric quality — one that foils copycats who try to paint match on their computers. The copy-colour may appear the same, Farrow & Ball says, but won’t behave the same under varied lighting sources.
Plus, as Jason Cass, who runs and has just revamped Toronto’s Rosedale showroom, says: “I can feel the difference blind-folded. Our painted surfaces are softer, butterier, with a warmth that latex [which is a plastic] doesn’t have.”
When the pigmented batch is ready for final testing, a sample is walked over to the next building. There, a team of six very quiet experts obsessively test for flow, opacity, colour, drying qualities, etc.; here, the low-tech manufacturing process is supported by a high-tech spectrophotometer.
“Where the standard in the colour industry allows for a +/-1% deviation of colour from one batch to another, we allow only 0.5%,” says marketing director Sarah Cole. “Should it be off in the slightest, the batch will be mixed again.”
All this means that the Elephant’s Breath (a soft elephant grey) on your kitchen cupboards will look the same in full daylight at lunch as it will by the kitchen light for your midnight snack.
And the same holds for a papered dining room — whichever of the 34 patterns you choose in whichever of the 1,000 possible colourways (Lotus alone has 60 colour possibilities); because only company paints are used, the play of pattern and colour will also be the same in daylight, artificial light and candlelight.
Inspiration for the wallpaper patterns comes from 14th-century paintings, Italian Renaissance art, 18th- and 19th-century French and English textiles, and even the stashes held by New York antique fabric dealers. This isn’t to say the paints and papers aren’t appropriate for a modern interior. It just requires imagination, or a decorator.
A batch of wallpaper starts with a large roll of plain FSC-approved ground paper, which is given a neutral base coat and then one of 110 colours; it is then either roller printed or stamp printed with the requisite pattern.
One or two workers staff each of six small machines to produce up to 3,000 rolls a week. To do this, a technician hand-pours paint from a container into a trough that feeds it to the hand-engraved roller or hand-cut foam stamp. While the paper slowly unrolls and the paint flows, he moves along a few steps and leans closely over the newly printed paper to check that the registration is spot-on, that the paint is cleanly distributed and of the correct opacity. Part of the appeal of the paper is the dimensional hand-painted look the paint leaves behind. Some patterns go through the system several times, depending on how many colours are required. Gothic, for example, runs through the system five times; it goes for $550 a roll with a 20-roll minimum. Simple custom colours for paint and paper are possible, too, though also pricey.
After a quick dry, a protective glaze is brushed on with two wide brushes working like horizontal windshield wipers. The completed paper goes through a 10-foot-long drying oven, set at 400F, for two or three minutes and then rolls back onto a large spool to await cutting (almost any length is possible, should your castle’s atrium have extraordinary height).
Whether an order is placed in London, Toronto or Sydney, the rolls go into production a few days later in Dorset and are shipped within two weeks. Paints typically have a four-week life from manufacture to point-of-sale, including an 11-day ocean journey to reach the Etobicoke warehouse, from where it is distributed to shops throughout North America.
Whenever I think about painting again (which is almost weekly), I think of that unassuming factory down an unpaved country lane from an 18th-century thatched-roof pub, and wonder whether Farrow & Ball employees, in turn, think about where their paints and papers end up.
“Yes, working at our factory in Wimborne,” says paint factory supervisor and 13-year-veteran Nate Land, “it’s amazing to think it goes as far afield as Canada, Australia and Japan. And it’s always interesting to see which design or colour is popular in which country.”
According to Mr. Cass, who first brought Farrow & Ball to the North American market, “there’s been a strong move away from neutrals toward the darker colours.” Canadians now like the darker colours of Dove Tale, Manor House Gray, Pelt, Mahogany, Pigeon, Down Pipe and Plummett. Whites in high demand are Strong White, Cornforth White and Wimborne White.
“We’ve moved away from the yellow-based whites that were popular when we first started up in the late ’90s, to a more grey-based white.” (Another note from experience: The whites do end up looking white, even if they don’t look it on the colour card. I didn’t believe it at first, and Mr. Cass didn’t believe it. Jiminy’s reaction is not known.)
Of course, the natural ingredients and bespoke manufacturing result in products that cost more than “bog-standard” items (as the Brits so wonderfully describe all things mainstream).
Mr. Cass says it’s a challenge explaining to neophytes the benefit of spending more, but uses the analogy of a terracotta pot and a plastic one out on a terrace. “Which would they rather have? It’s always the terracotta pot. You can always spot the difference.”
And Ms. Cole makes a statement that resonates: “Don’t you spend thousands of dollars on drapes and furniture? It’s shortsighted not to spend it on the foundation of the room. It will even make cheap stuff look better.”
Which is not something the Queen has to think about, but it’s a good point for the rest of us, who could probably use some help in our starter castles.