Farrow & Ball: How to Decorate

Farrow & Ball has been in the news a lot lately—its lead international color consultant, Joa Studholme, and creative director Charlotte Cosby came to DC this fall to promote their new book, How to Decorate; and more recently, our own Raji Radhakrishnan decorated the DC showroom’s window. She’s one of 14 designers chosen to decorate F&B windows around the country to support DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS).

First, let’s check out Raji’s work, which is on display through Jan. 31:

If you look closely, you can see that Raji dribbled paint down the top of a panel covered in Farrow & Ball’s Gable wallpaper. “It’s a wonderful and cheery scene in a neutral color, so I can treat it as a canvas, and did a simple ‘drip’ paintwork over it using the seven colors of the VIBGYOR spectrum as an homage to DIFFA,” she told me in an e-mail. “Eventually, I selected artsy pieces in cheery colors like the red Gaetano Pesce vase on the white pedestal, a gold “tooth” sculptural stool to put a smile on the passerby’s face, and I covered the floor with several bundles of soft yarn to complete the holiday vignette.”

Here’s a closer look:

The VIBGYOR acronym stands for all the colors in the visible rainbow spectrum, and she interpreted them (of course) with Farrow and Ball shades streaming down over the wallpaper, which you’ll have to go see for yourself because the photos don’t pick it up too well. This is her key:

Violet=Radicchio mixed with Pitch Blue
Indigo=Raddichio mixed with Drawing Room Blue
Blue=Pitch Blue
Green=Breakfast Room Green
Yellow=Dayroom Yellow
Orange=Charlotte’s Locks
Red=Rectory Red

As the sign says, tag this post on social media using #FaBForDIFFA, and $1 for each hashtag will go to the cause.

Now that we’re talking about Farrow & Ball colors, let’s move on to the company’s latest book, which I was thrilled to have signed by Charlotte and Joa this fall.

Charlotte Cosby, left, and Joa Studholme at the DC showroom on Oct. 31.


Charlie, as they call her, and Joa gave a fantastic talk on the approach to using color in your home. “The real thing is to show what you can do. It doesn’t matter what place you have—it’s not just stately homes,” Charlie said, noting that she and Joa went all over the world, to tiny bungalows and grand villas alike, to find examples of how homeowners use Farrow & Ball’s paint and papers.

The book is a manual on how to use color and combinations of colors on every surface, from floor to ceiling to every kind of trim you can imagine. “When I go into a room, I will think about every single element in there,” Joa said.

The decorative trim is highlighted in Pointing, an extreme contrast with Mole’s Breath, which extends from the baseboards (and rocking horse!) on up. All book photography by James Merrell, courtesy of Farrow & Ball.

First, figure out your light conditions. “I cannot tell you how different the light is here than in the U.K.,” Joa said.

This Scottish breakfast room looks moody with Blue Gray walls and an Off White ceiling,

But because F&B paints are so intensely pigmented, the hues change throughout the day. The same room looks much different when the sun streams in. The white seems almost yellow, the the Blue Gray turns more pastel blue:

“You can’t fight nature when it comes to light. A small, dark room, when painted white, becomes a small, dark, dull room,” Joa said. But as you can see in the breakfast room, the Blue Gray lends a warm and fuzzy feeling—just right on a cold Scottish morning.

In terms of style, Charlotte went on, “we’re not talking about what is fashionable. It’s about what makes you feel good.”

Charlotte’s own hall in her English country house is filled with whimsy. The Lotus wallpaper, colored with Teresa’s Green and Pointing, is her starting point—all the colors in the rooms off this hall are painted in complementary shades.


Joa’s home is much more dramatic.

Black Blue gives the entry hall a theatrical feel, while an upper hall achieves the same effect with Down Pipe:

Painting the hallways dark “is a very good way of making your rooms feel lighter,” she said. “The other thing that makes me smile a lot is the insides of closets being painted.”

The book does a good job of categorizing groups of colors and neutrals—and the need to pair them accordingly. A red-toned color, for example, should go with a neutral that has a similar base:

The red-tinged Dimity reads as a pleasing white against the Dead Salmon walls, but a colder-toned neutral would seem jarring.

Color preferences change, as does fashion, Charlie pointed out. Cool grays have been all the rage for years, but she gives that trend no longer than five more. Pink, on the other hand, with its “tender, blushing colors, gives you a hug.” It counteracts the hardness of all the devices and electronics in our life. She sees pink starting to come on strong, and I don’t doubt her. My 15-year-old son’s favorite new clothing item is a pink sweatshirt from indcsn, a company he discovered (not surprisingly) in the U.K.

But whatever color you’re choosing, the book walks you through how to use it, whether it’s light trim on dark walls, dark trim on light walls, or an interplay of neutrals. I’m glad I have Charlie and Joa’s book to guide me the next time I venture to the F&B showroom in Friendship Heights.