Thinking of colour

24 February 2013
Ben Pentreath

For a little while now I’ve been thinking a lot about colour. Super-keen readers might recall a blog I wrote last summer about House and Garden Magazine in the 1960s, which you can read here, or, more recently, about fabulous Living in Vogue (I hope you found your copy).

And when I was also writing, and therefore thinking about, the text of my own book on English Decoration, I was thinking about colour a lot.  In fact the presence of extraordinary jolts of colour, when you are least expecting them, is I think possibly one of the characteristic things about the book.

Well, then you combine all of that with some crazy posts recently by my friend Ruth Guilding on her increasingly fabulous Bible of British Taste (forgive me Ruth for stealing your photos):

and you can see where I’m coming from. Insane. Yes, it’s time to liven up our lives a bit.

So, I’ve been thinking about a bit of a repaint at the Old Parsonage, here and there.  Sharp eyed readers will again have already seen the results of some of this itchy-feet-time-to-get-colourful mood, when my kitchen went from being white:

to dark orange:

See what I mean? It took a bit of getting used to, but a change is better than a holiday I sometimes think. And I love my dark orange walls (Farrow & Ball Wet Sand, before you ask).

Now when I’ve been thinking about paint, a little book that I picked up years ago in a second hand shop has also been on my mind. A Tint Book of Historical Colours Suitable for Decorative Work… published by Thomas Parsons & Sons, in the early 1950s.  When I found that book, it was just one of those things that was nice enough not to leave on the shelf.

Inside, the pages are filled with beautifully crafted colour charts, of historically inspired colours, each drawn not from old paint colours as such, but from the tones of Oriental ceramics, or Mortlake Tapestries, or Aubusson Carpets and so on.

Can you imagine such production values today?

Anyway, I didn’t think much more about it, and for a long time that book was tucked away somewhere down in Dorset. I found it again the other day, and I think it was all part of my general interest in slightly stronger, richer, cleaner colours.

Farrow & Ball is brilliant – there’s no doubt. It’s been my mainstay for years. I reckon there’s only so many paint charts you can keep in your mind, and there’s nothing like good old reliable.

Well, I wish WISH WISH (Farrow & Ball, I hope you’re reading) that they would stay super reliable, and not discontinue colours on the chart. You will know, as all the cognoscenti do, of course, that you can order any of the archive colours if you like, the ones that have been discontinued, just by calling them up… (Wet Sand, in my kitchen, for instance) but what a bore. I’ve now got about 6 Farrow & Ball cards of various ages, and I can’t get rid of any of them, because each has a colour or two on it that the others don’t.  ANNOYING. Really annoying.

(elusive Wet Sand, bottom left)

(elusive Berrington Blue and Mere Green, bottom right)

(Elusive Pantalon, bottom right – one of my all time favourite Farrow & Ball colours, no longer on the current chart… the colour of my old kitchen in Great Ormond Street, for those Ben P flat nerds who are interested)

My beaten and battered original F&B colour chart. Hand painted samples in those days, I might add, instead of the rather substandard items they provide you with today:

Not the same thing at all, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s all very well being ubiquitous, but quality standards are important… If someone clever at Farrow & Ball wanted to be really clever… they’d issue a nice hand painted chart with every single colour on it and they’d charge a lot of money to people like me for it.

But really, I don’t have a gripe with Farrow & Ball. I know it’s fashionable to diss them, or to say “My painter thinks the quality is rubbish” or things like that at west London dinner parties. No, my problem is a bit more fundamental. I’m afraid I’m getting bored by all those 50 shades of grey.

Step in Papers & Paints, by Patrick Baty. For those of you who don’t know, this funny little paint shop has been offering something a little different since the 60s.  I don’t really know Patrick Baty, although I think I glimpse him across the room from time to time at Georgian Group parties and things like that – you’re right, not always the most glamorous event in London, despite what members of the Georgian Group might think about themselves (although they have a certain unidentifiable quality that you find no where else in the world.  My favourite moment of all at a Georgian Group dinner?  As the speeches were about to start…. the room silent with anticipation… to be broken by the sound of Ruth Guilding (of Bible of British Taste) lighting a unfiltered cigarette held in a 6″ long black cigarette holder. A couple of years after the smoking ban.  Ruth is of course at her best at moments like this).

Anyway, back to Patrick Baty. Reading his texts on paint, on his very informative blog and website, I sometimes detect a slightly stringent tone, which sort of says “REALLY, believe me, I know more about this subject than you or in fact anyone ever will” which is probably true, when you come to think about it.  He does know a lot of paint. So much so, that I sometimes feel a bit grateful that we’ve never sat next to each other… it could get a bit intense.

Years ago, my great friend Johnny Holland, now of course a fantastic architect, worked, I believe, in Patrick’s basement producing their inimitable hand-painted paint charts.  Day after day Johnny turned up for work in the shop and painted hundreds of cards with lemon colour, then Medici Green, then Chocolate No. 1, and on, and on, and on. It sounded like rather gruelling work. But worth it… these paint charts do give Farrow & Ball a run for their money. See what I mean?

