Sarah Cole on paint tips and color trends | Home Front

Jun 26, 2014

Sarah Cole, creative director for Farrow & Ball, is closely involved with the development of all new paints and wallpapers, as well as strategizing and implementing brand photography, events, press activity and more.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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It is my pleasure to welcome Sarah Cole, creative director for Farrow & Ball, to the chat today as we know how you all love talking about paint. Sara is closely involved with the development of all new paints and wallpapers at Farrow & Ball. She can also talk about the great ways to use paint to rejuvenate a piece of furniture. A new Farrow & Ball paint store will open in Washington soon and I'm sure she will tell us about that. Let's chat.

Hi Jura, thanks for having me on Home Chat today, I’m really looking forward to hearing from everyone and answering lots of colour and decorating questions.   

Hello everyone.
If you need help remaking a room, send information about the space, what you need help with and some photos to!

So glad to be able to ask a question of a paint expert today! My DH and I are renovating the basement of our Cape Cod-style, 1952-built home. It's small -- it was portioned off at some point to create an alcove area, which is now used for storage. It's got two of those tiny windows at the top of the wall/bottom of the ground outside; the rest of the lighting is recessed lights. This is our media room/library and we are down there every day. (we do not have children) I'm going back and forth between a light color to make it seem bigger, or a darker shade to make it seem cozy. The space is not large and I'm afraid a too-dark color could make it feel depressing. I could sure use some advice -- I don't even know where to start on the color wheel. Thanks very much!

If you're not too sure about dark colour, then I wouldn't go too dark to begin with, but small spaces are a great place to use richer colours.  Mid-tone blues or greens could be a good place to start, try Oval Room Blue, Dix Blue or Chappell Green for a relaxed feel.

I love Farrow and Ball colors. Can you please recommend one of your colors that is a gray-brown. I need one that is not dark. Thank you.

We offer several grey-brown tones, Dove Tale and Elephant's Breath have a contemporary lilacy undertone, or you could try Light Gray for something a bit more traditional.  Any of these shades will create a very laid-back feel in your home.

My master bath has beige tub, sinks and countertop; beige marble floor (whisps of white and brown in it); and brass fixtures. Without redoing everything would it be prudent to change to chrome fixtures and what color wall paint might you recommend?

It really depends which look you are going for, chrome fixtures do have a very contemporary look, but brass is becoming more popular again and will have a slightly warmer feel.  If you keep the walls fairly neutral, Pointing is a very soft off-white then you can add flashes of colour to the space.  A really quick and easy way to update a bathroom is to paint the underside of a bath, or the bath panel in a stronger tone.  You could try a  bright red like Incarnadine to add a splash of colour.

Inspired by a story from a while back about painting porch ceilings blue, I'm looking for a robin's egg shade (not too aqua). Also, would painting the front door the same color as the ceiling look odd? If so, could you recommend a color for the door? The house is a red brick Cape with white trim and white siding on the dormers. Thank you!

Dix Blue is a lovely summery blue that could work well on a porch ceiling. For something a little less strong, try Pale Powder or Pavilion Blue.  Doors are the perfect opportunity to make a statement, so Dix Blue would work really well. You could try it in our Full Gloss finish for even more impact.  

I would love to paint my front door a bright orange, but my husband hates orange. What are some other front door colors that scream friendship? <p>Our house is light gray and, thanks to a huge tree, the front of our house and yard is frequently in shadow. Our shutters also need to be painted.

If you wanted an alternative colour to orange that isn’t quite so bold, but still wanted something bright and cheerful, you could always consider using a red on your front door and shutters. Red has always been a popular colour for front doors and adds impact whilst retaining a classy and sophisticated look. Rectory Red is one of our bright ‘cherry’ reds and looks particularly good in our Full Gloss finish, whereas Incarnadine is a slightly more crimson colour, both of which work well with grey and grey based colours.

My open plan LR/DR/K has a vaguely Scandinavian feel. It's mostly white walls and blond maple, with blue-green slate on fireplace surround and in the foyer. White denim slipcovers. Big windows, lots of daylight. To balance the over-woodiness of bare floors and maple trim, I want to paint the coffee table and side tables. I dislike slapdash DIY. There's no substitute for elbow grease plus the best materials. That's why I'd appreciate your words on paint type & colors for this project. Could you please recommend a color and finish? I have access to F&B at a nearby paint store. I've considered whites, "greiges", denim or blue-green, and even butter yellow. You can see decision-paralyzed. Could you please name some favorite colors and sheens? I'm leaning toward an alkyd/oil semigloss but I'm open to and most grateful for your expert advice.

