Friday, 15 May 2015

Paint charts

Can you really judge a person by their choice of paint chart, asks Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
It has often been said that you can judge a person’s taste from their bookshelves – about 10 years ago there was a craze for extending bookshelves into the loo. Handpicked titles that would tell the visitor: ‘I have taste.’ But times have changed and it’s not the eReader’s fault. Books are out and paint charts have somehow become the new social barometer. Upmarket concertina-shaped cards are now proudly displayed on coffee tables alongside interiors books as thick as a brick, but more beautiful.

Helpfully, the very best charts are period-themed. Georgian, Regency, Victorian, pre-war, post-war; little daubs of our collective past that also serve as conversation openers. ‘Oooh, is that the new Little Greene chart?’ (Yes, people do really say that. I’ve said that.) Or ‘What do you think of Dead Salmon in the kitchen?’ Without noticing, we seem to have turned into a nation obsessed with home decor. And we’re good at it.

The UK paint and wallpaper industry is now worth around £188bn and employs hundreds of thousands of people. Three out of every four cans of paint sold in the UK are made here and we export around 30 per cent of our output. In short, we are one the world’s most successful painters and decorators. It helps that English Heritage has a seemingly limitless reference library of pigments for manufacturers to plunder. Down Pipe, Mizzle, Urbane Grey, Pigeon and Plummett – the more obscurely named the more we buy it.


The smarter paint companies now employ creative teams trained in art and architecture. Mood specialists who don’t just know a paint colour’s past but who are also able to predict which hue is ‘coming’. Apparently this season it is ‘whites’. Or cream or grey, or lots of colours that aren’t white at all but that inhabit the white end of the spectrum. It’s confusing for the consumer, but confusion is good for business. No confusion, no need for tester pots.

Last week I spent a giddy hour in my local Farrow & Ball angsting over a ‘white’ for the hallway and left with nine pots, priced at £4.25 each. Each pot contains 100ml (around half a small glass of wine) and covers a mere one square metre. I’m now saving up to splash out on a bigger tin. The front-runner is Skimming Stone. Or, to give it its old-fashioned name: Magnolia.

Next week: Landscaping.

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