And… check out the colours! These are from the 1950s range… which formed the staple colours in the shop when it was founded by Patrick’s father (I think I have that right) in 1960. They are brilliant.

They include these two, at the bottom of the page, which is my stair hall (5-063) and Kitchen (4-050) in my new flat in London. Phew, that answers a recurring question that appears from time to time in the comments pages of the website.  (while we’re on the case, my kitchen cabinet knobs are A57 brass knobs from Optimum Brasses… for whoever wanted to know that answer about 9 months ago somewhere and I am sorry I have never replied sooner).

Or, this colour:

1-020, the pink one in the middle, which sometime this spring or summer is going to become my new sitting room colour in Dorset.

Meanwhile, will you check out these?

Perfect.  And, in the way that circles nicely complete from time to time – they are a fairly complete reproduction of the Thomas Parsons & Sons Tint Book that began this blog. Good old Papers & Paints. I’m dreaming of a turquoise bedroom corridor in London, of a dark chocolate bedroom and moss-green bathroom in Dorset, of Kelly Green kitchen cabinets in gloss paint at Queen Square – it’s time to turn up the paint volume, and have some fun.

For the neo-Georgians amongst you, Baty has a very splendid range of ‘Traditional Colours’, complete with requisite Drabs and dulls, as well as the brighter shades shown here.

On his blog, I found this tantalising image.

Check out the right hand sheet… The 1960s colours… which I don’t yet have (if someone really smart at Papers & Paints is reading this blog right now, and something tells me that they are, the office address is 49 Lambs Conduit Street, WC1N 3NG…)  HELLO COLOUR.  That green!  That purple!

Of course the funny thing is, that I’ve also re-fallen in love with the thing that started it all, the British Standard Colours which (Patrick will correct me) were set up, I think, in the 50s.

Here’s an original BS card, image borrowed from Patrick’s website.

Here’s my slightly battered but extremely useful Crown Trade chart from today.

Nice and simple, nice and cheap, and packed full of scintillating colours.  What more could you ask for? Good old British Standards. They may be falling in other walks of life (Liberal Democrat sex scandal, anyone, or Educational standards amongst 16 year olds, or even AAA ratings-whatevertheyare?)…

But not in paint.

22 comments on this post

Bertrand Legrandsays:

I would Like painting mu shutters with F&B Pantalon. It is unfortunately an archive color …no sample pots available. Is it dark and versatile shade ?

Thank you for you help with this


What a wonderful post! I’m in the process of ordering another discontinued F&B color (powder blue) and curiosity led me to your blog. Some of your favorites are mine as well — my mudroom is Berrington Blue (in the oil they no longer sell here in the US) and my shutters, doors and window boxes are Mere Green. How can they discontinue Mere Green?!?

Ben after reading above about colour cards and being in the trade for over 30 years i can now see how all the colours you have picked for Llandarcy have come together


I was a black and white girl for years. I even wrote a design book about it. Then I met my partner (a redhead) who LOVES colour. That was the end of our grey years. We now live in a home with a pea-green library, a navy bedroom, a royal blue and navy sunroom and a Schiaparelli pink and tangerine study. (Mine). Even our garden is full of hot-pink geraniums and hydrangeas! (Inspired, in part, by the glorious pink hydrangeas in the courtyard of the V&A and also those in the private oasis that is Gramercy Park in NY.) Try and find a copy of US House Beautiful’s magazine/book of Colour Paints (think that’s the title?), which came out last year, or year before. It has the most inspirational uses of colour and the most wonderful quotes by architects and designers on why they love certain colours. A surprisingly fantastic read for a little $5 publication.

Let’s hear it for colour. I am heartily sick of grey, grey, grey everywhere. Today in my blizzardy world white rules, with shades of grey green on the waving pine trees and just a tint of orange and red on the mountain ash. To quote Nathan Lane in that lovely film “The Birdcage” – “Well, One does want a hint of colour”.

I LOVE A COLORFUL HOUSE; God its boring when the walls are all painted cream with cream carpets.


I too have been interested obsessed with colour I like the way Christine Scaman puts the way she sees colour into seasonal perspective through colour analysis although a bit off the radar from interior decorating. I do remember my mothers collection of englishwomans house….books that another reader mentioned. Classic 80ss

Margaret Powlingsays:

I agree – F&B should keep their colours, not discontinue them. Who in heaven’s name decided that Gervase Yellow should be discontinued, one of the best yellows for interior decoration that I know! Yes, you can get it made up specially, but if it’s not on the colour chart, then you don’t know about it (or rather people not familar with it won’t know about it.)

