At Work With: Charlotte Cosby, Farrow & Ball
A job to make you green with envy, Charlotte Cosby is Head of Creative at colour experts Farrow & Ball, mixing and naming paint that has taken the world by storm. To mark our collaboration with Farrow & Ball on The Muse, we decided to delve deeper into the role of a colour expert.
Farrow & Ball are famous (and infamous) for their unique paint colours. What is it about your paint colours that have remained so evocative for customers all these years?
The secret is the pinch of black pigment we add to our signature colours, making them soft and muted and giving them an instant familiarity, which in turn makes them incredibly easy to live with and use. Their stories definitely help, too. We’ve known a few colours to be bought purely for their name!
The company has been based in Dorset since its inception by John Farrow and Richard Ball in the 1940s. What is it about this location that gives Farrow & Ball its distinct character?
Dorset is part of our history and continues to inspire us every day, as you’ll see from the colours and wallpaper designs linked to it. We’ve been very free to follow our instincts and focus on what we do best: beautiful quality paints with an extraordinary depth of colour.
In 2010, the company decided to move its entire range of paints from oil-based to eco-friendly water-based finishes and responsibly sourced wallpapers. How much did this move change the nature of the product, as well as the company itself?
We were the first paint brand to make the switch from oil-based paints to water-based paints, a move that ever since has informed our choices when it comes to creating a product that is kinder to the environment.
Since switching to water-based formulations, we have made many strides in the right direction in regard to how we produce and create our products, including having 100% renewable energy consumption across our site, low levels of VOCs in our paint, and achieving the highest possible rating for air quality.
Being a colour expert at Farrow & Ball must require some serious colour knowledge. What was your journey to becoming Head of Creative?
I took the less obvious path and started in finance, specialising in Swiss Market Intelligence. I quickly realised my heart was in the creative field and, following brief stints working for a media agency and an interior designer, I started a junior position in the Farrow & Ball marketing department. I then worked my way up to Head of Creative in 2014.
Before mixing a new colour, do you have an idea in your head of what you want it to look like, or is it more of a free-form discovery of test and adapt?
All the above! Sometimes we know exactly what we’re after, sometimes we start with a name and make a colour to suit, and other times we know roughly where we’re headed but it might take 10 or more tries to get the final shade right.
The Muse draws much of its inspiration from the British Pleasure Gardens of the 18th Century. How did you settle on this theme and what was the key driver in sourcing colour inspiration from this era of decadence?
Following a number of sessions with the team at Tala, it became clear that, although future forward, the design conceit of The Muse had strong links to the past, particularly with the mystique and intrigue of the social scene in the early to mid 1800s. So, we took that, along with the other design influences, and reinterpreted it as a set of colours that could work in multiple situations today.
The Muse is Tala’s first truly portable lamp and its suitable for use outdoors as well as indoors. How are you using it in your home?
I’ve actually used The Muse nearly everywhere – the Hackles colourway has become a permanent fixture in my kitchen. I’d never considered a portable lamp, but it’s brilliant; no wires mean we can easily move it wherever we need it, and the light is kind to my face.
My daughter loves turning the dimmer dial, so The Muse often makes an appearance when we’re reading our bedtime stories. It’s been great for the warm evenings outdoors too – even the ones that included rain!
Finally, I can also vouch for its use when your electricity supply is out of action – a total godsend.
What piece of advice would you give customers when they are choosing a light to go with Farrow & Ball paint (or vice-versa)?
Light has a huge effect on colour, so my biggest piece of advice is to test it. Think about when you use the room in question – is it morning, afternoon, evening, or all the time? Make sure you look at your chosen colour at that time of day as the colour will look different in natural light versus artificial light. Painting a large piece of paper, rather than a patch on the wall, will allow you to move the sample around your space so you can get a fuller picture of your end look.
The Muse is built for repairability, so customers can fix it and update it over time. How important do you feel the ‘right to repair’ movement is for long-term sustainability?
Leaving a small environmental footprint on this collaboration was important, and we love Tala’s commitment to making The Muse repairable. Changing business and consumer mindsets to operate in this way is important in beginning to tackle the issue of electronic waste that is and always has been an issue.
Finally, we must know: what is your favourite colour and why?
My favourite colour changes every week! My colour obsessions have been well documented over the years. If you look at Farrow & Ball imagery and wallpaper you can recognise my Stiffkey Blue period. Today I’m into Setting Plaster, which by the end of tomorrow will be on my kitchen units in Modern Eggshell.
Keep up to date with Charlotte’s work @charliecosby