Homes & Gardens

Farrow & Ball, makers of bespoke paint

Everything you need to know about this renowned decorating company.

For information on Farrow & Ball's New Colour Card, click here.

Who are they?

Farrow & Ball has been in Wimborne, Dorset, the home of traditional paint and paper producers, since it was first established in the 1950s. It was in the 50s that the National Trust started to buy paint from Farrow & Ball. They particularly admired the paints’ traditional formulations and their muted colours suited the restoration projects they were working on. At this stage, there was no retail outlet and they just supplied trade.

57 varieties

Over the years, the relationship between the National Trust and Farrow & Ball developed, culminating in the production of a joint label in the late 80s known as the National Trust Range of Paints, which was available to the public at large. There were 57 colours. Was this just a coincidence or a clever piece of marketing? Anyway, this range was hugely successful; it was just what everyone had been waiting for.

What happened next

Martin Ephson (considerable experience of the paint industry) and Tom Helme (adviser to the National Trust) bought the company, bringing it well and truly into the new century with a bang. Wherever you go, you will come across their renowned paints, such is their popularity. Their archives go back to the 50s and beyond and they are constantly on the lookout for new colours. Colour has been developed from scraping fragments off walls in some of our historic houses and the name then given to that particular colour. Sudbury yellow is a John Fowler wall colour used on the staircase at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire.

What is it that makes Farrow & Ball paint so distinctive from other brands?

You can walk into a room and know almost instinctively that you are looking at Farrow & Ball paint. It is the depth and luminescence of the paint that makes them stand apart. They use far more pigment (the most expensive component of the product) than anyone else and as a result, the colour has unsurpassed levels of flatness (in other words a matt, chalky appearance) and tremendous depth of colour. To most easily describe it, the dead flat oil paint has absolutely no reflection whatsoever. The paint is affected by natural and electric light, giving off very different looks at all times of the day. The effect is as if the walls are living, creating new moods and looks as the sun goes down or a light is switched on. For the record, paint from their rivals, if you can call them that, is usually plasticised using more plastic than pigment, which results in a paint that lacks depth and has a shinier finish.

Quality control

Farrow & Ball is able to keep very close to the original colour by the use of a spectrometer. This highly sensitive machine is able to keep very specific tabs on the pigments used, thereby guaranteeing the same colour between batches.

The range of paints

Reading the colour card is enlightening. Drab, a brown colour, was used in the early 18th Century and is particularly good for both internal and external joinery. Dead salmon was used for painting the library at Kedleston Hall (Robert Adam’s masterpiece) in 1805.

The Whites

It is interesting the tricks colour can play on you. If you are looking at off-whites from the colour card, they will look much darker on the card as they are seen surrounded by a white background. Farrow & Ball suggest wall white, a neutral colour, which gives a white room, especially when used with off-white for ceiling and woodwork. From looking at the card, you would not believe that these two greyish colours would read white.

Help at hand

Colour and more importantly, getting it right, is indeed a difficult equation but Farrow & Ball help their customers to find the right colours. Visit one of their showrooms with your decision in hand. The assistant will ask you the size of the room, whether it is bright and full of sun or dark with small windows. For a sunny room, she might then tell you that you would be better off using a darker colour as the expanse of wall and combined light might just drown your first lighter choice.

Paints for the garden

The newly launched National Trust Garden Paint collection is an inspiring range, with a myriad of colours. Sir Roy Strong advocates the use of colour on static elements of a garden and with this range, you are spoilt for choice. Mr. Wade’s Blue has been used at Snowshill Manor for nearly 100 years. Mr. Wade, the owner of the manor, advocated the use of this turquoise colour for garden paintwork. Chartwell green was the colour chosen by Sir Winston Churchill for painting seats in his garden at his home in Kent.


Farrow & Ball is not only known for its paints but for its ever-growing collections of wallpaper. Once again, the company sticks to traditional methods and is one of Europe’s last remaining block printed wallpaper manufacturers. Producing just 300 rolls of paper a day shows the exacting methods they adhere to. High Street manufacturers would produce at least 300 rolls an hour. The manufacture is very hands on. The paper has a ground colour applied with the block print on top, the process being monitored carefully at all times. As such they are hand finished with each roll of wallpaper having a certain uniqueness. They are also able to make up wallpaper to meet customers’ requirements.

Around the world

Farrow & Ball has showrooms in London, Paris (opened in Feb 2000) and Toronto and are supplying 88 countries on a daily basis. The company has just found a stockist in Japan, so their range will soon be spread worldwide. They are also in America with a warehouse stocking their range of paints, with wallpapers being despatched from England.

Farrow & Ball is an enigmatic company, leading the way but preferring to use the traditional methods for paint and wallpaper manufacture. This guarantees them producing goods of the highest quality. They make some of the best paint that you can possibly buy in the world and a visit to one of their showrooms proves that it all seems to be happening there.

For more information on Farrow & Ball, visit their website,