Deby (in Canada)says:

Wow… some readers are getting bosy!… is it a ‘spring is coming’ thing?
This colour post makes me so happy, I love what you say about it in your book. Ruth’s colourful posts are amazing… the look down the bright green hall into the wild yellow room bring to mind the way I painted my bedroom in the 60’s- emerald green walls, vivid yellow ceiling … my Dad cursed when he painted over with something very pale for my sister! That room made me so happy as do all your wonderful paint charts… especially the greens and the fact that many are done with real paint.
We are expecting deep snow tomorrow and I see sunny and eight degrees for your weekend… i hope the weather people are right.


Holy kaleidoscope! Ruth Guilding’s photos almost gave me an OCD panic attack-too much clutter. Could someone please straighten out the rug in the sitting room? and kindly place the turquoise/white hand towel in a proper receptacle? The bathroom scales could be turned 90 degrees anti-clockwise whilst you’re at it, too.

Ben – this has to be your best post ever! I want to print it and frame it – seriously!
It’s informative, it’s beautiful and combines just about everything I love – your work/house/blog, English houses/interiors and colour! 🙂

Geoff Tsays:

Hello Ben. I see F & B are still supplying Savage Ground, named after our neighbour, although he says it’s a case of mistaken identity, as it’s not the ground colour he used in his F & B wallpapers. Ah, how we liked Berrington Blue, and how Ointment Pink insists on coming back through our scuffed Lime White skirting boards! Geoff in Norfolk.

Yes, yes, color (and colour)!!! My poor old house had been covered in “decorator white” by the previous owners in an ill-conceived idea that that would make it more saleable. Horror, horror! Have spent eleven years bringing the life back with color — orange, teal (much like the Bible of British Taste room quoted above — knowledge of which site, btw, I thank you for), oxblood ceiling, chocolate brown. The house can exhale again as the white vanishes. Can’t wait to see your more color — your kitchen seems much happier with the colour on the walls. 🙂

Victoria Bsays:

After the demise of John Oliver paints in notting hill I was bereft but now use Francesa’s Paints – Yellow Peppers – as good as Chinese imperial yellow from John Oliver. Her paints are densely velvety and now I have done my kitchen in Mughal earth. Another quality range, in every sense, is John myland “the colours of London” and my bathroom is Palmerston Pink. Take a look at their websites, they are both wonderful for rich colours. Wish I could send you the photos of the rooms I have just painted.


Just discovered your marvellous blog (and shop) and have been catching up on previous posts. Wonderfully inspiring though having read your 11 Nov post (“Goodbye cluster, goodbye empty frames with vintage postcards”) I spent part of the weekend wandering round the cottage swearing at random items (e.g. Fuck your cheap MDF round table covered in an over-priced Robert Kime fabric tablecloth). Stunning colours especially the turquoise. We’ve just had our sitting room painted in FB’s Terre d’Egypte, great for pictures.


I recently started following your blog and enjoy it. I am renovating an old brownstone is Brooklyn and have been badgering my husband that we need to start thinking about paint and color even though we still have a way to go. You can see our progress:


Be weary of geromlene pinks with even a hint of blue in them, very chilly in a north facing room. Don’t paint your dining room green (as someone on Ruth G’s blog did) it makes the food look blue in poor light! Cheers

Dear Ben, A tiny calumny, I haven’t deployed a cigarette holder (unless on the occasion of a photo shoot for The Telegraph in the 1990s, and even then it was an HB pencil to which the photographer sellotaped a cigarette). But I am amused that your memory supplies one ! It was good old Julian Bannerman, Lord of Misrule, gardener extraordinary to Prinny, Rothschild and many more, lighting up for me and him during a longeur on that particular evening :

A beautiful tribute to Baty, my ‘Thames-side’ decorator et al. Huntin’, smokin’ and morris dancin’ are good old British Standards that should be kept up, too, ‘tho sadly I am now more or less a non practitioner, xr


I too have the collection of Patrick Baty hand painted colour cards and an ageing selection of F&B charts which, sad to say, I spend hours pouring over. However, F&B do sell hand sprayed colour fans of all their archive colours and a separate colour fan of all the current colours. They don’t have that lovely hand-made look but give a much better representation of the colour than the complimentary chart.

Thanks for a great post. Seems I’m not the only one to have a drawer full of a wide variety of current, not so current and battered paint colour charts. My collection includes some A5 sheets with real paint chips from the Paint Library which include some amazing metallic colours which I’ve not seen the like of since.

I was pottering my way through the post, as one does, when my pink-seeking eye caught sight the corner of P&P 1 – 020 and there was a sudden, terrible lurch of love. I thought I’d ask what it was, only to then stumble drunkenly down a picture and learn that you will have it in your sitting room. Will you share it? This is the pink I’ve been looking and looking for. After years of black and blackberry and grey, I am craving softest strawberry mousse!

Your kitchen is delicious. Very tiger’s eyeish.


Wonderful post…your colours have lit a little flame of anticipation…helping me through these long days of snow and ice.

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