Few can deny the instant impact a slick of new lipstick can have on your mood. The same is true when it comes to updating your home. But while interiors trends come and go – the statement wall, stark minimalism and copious chintz have all had their moment – one remains a constant: a coat of fresh paint will always be in fashion.
That’s not to say paint doesn’t play favourites; in the Nineties magnolia reigned supreme as the colour palette of choice, the Noughties saw greys sail to the top of the Pantone chart wars, but a new decade has brought about a new spectrum of paint colours, textures and finishes that are just begging to be experimented with. “The thing about paint is that it’s the easiest decorating tool there is. If you try something and don’t like it, you can paint it back again in half a day,” advises super-stylist and interiors expert Abigail Ahern, owner of Atelier Abigail Ahern.
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But although the whole ethos of decorating with paint begs for originality and self-expression, as with anything, there are key trends and hot new colours which – just like carrying an YSL Muse Tote bag – give your front room the stamp of approval. From Farrow & Ball’s Slipper Satin (the paint colour of the moment) to the current trend of painting skirting boards and ceilings darker than walls, there are various new ways you can make your home feel contemporary. So, with the spirit of reinvention in mind, we quizzed the UK’s top stylists, designers and paint makers on how to reinvigorate your home with paint.
Ten years ago, the top 20 bestsellers at paint manufacturer Graham & Brown were all variations on magnolia. Today, the most popular shades are the far more adventurous Touchy Tealy (aquamarine) and Plummy Accent (magenta). In the world of interiors, minimalism is dead: just as furniture is no longer about sleek lines and sharp edges, your paint is now being used to make a statement. And the more bold and surprising the better.
This trend has arrived fresh from New York. “It’s much more interesting to play with colour, and I’ve noticed a lot of moody hues such as greys and inky blacks coming out of Manhattan,” says Ahern. Forget the wispy Farrow & Ball Elephant’s Breath (brown-grey) of the late Noughties, Down Pipe, a dark grey, is the hottest shade on paint brushes at the moment, and one of the most-mentioned colours in interiors magazines. “Manhattanites also add a horizontal or vertical strip of saffron, teal, or tomato red, and that’s when the magic happens,” says Ahern. “Paint colours are now all about contrast.”
Smaller rooms feel more cosy when painted in sludgy colours, which turn spaces into perfect little dens
Lee Broom, the interior designer behind Topman’s new personal shopping area, agrees that the era of the blank canvas white wall is over and instead it’s all about pushing the boundaries with your paint palette. “Painting rooms black can be scary, but if you get the lighting right by hanging lots of pendants around the room, it looks really sexy.” Too fearful of full-on noir? Try Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue – an it’s almost-night navy, which should feel less threatening.
It’s time to banish the ingrained rules you have about paint colours too. The old wisdom that smaller spaces need to be painted in light colours to make them look larger no longer applies, according to Russell Sage, the interior designer who’s just decorated London’s new Zetter Townhouse in various Farrow & Ball colours. “Smaller rooms actually feel more cosy when painted in sludgy colours, which turn limited spaces into the perfect little dens to hunker down in. I like tobaccos and terracottas and the Farrow & Ball shades Eating Room Red, Charlotte’s Locks and Red Earth,” he says.
While halls used to be reserved for a neutral palette, louder hues which add a flash of colour to an otherwise very dull space are all the rage. “A bold hallway immediately makes an announcement to your visitors,” says the interior designer Adam Bray, who has recently created a range for paint company, Papers and Paints. “You should also make a bit of effort with guest bathrooms, as infrequently used spaces present an opportunity to have some serious fun. The bolder the colour the better – people are only in them for three minutes, after all.”
A new texture
Most of the paints available from Dulux, Crown Paints, and Graham & Brown come in flat matte, but the smart money is actually on shine, says Ahern. “There is a trend for glossy, almost lacquered walls at the moment. It can be a bit of a fiddle but if you are applying eight or nine coats of gloss paint it will make your walls sing and come alive. Owners of smaller apartments in New York are discovering the benefits of glossy ceilings, and I expect it to catch on here too. It makes rooms feel taller than they actually are.”
Bray agrees that choosing gloss is a smart move for its space-enhancing properties. “I use gloss wherever I can get away with it – kitchens, dining rooms, downstairs loos,” he says. “I love the way light bounces off it, creating a little depth to the colour, and adding a sense of volume to the room. Seeing a lamp reflected in the shiny walls makes the room seem bigger.” The trouble with gloss is how much preparation you will need to do first – it shows up every blemish in the wall so surfaces need to be totally primed and filled, flat and smooth. Too much like hard work? There are a few tricks. “You can achieve a similar effect by using an emulsion and then covering it with a clear varnish,” Bray says.
