Farrow & Ball and the Natural History Museum unveil new paint collection

Based on the age-old palette used by Charles Darwin himself, Farrow & Ball’s new range is a force of nature

Colour by nature paints by Farrow & Ball
The dramatic ‘Duck Green’ shade colours the walls, lifted by ‘Snow White’ woodwork, while a lick of ‘Dutch Orange’ brightens the corridor

Luminous ‘Dutch Orange’, inky ‘Imperial Purple’ and vibrant ‘Lake Red’ – Farrow & Ball’s new paint range ‘Colour by Nature’ is a bright and beautiful endorsement of the brand’s historic roots. Just as the company was formed, matching paints to historic interiors in partnership with the National Trust, this new capsule collection has been developed in collaboration with another great British institution, the Natural History Museum.

In keeping with Farrow & Ball’s heritage ethos, the new range harks back to a palette featured in a rare 19th-century book from the museum’s archive, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours – a fitting choice as it is also renowned for inventive colour naming. First published in 1814, the book documents colours found in the natural world and was used by Charles Darwin in his scientific observations.

Brickwork in ‘Crimson
 Red’ and cabinets
 in ‘Scotch Blue’
 estate emulsion,
 £46.50 for 2.5 litres
Brickwork in ‘Crimson Red’ and cabinets in ‘Scotch Blue’ estate emulsion, £46.50 for 2.5 litres
Farrow & Ball

‘As colour lovers, we’ve been aware of the book for a long time,’ explains Charlotte Cosby, head of creative at Farrow & Ball. ‘We finally got to see it in person in early 2017, when we were invited to the Natural History Museum to view the library’s special collection. It is already like a Farrow & Ball colour chart. The names, the layout and the colours feel like such a natural fit for us – as soon as we saw it, we knew it was meant to be.’

Abraham Gottlob Werner, an influential German mineralogist, sought to establish
a classification system for the hues of minerals, which resulted in the original publication of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours. But it was Scottish painter Patrick Syme who added the animal and vegetable examples, as well as the text that has become so cherished over time. According to Maxine Lister from the Natural History Museum, the first edition was followed by a reprint in 1821. It quickly became popular in the pre-photography era, widely used by artists and naturalists to identify and record colours in nature.

Walls and cabinet in ‘Dutch Orange’ estate

 emulsion, £46.50 for 2.5 litres
Walls and cabinet in ‘Dutch Orange’ estate emulsion, £46.50 for 2.5 litres
Farrow & Ball

‘Charles Darwin took a copy with him on his voyage on the Beagle, making frequent references to the colours featured in Werner’s book to describe what he saw,’ Lister says of the influential publication, which still resonates today. ‘It has also been cited as a key reference by producers of colour charts. Our own edition at the NaturalHistory Museum is widely available in the UK and, since its publication in February 2018, has sold more than 10,000 copies and in excess of 23,000 copies in North America.’

‘THE PROCESS HAS REVEALED TO US THE SHEER VARIETY OF COLOUR IN NATURE – IT’S NOT JUST EARTHY TONES BUT FLASHES OF EXOTIC BRIGHTS’

There are a dizzying 110 shades in the original book, but Cosby, together with colour curator Joa Studholme, cross-referenced these organic tones with Farrow & Ball’s core palette of 132, whittling them down to just 16 new hues. ‘We were so keen to get the colours exactly right that, once we’d made our final selection, we took a member of our technical team and a spectrophotometer (an optical instrument for measuring the intensity of light relative to wavelength) to the museum to capture the original swatches as faithfully as possible,’ says Cosby.

The pocket-sized colour chart has been designed to be easily portable too, just asWerner’s Nomenclature of Colours was for those carrying out scientific fieldwork inits heyday. ‘We’d love people to slip our colour card into their pocket and take it on their outdoor adventures to see which colours they can spot. This process has really revealed to us the sheer variety of colour in nature – it’s not just greens, browns and earthy tones, there are some lovely flashes of exotic brights out there too,’ she adds.

Drawers and board in ‘Verdigris Green’ estate emulsion, £46.50 for 2.5 litres
Drawers and board in ‘Verdigris Green’ estate emulsion, £46.50 for 2.5 litres
Farrow & Ball

This collaboration is the Natural History Museum’s first foray into interior design, although it’s clearly just the start with Lister keen to expand further in this direction. And with the world’s current concern and appreciation for nature, one imagines such collections will do rather well.

‘We really hope that people engage with the story behind the range,’ she says. ‘Being able to reference these colour swatches with the use of natural elements, such as the tip of a butterfly wing or the petals of a flower, may seem quaint in today’s technological world, but we hope that it will encourage people to get out into nature and discover these beautiful colours for themselves.’

The 16 new shades in the ‘Colour by Nature’ range are on sale now by Farrow & Ball (farrow-ball.com; nhm.ac.uk)

For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration October 2019

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