Painting a picture of new future

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When chemist John Farrow met engineer Richard Ball at a Dorset clay pit in 1946, they discovered they shared an unusual passion.

The duo enjoyed experimenting with paint to create beautiful colours.

Sensing an opportunity, they formed a company – Farrow & Ball – and built a factory in the small town of Verwood, from which they supplied paint to clients including the Ford Motor Company and Raleigh Bicycles. The paint industry went on to embrace newer, cheaper ingredients, such as vinyl and acrylic, while Farrow & Ball remained wedded to traditional oil-based methods and so faded into irrelevance.

This changed in the 1990s when Farrow & Ball resurfaced under new ownership, with a mission to leverage its heritage as artisan paint-makers and position themselves as premium tastemakers.

This has been achieved in some ingenious ways.

While other brands gave their ranges uninspiring code numbers, Farrow & Ball leant full tilt into English eccentricity and bestowed its paints with weirdly evocative names like Elephant’s Breath and Borrowed Light.

The company has also worked hard to solve one of the biggest challenges facing design-led businesses – how to help insecure prospective customers make a decision when faced with so much choice.

They accomplish this by carefully rationing the number of colours available in any given year.

The implication being that they only make available the most tasteful and on-trend shades.

This is supported with a clever marketing strategy using curated photos of aspirational living spaces in lavish coffee-table books and its own online interiors magazine, The Chromologist.

The company also employs a team of colour consultants who – for a fee – will visit your home and advise on the best configuration of hues to use.

All of this effort is supplemented by a constant stream of images shared and tagged by the brand’s customers on Instagram and Pinterest.

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design