Friday, 08 January 2016

Olde World Paint

Olde World paint may look decorative but it’s also deadly, says Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
All paint used before the early 1960s appeared thicker, smelt stronger and had a lethal element to it – a heady mix provided by the white lead used as pigment and eventually banned in 1992. Its brighter cousin, coloured lead, or lead chromate as it was formally known, also got the heave-ho from our domestic surroundings, but bizarrely it is still used in the yellow road markings designed to send car drivers insane today.

Rock House was virtually wall to wall peeling and chipped lead paint when we moved in three years ago and I never really gave it that much thought. My main concern was whether to keep this ‘authentic’ look, not whether it would kill me.

The woodwork in the old scullery, in particular, has such an old patina that my more bohemian friends beg me not to paint over it as if the house were a living museum. ‘It’s so real’, they say. Which, given it still has no proper kitchen, isn’t too far from the truth.


As it ages, lead paint tends to chip or crumble into dust and send its poisonous little spores out into the environment where it is sucked into passing lungs. The causal effects are well documented – from chronic chest conditions to hair loss blamed on inhaling or inadvertently eating flakes of this demon substance.

As more long-suffering readers of The Lady will be only too aware, I have managed to get three rooms repainted thereby waving goodbye to the traces (and hidden dangers) of the past, but does everything today really need a shiny coating of Farrow & Ball? Perhaps I should hold on to the old-fashioned dark cream and pea-green remains of Elizabeth Blackwell’s occupancy ?

In terms of risks, I tend not to have pregnant friends anymore (all too old) and Duffle, our Border Terrier, was never that bothered about chewing our bannisters. He left that to his friend, Larry the Lab, who died of natural causes. I hope. Mark, our painter, says that he gets paid a lot of money to re-create what he calls the Old Worlde paint look and has often taken snaps of mine to show what can be done without the need for a health warning.

Next week: Amateur Dramatics

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