For a more radical approach, Ahern says, “Another trend coming out of New York is to paint a whole room matt and then add a few glossy stripes in the same colour. It’s not as timeconsuming as doing a whole lacquer, but produces a nice, subtle finish.” Old rules about painting wood, stone and fireplaces in satinwood no longer apply. “A gloss dado rail or fireplace in the same colour as the rest of the room can be extraordinary,” Ahern says. Of course, you can still just cover everything in a flat matte.
“Softer sheens are better for woodwork,” says Jason McIlvenny, head of paint at Graham & Brown. “Mattes hide imperfections much more easily than anything else.” Matte paints also go further than gloss paints, require fewer coats and you can save money by using a less expensive brand – the quality of matte doesn’t vary as much as it does between expensive and inexpensive glosses, where you really do need to splash out a bit more. Inspired to take a trip to Farrow & Ball? Read on to find out how to pick the perfect shade for your home and how to use colour to transform a room.
Meet your new perfect colour
Whatever colour you’re considering, never scrimp on tester pots. “Paint often looks very different when you get it home,” says McIlvenny. “Lighting is very different in your living room from how it is in a DIY shop. Use a tester pot to paint a strip on your wall, and leave it for a week, viewing it at different times of day as the light in the room changes.”
Another factor to consider when deciding on a new colour is the position of the room. As a general rule, a south-facing room with floor-to-ceiling windows can take darker colours such as Papers and Paints’ Pompeian Brown, which will sparkle in the sunlight. A north-facing room will probably need a warm palette such as Farrow & Ball’s Cinder Rose to stop it feeling cold.
Also consider how certain shades make features of your room appear. Wooden floors that have been stained with a dark varnish tend to be swamped by dark walls, whereas light boards contrast well. If you’re worried about colour contrasts, then you can turn to the internet for help – grahamand brown.com/uk offers suggestions of which other paints will work well with the one you’re planning on buying. A brilliant source of inspiration (and a cunning way to get hotter-than-hot interiors cues) is to follow the lead of boutique hotels. The Haymarket in London has toned down Citron yellow by teaming it with Lamp Room Gray, or turn to Crosby Street Hotel in New York, which warmed up French Gray with accents of Rectory Red [Farrow & Ball shades].
There is a real trend for glossy, lacquered walls
As with fabrics, furniture and fashion, clashing colours in paints is key right now. Ahern says, “Forget the old dictums about not pairing certain colours. If Mother Nature can pair green grass with blue sky, why can’t we?” Try Graham & Brown’s Blue Suede Shoe next to its Spring Greens for a very zingy combination.
Still unsure what colours to go for? While new colour trends can be inspiring and coax you out of your comfort zone, make sure you go for something you love – it’s you who is going to have to live with it. The best way to pick a colour that you will love to live with is to look at the clothes in your wardrobe. There is normally one colour you gravitate towards, or an outfit you put on when you’re in need an uplift. Whatever shade it is – there’s your happy colour.
How to do colour accents
Paint isn’t just a backdrop, but a decorative effect in its own right – and there are a lot of tricks you can keep up the sleeve of your overall. “Paint the ceiling the same colours as the walls,” explains Broom. “Nobody ever wants to, but in fact it makes the room feel bigger, instead of marking the space between walls and ceiling by having them in different shades.”
Duskier colours, such as Graham & Brown’s Bitter Shandy or Farrow & Ball’s Fawn, are good for making a room look bigger as they are interesting to look at without being oppressive. If you don’t have much natural light and want the room to seem airier, light blues such as Blue Ground will give the impression of more sky being visible than there actually is. If you want to create a den-like nest, choose darker, moodier colours, more like a boudoir, such as Farrow & Ball’s Radicchio. Painting recesses, fretwork and wall panels in a different colour can be a way to introduce interest into the room without it feeling overwhelming. “You can lead into having brighter hues by playing with a few accents,” Bray says.
“My favourite look at the moment is dark blue walls with old Oyster coloured mouldings, which can be really chic.” If you’re lucky enough to have original features in your room, then playing with shades will help set them off. “People are using different colours on different walls,” says McIlvenny. “It’s down to confidence, but you can get a really good effect by painting alcoves and chimney breasts in different shades.” Of course, paint isn’t merely for walls. “In a house I designed recently I painted the outside of a bookcase grey, but then did the inside in a bright red,” says Bray. “It meant that you got glimmers of colour, playing with bright shades, without it being too frightening for the owners.” You could also try painting the surface of an old coffee table in a neutral slate colour but then doing the legs in bright Carnation Street pink from Graham & Brown, or painting a set of old dining chairs in block colours corresponding to the rainbow.
So take the plunge into colour and have fun experimenting with contrasting shades on different surfaces.
Main picture credit: Nato Welton
Words: Pip McCormac