The image of a giant pot of swirling blue and white paint caught my eye as I walked past the window of Farrow & Ball. It announced the advent of Wine Dark, one of the paint emporium’s new colours for autumn. A nod to Homeric high seas, it’s a deep yet chalky colour, described as “our richest blue . . . The perfect addition to our strong blue family.” Next to it, a churning pot of flame orange, Bamboozle, and a lively sage green, Whirlybird.
I’m as excited about the new shades as the next person, but I made myself turn away and cross the road. Since the pain and expense of my recent house renovation, I can no longer contemplate paint colours. Indeed, paint is now so triggering for me and my family, I have vowed that I will never bring a paint sample home again.
Like all these things, at the beginning, long before the house had been ripped apart to its spindly Victorian foundations, the idea of choosing a tonne of new paint colours seemed exciting and important. Little did I know then that such surface decisions would represent about 1 per cent of the approaching avalanche of far more boring decisions that we would have to make about flush plates and shower drains, usually very late at night.
Nor did I realise then how divisive paint colours can be or that they could lead someone to question what kind of a person they are, or aspire to be.
“I just don’t want it to be boring like last time,” I said to my husband as I spread out a flutter of concertinaed paint charts — from Mylands to Dulux, via Little Greene and Edward Bulmer — across the bed.
When we first moved into our narrow London terraced house, we hurriedly painted it in Dulux Diamond White, splashing out on Farrow & Ball’s creamy Wimborne White for our sitting room. We knew these were somewhat vanilla choices; and at some point we’d reveal the true depth of our souls by painting the living room Hague Blue.
Eight years later, in the aftermath of the pandemic and as we began to feel the effects of Brexit, we embarked — at arguably the most expensive time in history — on our renovation. While the main project was a side-return kitchen extension, I was desperate to divert my energies into paint. I am creative, I told myself, and have an eye for colour — how hard can it be?
Nine months later, my husband and I stood in our dining room, looking from the wall to the builder, and then back to the wall. “You have to be chic to have gold walls,” he said, looking doubtful. “You need chic things and chic furniture.” The wall, painted with a trial coat of Mylands FTT002 gold paint — presenting as a sludgy avocado bronze in the north-facing light — seemed to be closing in on us.
Mylands’ metallic range (“FTT” stands for Film, TV and Theatre) has adorned the sets of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. We had wanted to make a statement, go against trends and keep our dining room as a dining room, a glamorous space to make merry and entertain in rather than a corridor into the kitchen, as is so often the fate of the tricky middle room.
Who were we kidding? We did not live in a Venetian palazzo, for goodness sake. It was a disaster. The next day we texted the builder: “We’ve decided to paint it light blue,” and promptly ordered 7.5 litres of Dulux Mineral Mist.
The question over what shade to paint the kitchen units nearly caused a family fallout. Instagram was awash with dark blue and grey-green Shaker cabinetry, which was admittedly smart and sexy, but I could not ignore the siren call of my spirit colour: yellow. I had in mind a very particular shade of bright, golden primrose and was hell-bent on finding it.
I criss-crossed London for weeks, tracking down dozens of sample pots, daubing A3 sheets of stiff cartridge paper, only to realise the shade was too grey, too mustardy, too lemony. I held up all my painted sheets at a family lunch one day and asked people to pick out their favourites. There was an awkward silence.
“Yellow is difficult,” a friend said kindly afterwards. “What about orange?” my husband suggested. “Too Seventies!” I snapped.
At last, a particularly time-consuming pilgrimage to Papers & Paints in Chelsea yielded the perfect shade: Med 15 — a splash of sunshine from the paint company’s Mediterranean range. “This is IT!” I said to the family, dancing around the building site, brandishing my paintbrush in triumph. “It’s very flashy,” said the cabinet-maker circumspectly.
While I struggled with the quest to distil our collective family personality into paint, my children’s choices were refreshingly straightforward, if disappointingly gender-stereotypical. With carte blanche to paint their bedrooms any colour they wanted, little fingers hovered over the tiny rectangles of colour on the paint charts, alighting within seconds on Middleton Pink (my daughter) and Sapphire Salute (my son). “What have we done wrong?” I said to my husband.
Why was I pinning so much on these superficial decisions? What is it about colour that feels so acutely personal? Master colourist Wassily Kandinsky would have understood: “Colour is a power which directly influences the soul,” said the artist. That was long before Instagram muddied the waters.
I was glad I had listened to my soul, rather than Instagram, at least when it came to the kitchen. Med 15 was a resounding success — even the naysayers came round. But after that, with most of the house left to paint, we ran out of steam. And money. The decision fatigue was real, and the costs had spiralled so horribly that we had to draw a line under any further fancy decor and admit defeat.
“Plain white paint is included,” the builder reminded me. “Go for it,” I said, wearily. “We can always paint it a different shade later on.”
Rebecca Rose is editor of FT Globetrotter
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