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Home Improvements: Annie Sloan on the empowering potential of paint

The creator of the inimitable Chalk Paint, whose house in Oxford is something of a polychrome palace, sets the tone when it comes to incorporating colour into your home. Her advice? Confidence is key

Charlotte Evans
Home Improvements: Annie Sloan on the empowering potential of paint

When she launched her Chalk Paint more than three decades ago, Annie Sloan set out to produce colours that were more subtle and flexible than the ‘plasticky’ household paints that filled the market, drawing inspiration from the exquisite colours and textures of 18th-century Swedish interiors.

Years later, her paint has revolutionised and democratised interior design, allowing objects and spaces to be transformed with ease and style. Painting furniture – without having to sand or strip it first – and making a home your own went from being an exclusive occupation to a useful and fun creative pastime. “My paint is not for artists or specialists,” says Annie. “It’s for everybody. My aim has always been to empower more people to feel creative.”

Today she’s a household name, widely considered a leading authority on colour, while her products are a source of endless inspiration, available at the tip of any amateur upcycler’s paintbrush. And perhaps now, more than ever, we need her. In times of global crises and environmental emergencies, when the world feels like a dark and difficult place, there’s something to be said for switching off your notifications, donning an apron and brightening up that old sideboard.

Here, Annie speaks to Inigo about colour’s positive energy and shares her tips on how to introduce more of it into your home.

Do your homework

“Adding colour to your home is such a lovely thing to do, but it’s worth doing some research first. Look at and choose colours that are made with care. I create my paints in a more complex way than standard household paints, using pure colour and no black pigment, so that they can be mixed together without compromising their clarity and intensity.

“Thanks to spurts in scientific research, pigments developed hugely in the 18th century and again in the early 20th century. Until the Edwardian era, many bright yellows, blues and reds were quite rare, so it’s worth bearing in mind that it might not work adding these colours to historic interiors. I feel rather sad when I see the walls of old cottages painted brightest white – a shade that was only available from the 1930s onwards. Softer whites work much better in heritage buildings.

“But you don’t need to stick to accuracy madly, of course. I’m not a purist about these things, though I do think that some pigments can feel slightly crude in certain contexts. It’s worth doing some investigation at the beginning, even if you decide to go off-piste.”

Start with a mid-tone colour

“I hate making rules but if you are not confident about adding colour to your home, I would advise against keeping your white walls, which can be really hard to make work with other colours. Instead, start with a mid-tone colour and go from there – a blue wall, for example, is a great place to begin. Deep-blue walls can set pictures off beautifully.

“In a good room, there should be two or three main colours. One might be a neutral, then you’ll just need a few little brighter bits – a touch of lime green in a picture, for instance – to set it off.

“Try to avoid using too many colours in a single space. Some people can pull it off, but if you’re not confident I would stick to a small handful.”

Layering is key

“Layering –­ colour, furniture and objects – is everything. Acquiring new objects over time and adding them slowly, rather than living in a ‘finished’ space is great fun. I believe rooms should evolve spontaneously. For me, there is joy in acquiring a new (or new to me) piece of furniture and finding a place for it. It can help to move things around when you’re doing that. My rooms are constantly changing.”

Don’t worry if things don’t match

“People get obsessed with making everything coordinate perfectly. As soon as things match, they start to look a little bit dead, so don’t worry about having something you think doesn’t work; it probably does.

“My own home has come together organically – I consider it a bit of a testing ground and try not to overthink things. It has a lot of colour and objects I’ve collected over the years on my travels. I’m like a magpie.

“Most of my furniture is upcycled – from stools to tables, everything has been adapted with Chalk Paint. I love how it reverberates with colour. Occasionally, I decide I’m going to start again and paint the whole place white. But I know I wouldn’t be satisfied with it for long. Colour is just so joyful and expressive. In fact, there are some still-white corners hiding here and there – I really need to paint them.”

Have the confidence to go with what you love

“Gone are the days when bathrooms had to be blue, green or white. I recently did an orange bathroom and it looked amazing. My advice is to do anything you like in whatever space. And don’t agonise over it.

“Smaller spaces tend to lend themselves to brighter colours, but this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. You can usually get away with lots of gorgeous colour, so think about all the elements in a space – paint your kitchen cabinets in a different colour to the walls, for example. And consider how the natural light works in a room.

“Ultimately, have the confidence to go with what you love. Adding colour to your home is like choosing clothes – it’s completely individual and that’s what’s great about it. As soon as you start having worries about something, you won’t do it. So go for it. Make your home your own – and no one else’s.”

Further reading

Annie Sloan

Annie on Instagram

Annie Sloan Home on Instagram

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