Because I always have redecorating on my mind, when offered an advance review copy of How to Redecorate, a book just out from Farrow & Ball, the venerable English maker of high-end paints and wallpaper, I raised my hand.
While I expected a book on, well, how to redecorate, as in refresh rooms in your home without starting from scratch, that’s not what this big, beautiful, 270-page hardcover is about. And that’s okay. What the book is about is the fascinating world of color and paint, a subject few could make as interesting as Joa Studholme, color curator for F&B. Studholme takes us by the hand on an exquisitely illustrated (340 photos and drawings) and narrated tour deep into the world of color, paint, and courageously creative ways to use both.
Studholme walks us through such key considerations as light, architecture, and style, then squires us around color families of red, blue, green, yellow, darks and neutrals, and ends with a comprehensive look at finishes — from Dead Flat to Full Gloss.
“It was a joy to write,” Studholme told me last week in a Zoom interview from across the pond, where she has worked for the Dorset, England-based Farrow & Ball for nearly 30 years. (For the record, of all the columns, articles, and books I have written, I never once thought anything was “a joy to write.” It was a joy to have written.)
For those unfamiliar with the brand, F&B is known for its small collection of artisan colors. “We believe that by condensing the options to only 132 carefully curated colors that selection is easier,” she said. (By comparison, Sherwin-Williams offers more than 1,700 paint colors.) Since Studholme came on board, every color the company has added was created at her kitchen table, where she sits with ramekins and teaspoons mixing to make a color that pleases her eye.
The company also goes to extremes to secure its pigments. To make India Yellow, for example, they drew inspiration from an old practice of collecting urine from cows fed a diet of mango leaves.
As a lover of words, I’m done in by the evocative paint names: Mizzle, the color of the evening sky when there’s mist and drizzle; DeNimes, named after the French city where denim was first woven; Stirabout, for the porridge Irish children eat to begin their day; Mole’s Breath, I’ll let you imagine that one.
The book, which Studholme co-authored with F&B Creative Director Charlotte Cosby, is a sequel to How to Decorate, which came out in 2016.
Why the update? “Since How to Decorate came out, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the way we use color,” Studholme said. “Back then, we were all still enjoying rooms painted in delicate neutrals that we could sort of drift around in. Now we’re embracing much bolder colors.”
She blames the pandemic. While we all spent much time in our homes, Studholme spent much of her time with a paintbrush in hand experimenting and “thinking of a million ways to use color,” she said. “I was a total menace.”
Nothing was off limits. She painted baseboards, ceilings, crown moldings, floors, cornices, cabinets, wainscoting, furniture, and doors in three dimensions. Fortunately, the dog wouldn’t sit still, or she’d have painted him, too.
How to Redecorate reflects the best of those experiments and inspires readers to go beyond white walls, white ceilings, and white trim. “I wanted the book to be more a manual on how to use color in your home than a coffee table book that just sits and looks pretty. I wanted to make the world of color attainable by using simple language and clear directives.”
She also wanted to give readers permission to harness their inspiration, “so if they have a sudden desire to paint their front door in red gloss, they do.” Although her overarching message is to encourage us to embrace color, she offers some welcome guideposts. Here are a few pointers taken from our conversation and the book:
On room size …
Paint color can change a room’s perceived proportions, she writes. “Lighter colors are often best for large rooms, so they won’t overpower them. Darker tones will enhance small spaces and make them feel intimate. Although painting a small room a dark color may seem counterintuitive, the results can be wonderfully theatrical.” If you are in the unusual position of needing to make a large space appear smaller, add a contrasting trim.
On outside influences …
“Palettes gathered from your travels can be a rich source of inspiration, but be wary of using them in your home,” she writes. “The tempting colors of a dazzling tropical flower may well appear garish out of context.” In other words, you may love the hot pinks and oranges of Mexico, but they don’t play well in New England.
On neutrals …
“Even though I’ve introduced loads of color, I also included a really important section on neutrals organized into six families,” she says of her book. Each neutral family has four colors that produce failsafe combinations. It also includes an indispensable section on which white to use with which color, which is not as simple as it seems.
On painting cabinets, floors, and furniture…
Do it. But the key to success lies in preparation. “You need to properly prepare and prime the surface, so the paint holds up to heavy use,” she said. “That’s boring but really important.” You must also choose a durable finish, like Modern Eggshell.
On what she wishes more people knew…
“That they don’t have to default into using white on ceilings and trim. Personally, I think white baseboards look mean. I would only paint baseboards in the wall color. Why are we calling them out? They are functional not decorative.”
On the title …
“I think people interpret the word ‘redecorate’ differently,” she said. Perhaps. That said, if the book were called How to Pick and Apply Paint Color in Your Home, I might never have read it. And that would have been a shame.
CAPTION: No rules — Chair rails, wainscoting, ceilings, and baseboards don't have to be white, says Joa Studholme, co-author of a new book on clever and courageous ways to add color to your home. In a move away from grey, this eating area features Farrow & Ball Selvedge on the walls, Hopper Head on the paneling, and Shadow White around the window. Photo courtesy Farrow & Ball.