Intense research goes into forecasting Dulux’s colour of the year, the hue that supposedly predicts the coming mood.
Next year it’s all about Spiced Honey; the thinking behind this warm amber shade is that it’s inviting, timeless and versatile, representing a slightly more outward-looking, kinder mindset than 2018’s colour, a muted heather that was all about hunkering down at home and hiding from the world’s uncertainty.
Dulux’s accompanying imagery shows off a variety of palettes and unusual ways with colour: Spiced Honey on the ceiling, with pale pink walls, stencilled elements and a soft greige on the woodwork.
What’s more interesting is that this multifaceted, imaginative way to use paint is no longer simply the preserve of marketing campaigns: real homeowners are also abandoning the usual rules of coloured walls and white woodwork and ceilings, and doing something a bit different.
“The difference between the beautiful rooms we see in magazines and realising them in our own homes simply lies in the confidence to have a go,” says Marianne Shillingford, Dulux’s creative director. “‘It’s only paint, so I can experiment and have fun with it’ should be your decorating mantra.”
She also points out that digital tools, such as Dulux’s Visualiser app, are also making it easier to get an idea of how your room will look in its new livery, without having to lift a paintbrush.
“I think you should be able to take a photo of an empty room, and it should still look interesting. You can make your house a home just by what you put on the walls,” says interior designer Lucinda Sanford.
She suggests a starting point for the uninitiated: “If you’re not that brave, but you know that you don’t want one colour on the walls and white on the skirting, a tone-on-tone scheme is a good first step.”
She recommends both Paint & Paper Library and Little Greene, whose paint collections include tonal versions of the same colour, “so the work’s been done for you. You can have, say, Plaster I on the ceiling, Plaster III on the walls and Plaster V on the woodwork.”
Of all the recent paint trends, using anything-but-white on the woodwork is the one that’s taken hold the most strongly. “It normally takes a bit of arm-twisting to persuade people, but it’s become a bit more normal now, so it’s just a case of what people are used to seeing,” says Sanford.
Fellow interior designer Lucy Barlow, of Barlow & Barlow, agrees: “We love to do a painted skirting board, it’s a really fun and cheap update. Dark woodwork gives that industrial look: if you can’t afford Crittall windows, paint the existing window frames black and suddenly you’ve got that warehouse chic.”
Contrasting ceilings are also becoming more popular. There’s a worry that they will make a room seem more closed-in, but Shillingford says the effect is more like a blanket – comforting rather than claustrophobic.
Interior designer Rachel Forster, of Forster Inc, has just painted the ceiling of her home office a dark charcoal grey (a shade called Smithy, from Lakeland Paints) and describes the effect as being “really warm and cosy”.
She’s another fan of coloured woodwork, recently painting the window frames in a client’s house’s yellow, then creating a sense of coherence across the rooms by using the same shade on other details, such as yellow hairpin legs on a table.
“Proportion is important, though,” she says. “Go for perhaps five per cent in a bright colour, and think of it like the contrasting lining of a suit that you don’t see all the time. If it’s over the top it ends up looking like a nursery.”
Following the broader shift in tastes towards dark, enveloping shades on the walls – first it was grey and indigo, now it’s moving into deep green and aubergine – we’re going the whole hog and covering the ceilings and skirting all the same shade, creating a complete cocoon.
There’s a history behind this seemingly modern way of decorating. “Painting everything the same colour from the ceiling to the skirting boards seems like a scary modern thing to do, but the Georgians were the first to realise the potential of this technique to make rooms appear seamless, elegant and more spacious,” says Shillingford.
“I think we are starting to approach colour in a more subtle way, using interesting techniques rather than bold shades to make a statement,” says architect and designer Shalini Misra.
For example, for one project, she painted the skirting boards, and then the same depth above it, in a glossy dark blue, topped with a slim metallic band, with matt walls.
Using a number of finishes like this is a way to create a more layered, interesting look in a room. “Try painting the bottom third of the walls in soft sheen and the top two thirds in flat matt,” says Shillingford. “It looks amazing and people will give you much more credit than the effort it takes. It will also come to life as you move through the space, and as the light changes throughout the day.”
For years, ultra-matt walls were the look to strive for, but now high-gloss finishes are making a comeback. Luxury homes might feature walls and ceilings that have been professionally lacquered, a time-consuming process that results in a mirrored surface with incredible depth.
“We would do this in spaces that we want to be really atmospheric,” says Barlow. “It gives a jewellery box-like feel, especially if it’s done in a really brave colour.”
Lacquering is not something that anyone should try to reproduce by putting gloss paint on the walls – the finish is unforgiving, magnifying any lumps and bumps (and even specks of dust), and it’s not easy to paint over if you change your mind.
Barlow recommends introducing high gloss via cupboard doors in the kitchen, or wardrobes. By having them sprayed by professionals off-site, it minimises any imperfections.
If you’re feeling brave, a colour-block design can make a striking focal point. Blocks, stripes and bands of colour are easily achieved with FrogTape and a good eye for proportion. Interior design firm Kitesgrove recently created a bedroom scheme in three colours, meeting at diagonals, with their juncture hidden behind the headboard.
The unusual look demonstrates how designers often use paint as a tool to solve visual problems.
Kitesgrove’s creative director Sophie Elborne says that the property “had a lot of pitched roofs and angles to it, so it was about accentuating those shapes, rather than trying to forget about them or conceal them”.
Elborne also likes to paint the “spine” of a property – the corridors, hallways and staircases – in much darker tones. “It makes every adjoining room feel lighter and brighter as a consequence. It creates a lot more drama,” she adds.
The best thing about transforming a home with paint is that it gives you bang for your buck. “It makes the greatest transformation, for the smallest cost,” says Forster.
Not to mention that most of the time it’s relatively easily to change, encouraging us to be ever-bolder in our choices. As Forster says: “It’s like when you get a haircut, and you know that if you don’t like it, it’ll grow back.”