In bright purple dress teamed with terracotta tights, the creative director of paint giant Dulux cuts a colourful dash — and colour is what she is all about, with a packed career that has included fairground painting, interior design, covering Trafalgar Square with real flowers, and all manner of other artistically related things.
In 2011, after years advising Dulux on colour, Shillingford was made creative director of the Slough-based company, whose parent is the Dutch paint and chemicals corporation, AkzoNobel.
Then last spring, fed up with driving 40,000 miles a year on the commute to and from Nottingham — and, Shillingford says, feeling fed up with living in Nottingham anyway — she and her husband, Ted, decided they would have an adventure.
Since all but Molly, 18, the last of their three children, was still living with them, they took the plunge. They sold their home of 25 years and found and rented a two-bedroom London flat. It came unfurnished except for a sofa, a bed and a wardrobe. . . a scenario that plenty of young Londoners will be able to identify with.
Brought up on a rose farm in Nottinghamshire, Shillingford, one of three children, says: “My parents were always making things. Our life was making, doing, painting and creating.” She went to art college in Nottingham, followed by signwriting and a painting and decorating course.
Finding her forte
A major discovery was to use a big brush: “The bigger the brush, the quicker the job. That’s when I fell in love with Dulux. I used tester pots of emulsion for my paintings — and still do.”
When she worked for a fairground she painted posters and signs, and designed and made fibreglass animals including a funky, fabulous grinning pig. She couldn’t leave him behind — so he came to London when she and Ted moved. She learned sponging and marbling. The art teacher arrived in a Porsche and dabbled glazes on to bits of lining paper. Confident she could do better, Shillingford took an interior design course and then did specialist decorating for a decade. Her creative career took many different turns before she reached the pinnacle at Dulux.
For Shillingford and her husband, both 51, living in the capital is the adventure of a lifetime. They faced the same challenge as other age groups — to turn a newly rented London property into their home. Having had a grand clear-out when they moved, they brought very little with them so they started all over again, furnishing the flat simply, colourfully and cheaply.
There are paintings by Shillingford done in bog-standard emulsion — though you can’t tell — and the taupe sofa now has bright cushions in yellow ochre and coppery orange from Ikea and TK Maxx. Among the few items the couple brought with them is an old cupboard from a bakery, which Shillingford painted, and a small table she got for £30 and then stencilled, taking a simple motif from the ikat carpet. An old glass-fronted hospital drugs cupboard she fished out of a skip now serves as a cocktail cabinet.
A mudlark’s treasures
The Thames is a source of joy and inspiration for the couple, who have taken to rowing on it. The river is also the source of a highly prized collection on one wall.
Shillingford is a member of the Mudlark Society at the London Museum, which allows you to ferret six inches deep in the foreshore mud, rather than just picking found items off the surface. Her mudlarking treasures are displayed in three glass-fronted boxes on the wall.
The collections range from Roman and 18th-century pottery shards to medieval and Tudor leather shoe soles, while in a painted display case, shells and other finds include part of a mammoth’s tusk.
Next to these boxes hangs a length of canvas painted with striking deep teal blues and mud browns, that Shillingford matched to a patch of Thames mud using Dulux’s Visualizer app, which can match a paint colour precisely with any item, from a favourite sock to an aubergine.
For Shillingford, colour is not just colour, it’s “a story in a tin, it is what are you going to say about yourself. It’s so much more than paint.”
The couple’s big London adventure is “the best thing we’ve ever done, I’d recommend it to anyone. I feel like a complete kid again.”
MARIANNE SHILLINGFORD'S TIPS FOR PIZZAZZ WITH PAINT
“Light brings colour to life. London is on a flood plain and gets a cooler, bigger light than even Norfolk — so a distinctive palette works well. Try using gutsy colours, though complex neutrals, the ones that change tone under different lights, also work well.”
If you own your home: Dulux’s colour-reflective Lumitec paint reflects 40 per cent more light than ordinary paint, so is perfect for dingy rooms, basements or ceilings. These highly scientific paints only come in light colours.
Says Shillingford: “In busy areas, such as hallways, where you’d love to use flat matt but are worried about scuffing and shiny marks, use Diamond flat matt, which is incredibly tough. It goes on like velvet and you can scrub it. Use the Dulux Visualizer app — available at Dulux.co.uk — to first identify the colours in the surface of anything, even an apple, and then match a paint colour to it. Always do this in good natural light for the truest match possible. Next, the app can show you how the colour will look in your own room, in 3D.”
If you rent: you will need the landlord’s permission if you want to paint the walls. You could also suggest painting the flat back to its original colours before the end of the tenancy.
“To give a room instant atmosphere, there is an infinite variety of posters and prints you can buy from all over, including museum shops,” says Shillingford.
“Tester pots are cheap and great for painting small items and rejuvenating furniture, such as a table top or cabinet, and accessories such as terracotta pots that you can paint in a variety of accent colours. Buy some simple stencils for quick, decorative patterns, and varnish for a durable finish. Frame a few pieces of exotic fabric remnants for a very effective splash of rich colour.”