We have lots of great ideas for painting furniture, and they don't have to be shabby.  Like you say preparation is so important here to get a beautiful finish that really lasts.  Whichever colour you choose it's important to sand back any existing paint and apply a coat of the correct Primer & Undercoat before painting with two coats of your chosen colour.

We have 2 finishes suitable for use on furniture, Full Gloss which has a 95% sheen, or Estate Eggshell which has more matt appearence.  Both are available in all 132 Farrow & Ball colours. 

In terms of colour for your space, our new bright Yellowcake could add a real 'wow' factor a Scandinavian scheme.  If you'd prefer colours that tone in with those on your walls try Ammonite or Purbeck Stone, or Mole's Breath is another great alternative.  It's slightly darker but will tone in well and create a really cohesive decorating scheme.

We have a "vintage" 50's era rolling room fan (Westinghouse Mobileair) which has served us well through the years. It has now stopped working and probably needs a new motor, but I cannot seem to find any small appliance repair people in Northern Virginia. Wonder if you or any of your readers know of anyone who could help us get our fan going again.

Will toss this one out to the crowd. Anyone?

Hi Jura and Sarah, We're just about to start a kitchen renovation. We have shaker inset cabinets that will be painted white. There will also be an island that we're considering a color for. Maybe a gray/green or even something darker to ground the space. The floors are a wide lighter oak. The counters will be a white quartz. Any thoughts on what white for the cabinets (something soft) and also ideas for the island color? Thanks!

Kitchen islands are a great place to add strong colour, really grounding the space and giving it a focal point.  Earthy green-greys like Pigeon, Mizzle and Blue Gray are great colours for kitchens, especially if you look out onto a garden or yard.  Shaded White is a pretty white for your shaker units and the combination with a green-grey will create a sophisticated country feel.

We've lived in our little 1968 ranch now for almost eight years and it desperately needs to be painted. The family room, which is very dark, is a pale yellow, which doesn't go wonderfully with my taupe furniture and large dark red oriental rug. Any suggestions for a nice neutral? Would it be a mistake to go to a medium taupe to set off the nice white trim?

Our family of red-based neutrals would complement the taupe furniture and work well with your red rug.  A medium taupe like Archive or Oxford Stone would create a really warm feel in this family room.  A white trim would accent the darker wall colour, but it's important to choose a sympathetic white.  By that I mean a white that has the same undertone as the wall colour, Dimity would be the best choice to go with these colours.

Recently I've seen lots of pictures of doors painted black. These are mostly interior doors or ones to the outside w/ glass, like French doors. Aside from making a bold statement, these would hide dirt from handprints! Can you recommend a strategy and colors?

Black is a very chic yet practical choice as you say.  It's a sophisticated colour, but if you choose a just off black like Railings or Black Blue you can retain a more informal look.  If you're making the change from white to black doors, using a Primer & Undercoat is essential.  Our Primers and Undercoats are available in 'dark tones' which makes it easier to make a colour change like this.  Good luck!

Please suggest a warm beige/taupe type color for my living room, foyer and dining room. The dining room and living room get lots of bright light and overlook the Potomac River. I'd also like your suggestion for green for the accent wall in the dining room. Thank you.

Wow, sounds like a beautiful location! For a sense of flow throughout your home you should use a similar shade in each room. With the greens and blues of the trees and river outside, Bone would be a good fit here. It is a taupe with a subtle green hue to it that will give a sense of the outside coming in. Pair it with green tinged James White on the woodwork and a feature wall in the verdant Breakfast Room Green in the dining room.

Is all your paint made in England?

Yes, all our paints and wallpapers are made in Dorset, England, where I am today!  They are still made according to traditional techniques using only the finest ingredients and rich pigments to give them a unique depth of colour.

I want to use textured vinyl wallpaper on a basement space that gets a lot of use (and therefore dirty walls). Part of the area already has a wallpaper that I really love and hate to lose, but I can't find anything similar enough (or different enough that I like) that will work with it. Do you have any suggestions for wallpaper sources (that don't require a decorator)? I think the original is Waltex or something like it.

We make wallpaper as well as paint, so I would recommend having a look at the wallpaper designs on our website, or visiting one of our showrooms.  Our papers are made using our paints so they really are unique.  We have a full range of designs including stripes, damasks, geometrics, florals and plains so hopefully there will be something that you like!

why is gray such a hot color?

It's an interesting question, particularly as it has stayed popular for such a long time.  The popularity of grey started as a reflection of the economic situation in times of recession. Using it in the home created a cool, edgy, and architectural feel. As we move out of recession, slightly warmer shades of grey are becoming more popular, as they create a contemporary look, but with a more liveable feel. Our newest greys Purbeck Stone and Ammonite are great for creating this look.  

