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Farrow & Ball showrooms are as posh as their paint

The upscale emporiums are a far cry from your local hardware store

Published: February 11, 2014 03:00 PM

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Like many local hardware stores, mine is a hodgepodge of stuff, with drawers full of nails and sacks of peat moss stacked near the door in spring, replaced by bags of salt in winter. The paint, brushes, and paint chips are always in the same spot and that’s often true of the colorblind clerk who matches my colors and mixes my paints. None of this prepared me for my visit to the Farrow & Ball paint store in Manhattan.
When a gallon of paint costs $105, that’s the first clue that you are in a rarefied place, a showroom, not a store, where words such as alchemy are part of the chatter. Farrow & Ball’s paints are made and tinted at a factory in England and have names such as calamine, described in the brochure as a color that appeared regularly in country house boudoirs from the 1870s to Edwardian times, in case you were wondering. Churlish green, mizzle, and rectory red are a few of the other color names. There are only 132, unlike some American brands that offer thousands, but the Farrow & Ball brochure says, “We strive to make your decision a quandary by making every paint, perfection.” A quandary? Now there’s a sales pitch.
But here’s how I knew I was a hayseed blown in from the suburbs into the most affluent parts of New York. After I admired the 132 panels of color on the wall, the saleswoman asked me about the natural light that streams into the room I was going to paint, was it northern light, southern? I had to think, and as she explained the different effects light have on color I was still trying to answer her question. And when a woman with a lovely English accent asked me about my rooms, as I stood there surrounded by beautiful colors and handcrafted wallpaper, I wanted to say I had a grand place in the country or a modern city loft with breathtaking views, but I don’t.
And so it was back to my small house in the suburbs and the man at the local store who mixes my paints. Which is okay, because I can’t afford paint that costs $105 a gallon, and the Farrow & Ball interior paints didn’t do that well in our interior paint tests.  In fact, they were the worst at hiding old paint. But I'll let the paint Ratings tell you the rest of the story.
—Kimberly Janeway

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