Photo: Farrow & Ball/ Hawkstone Hall & Gardens

    The strange allure of Farrow & Ball paint

    15 June 2020

    When I took out the garbage last weekend I realised I had hit peak aspirational upper-middle class living. For peering inside the communal estate bins, I saw empty Farrow & Ball tins and avocado skins. Living my best life.

    F&B is, of course, a firm cliché. Colour comparison small talk for ladies who lunch in Harvey Nicks. A visit to the Chelsea showroom a much-anticipated weekend chore for the newly moved-in City couple, iPhones in hand in case Goldman calls. Vying allegiances to F&B versus Fired Earth, as deep as any Oxbridge rivalry.

    I now see my life in Farrow & Ball technicolour – even more so after months of lockdown where many of us have resolved to use our extra time to take up a paint brush. I have become a laughable caricature. I realised it when I met a friend recently in Kensington Gardens. “Oh my God,” I squealed. “I love your pastel dress! Lulworth Blue, right?” And yet for all the fear that I will be taken for a trust fund baby, I cannot shrug off my affection for F&B.

    Photo: Farrow & Ball/

    Many a column inch has been dedicated to explaining its popularity. There are anguished threads on Mumsnet asking whether it is worth cancelling Antoinette’s violin lessons so as to be able to trade in the Dulux for some posher paint. The branding is of course a big part of the story. Many a long, lockdown afternoon can easily be wiled away gazing longingly in the F&B catalogue at flagstone-floored foyers, Aga-sporting kitchens and cast iron baths.

    The famous colour names are also part of the appeal: when Dave Cameron posed in his newly-constructed £25k garden shed, complete with wood-burning stove and pretend-old metal wheels, the question on everyone’s lips was the palette selection. Mouse’s Back for the exterior (the “grey-brown classic takes its characterful name from the fawny colour of the British field mouse”) and Old White and Clunch for the interior (“the chalk stone used in the off-white building blocks of many East Anglian buildings”) as you’re asking.

    David Cameron on the steps of his Red Sky Shepherd’s Hut painted in Farrow & Ball (Photo: Red Sky)

    With F&B you’re spoilt for choice: Nancy’s Blushes, Churlish Green, Sulking Room Pink, Slipper Satin, Oxford Stone (obviously) or Elephant’s Breath would have made admirable alternatives. And for foodies like me, F&B sets the heart racing: Skimmed Milk White, Broccoli Brown, Dead Salmon, Brinjal, Brassica, Cooking Apple Green. How on earth is one expected to decide?

    But can you actually tell the difference between an F&B wall and a Dulux wall? Well yes, but usually only if you know what you’re looking for. It takes one to know one. And therein lies the real answer to F&B’s allure. It is the subtlety of the difference that provides the vindication of one’s exacting eye, one’s aesthetic nous.

    Once someone has painted their own sitting room in Middleton Pink or Charleston Gray they will notice it wherever it appears. Middle class chests swell discernibly when one makes an accurate call, claps on the back all round as if Gustav had just blind tasted the vintage of the Chateau Lafite. And for the host that one comment- “Oh I love your wall. Picture Gallery Red isn’t it?”- is enough. Therein lies the eternal validation that will make a person a Farrow & Ball customer for life.