You might want to ask around at any local hardware stores (anything smaller than a Lowe's/Depot). A lot of the old boys there will either do those kinds of repairs, or they know somebody from the lodge who can help you.

Yes good idea. That reminds me that the Strosniders chain often repairs things and you might want to check with them.

I want to paint my kitchen walls an aubergine color in high gloss. Do you have a recommendation for paint color and also if I could get as good effect without necessarily going with a high gloss?

Wow!  That sounds like a fantastic choice for a kitchen.  Our aubergine is called Brinjal.  To create real impact with a high shine finish I would recommend using our Full Gloss which has a 95% sheen.  Good luck!

In my bedroom, I painted the floor moldings, and window and door trim (but not the door itself) a daffodil yellow color. Now the beigey off-white wall color doesn't look good with it. Would the light gray that you mentioned earlier go well with the yellow trim?

Grey and yellow go really well together and will make a very fashionable combination.  An easy grey like Cornforth White or Purbeck Stone would certainly complement the yellow, but for something more edgy you could try Pavilion Gray or Manor House Gray.  These greys have a bluer undertone and a slightly more architectural feel.

I think gray is popular because it's versatile. It can be modern or traditional, and it can pair well with almost any color. To me, gray is the new brown.

I quite agree, I also think there are so many shades of grey that you can choose a tone that's personal to you and scheme you creating in your home.  Bluer greys like Blackened will have a cooler, more minimalist feel, while greys like Ammonite and Purbeck Stone have a more relaxed feel and suit the popular Scandinavian style of decorating.

We have a north facing room with windows on three sides; right now, to combat the wintery "gray" feeling that room gets when it is in shadow, it is painted Kansas City grain, and one wall roasted sesame (Ben Moore). The warm orange-ish tones do the trick--- but I need a change from my "peach walls". I read in F&B literature to combat North facing rooms lack of light, do not get paint with green or blue undertones. Every time I think about introducing a light yellow BM Antiquity or BM Palace white--- I worry that I am changing the peach for banana(!). A white will just go chalky/gray in this space, especially the corners of the room--- so I keep wondering--- just go for a clean yellow? (Milkyway?); go for a smudgy yellow (Palace white?); or, just go for a white with yellow or cream in it? (White Chocolate or Timid white). Any ideas to help figure out this north facing quandary would be appreciated. Thank you!

A creamy white could be a great choice here, avoiding the 'banana' scheme you're worried about!  New White, White Tie of Tallow will all help to bounce as much light around the room as possible avoiding the wintery 'grey' feel you mention.  Another option is to work with nature and choose a darker tone.  If you're feeling brave, a warm dark neutral like Charleston Gray or London Clay would create a really dramatic space.  Happy decorating!

Are you opening a Washington retail store? Where and when?

Yes – I’m pleased to say we’ll be opening a new showroom for both customers and interior designers this autumn on Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase.  It's a really exciting move for us and we’re looking forward to welcoming lots of new customers to the store later this year.


I used Farrow and Ball's color visualizer and I love the cheery Rectory Red color. What shutter color would go well with it?

Rectory Red is a great colour with lots of life!  It works well with red-based neutrals like Dimity, or you could create a striking folkloric scheme by combining with Cooking Apple Green or Green Ground.  Both these colours are very natural so would work well on window shutters.

Our bathroom is original to our 1938 Tudor. It has black ceramic floors and white ceramic tile 2/3 the way up the walls. Currently the painted areas are white, but we are ready for a little color. What would you suggest?

If you're trying to complement a monochrome scheme then colour wise the world is your oyster!  Pretty Middleton Pink would give the bathroom a lovely feminine feel, or try a soft blue like Borrowed Light or Skylight.  Both these colours have a hint of grey so will create a tranquil feel in the bathroom.

I see lots of pretty images of English bathrooms in shelter magazines from abroad... I love the look but I'm not sure what exactly I'm zeroing in on. In other words, if I want to create the feeling at home, what are the keys to the equation?

I always think that traditional cast iron baths are essential in a quintessentially English bathroom.  If you don't have space for one of those, then I think stronger blues like Drawing Room Blue or even our new Stiffkey Blue will create a luxurious feel.

Thanks for all the questions today; it’s been great to hear about all your decorating projects.  Have a look at our website,, for lots more inspirational ideas and advice!

Lots of fun ideas for painting projects for the long weekend coming up. Thanks Sarah. It was great to get to talk to you about Farrow & Ball. Happy Fourth everyone. No chat next week. I will be back Thursday July 10 with a guest from Pepco to answer all your questions about saving energy in the summer months and beyond.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Sarah Cole
Sarah Cole, creative director for Farrow & Ball, is closely involved with the development of all new paints and wallpapers, as well as strategizing and implementing brand photography, events, press activity, and website and social media.
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