Farrow & Ball

Article published in 2004.

Tom Helme’s know-how and expertise on colours have been precious to Farrow & Ball – the largest manufacturer of traditional paint and wallpaper in England. Tom Helme and his schoolmate Martin Ephson, took over the company in the 90s and by the combination of new methods and traditional craftsmanship, transformed the company to a huge success and even launched a collection of historic colours for the National Trust.

We knew in advance that the company produces after traditional recipes and methods, but we are still to be surprised, when we arrive to the site where 20 members of staff last year produced more than three million litres of paint, exporting to more than 30 countries.

The complete process is made under the same one roof. First the “raw material” is mixed in pots – a creamy beige substance, consisting of a couple of different ingredients. The pigment is then added in to this substance. A computer works out the exact amount, but we are told that the Dave, who has been with F&B for more than 40 years, can do it as precise by eye.

Then the mixture is blended for 5-10 minutes. Slowly the colour begins to appear. First around the centre of the tub/bin/pot then it spreads towards the edges, and suddenly the complete substance is “Chinese Blue”. It looks so tasty that you feel like dipping your finger into it.

The last step in the process is the bottle and packing. Via a small assembly belt the empty tins are passing by a nozzle, jetting out the paint in delicious thick squirts. Lids are added and the tins are stored away, but not for long. Already next day, this fresh portion of Chinese Blue is to be shipped abroad.

Paint is by far the biggest part of F&B’s turnover. However, eight years ago the product assortment was expanded with wallpaper. On our way out from the paint site, we are bumping in to two men from the wallpaper unit. They are about to collect some paint and we are following them back to the wallpaper unit.

It is brighter in here, and a more hectic atmosphere. Mega rolls of paper, jars with paint, tins of bronze paste as well as blocks and rolls with patterns all over. In the cleaning area the blocks are washed down for paint and hanged to dry. Craftsmen are mingling around, checking the machinery and the paper – over and over again. All along one wall of the site, plastic is sealing off. Behind a new concrete floor is being laid as the wallpaper unit is expanding. Also wallpaper sales are fast increasing.

Photos by Stuart McIntyre.