Ever heard of Stiffkey Blue, Elephant’s Breath or Setting Plaster? Of course you have. They’re three of Farrow & Ball’s 156 memorably named and highly desired paint colours; synonymous with influencers’ Instagram accounts, the swankiest hot-spots in town and, perhaps, your own home. At the grand old age of 75, the paint institution is the epitome of understated statement. A humble brag that yes, one has taste, because one absolutely must never settle for shoddy pigment (or worse: magnolia).
The driving force behind the brand’s success over the past 26 years has been colour curator Joa Studholme, who creates each new colour collection alongside visiting homes and businesses to advise on what to brush where. ‘It really is quite a dream job, I still pinch myself today,’ she tells me from her home in Somerset, which is often a testing ground for new shades and combinations. Studholme began working with the brand when it opened its first retail space, and says she can’t remember a time when colour wasn’t an integral part of her life.
‘My mother said I have always described things by colour, like the “holiday with the pink sky”, that sort of thing. And I do remember, very distinctly, that my father brought me a set of Caran d’Ache colouring pencils and I didn’t actually use them, I just messed around, placing them in different parts in the can to see how colours combine. I think it was just innate.’
These days she spends around 80 per cent of her time going into clients’ spaces either in person or on Zoom, looking at building plans, penning books and dishing out tips at events. The rest of her time is spent dreaming up the new colours which go on sale every two to four years. ‘I’ll take a couple of months off to create them, work out the stories and think about the names and inspirations.’ The process, she says, is ‘radically low tech’, and the inspirations for the hues vary. ‘Some of them are lodged in my head for many a year. There is a particular colour called Stiffkey Blue that comes from about 15 or 20 years ago when my children were very young. We used to take them to the beach in Stiffkey where the mud is a weird blue colour. We would slip all over it. It was something very integral to our lives so I had wanted to make that colour for many, many years.’
With more than a quarter of a century of curating and consulting under her belt, it’s no surprise that Studholme has an in-depth insight into our changing tastes. ‘Oh my God, there has been such a seismic shift in the way we’re using colours. I think gray-mania is over, thank goodness.’ And moving forward, we’ll all be looking back a little more, she says. ‘I think people are now attracted to colours that have an element of nostalgia, but I also think that our colour choices will be much cleaner — colours that will make us love our homes, give us memories of things gone past, or are just fun rather than totally elegant.’
For those afraid to brush with anything but neutrals, Studholme advises starting off small. ‘Paint your loo or inside a cupboard or the back of a bookcase and live with it for a bit. You’ll see that it’s not that frightening. Very often, if you paint the inside of a cupboard, for instance, it’ll make you smile when you open it, but you can shut it again and it’s not there.’
And for anyone itching to make a splash with the next big thing, Studholme says green and pink are ‘very now. They’re just beautiful, so connected with nature when you put them together.’ Though if you’re feeling brave, ‘Red and the warmer tones are coming back. We’re embracing combinations we would have been absolutely terrified of a few years ago.’ Although if that still sounds too frightening, it’s important to remember that ‘it doesn’t have to be all the walls,’ she explains. ‘And that’s what I am here for: to explain those bits.’
Colour consultation with Joa Studholme, from £250 per hour (farrow-ball.com)