Blue is the colour with the feelgood factor. It sings out sea, sky and summer, a wake-up call for dingy London homes. Designers love blue, and there has never been a better time to decorate with this uplifting hue.
In the 18th century, things were not so easy. In 1748, the Earl of Chesterfield demanded luminous "Beau Blue" for the French-style boudoir of his London home. But blues were hard to come by. The right colour was found but only thanks to Prussian blue, newly discovered by a Berlin colour maker.
Previously, blue paint and fabrics were often too expensive to make. You could use an indigo dye but it faded, or make paints from crushed glass, minerals or stones, with Lapis Lazuli the most expensive. More liberating artificial pigments were discovered in the 19th century, together with new ways to print with them.
'Blue can enhance your mood'
This summer, blue is cool, democratic and all over town, from extreme elegance in fabrics at Chelsea Harbour to cheap chic for papers and accessories at B& Q. Divine duck-egg is the bleu du jour, along with a softer powder blue that shades into grey. These look as good matt — think chalky paints, heavy linen and dull felt — as shined up for satin sheets, taffeta curtains and wallcoverings printed with glossy metallic inks. Blues with this sheen have the radiance of sea and sky.
Then there is turquoise for a pure shot of joie de vivre, deeper indigo for mystery and navy with white for a short, sharp shock. You can even find blue in unexpected places: on kettles, toasters and kitchen chairs.
"Blue is good for London," agrees society decorator Nina Campbell. "The right shade reflects light when it's sunny but is not as gloomy as grey when the sky clouds over." Her favourite blue dining room is pokey with walls covered in a navy damask.
"By rights it is dark and dull but feels rich and dramatic," adds Campbell.
"Blue can certainly enhance your mood," agrees London interior decorator Karen Howes. "It goes with most things. I don't believe 'blue and green should never be seen', it just depends on which shades you choose." Her design practice Taylor Howes recently lavished cool blues on a show bedroom in the marketing suite at Fulham's new residential building Imperial Wharf, with sea-blue fabriccovered walls, duck-egg curtains, fitted powder-blue carpet and a sumptuous indigo velvet bedcover.
At home, it's quick to use blue bed linen to freshen up a wilting room. New collections are full of it. Peruse the Virgin Vie catalogue for pin-tucked pillow cases and duvet covers in soothing duck-egg blues and misty greys. An exquisite array of blue bed linen is arriving shortly at Feather & Black (with five stores in London). This is a mix of delicate blue-and-white toiles, chambray cottons, jaunty stripes and navy silk throws.
'It can be very uplifting as well as calming, relaxing and meditative'
Technically, it's a "recessive colour" that makes surfaces look further away — particularly in paler versions. This can "open up" a small room, so that it seems more spacious. Try it for a narrow hall or passageway. Add crisp white paintwork, picture frames and a bowl of flowers from a blue border.
As a calming colour, blue takes the edge off kitchen stress. It is a natural for bathrooms, too, being the colour of water and cleanliness. Add earthy rust and terracotta, or even touches of pink/orange for a lift from the other side of the spectrum.
"Blue is very easy on the eye," says Peter Sterck, chairman of Malabar. "It can be very uplifting as well as calming, relaxing and meditative, which is why so many people use it for seaside houses, where you want to relax." His company has been importing handmade fabrics from India for more than 20 years.
As for textile designer Richard Smith, he fell in love with a porcelaincrammed living room he once saw in a beach house in Florida, with walls painted in a pale melon and curtains in soft duck-egg blue. He says: "What seemed like every surface was jampacked with Chinese porcelain in blue and white — subtle, exotic and very beautiful." Smith, is design director of the fabric brand No 9 Thompson, where Aqua £ 40 ( 020 blue has been outselling every other shade.
Interior designers are often pairing blues with brown, it seems. "Powder-blue and beige make for a light, crisp look, while chocolate brown with aqua/teal has a polished, boutique-interior feel," says Smith. And he, too, thinks that blue for a bedroom is calming and timeless — "offset classic Wedgwood with fine white bed linen". And dark blue with warm-toned leather is perfect for a study or library with the appeal of a "gentleman's club."
Meanwhile, faithful china blue elegantly gets on with the job, on tableware old and new. Classic patterns from Britain and Scandinavia, found at Royal Copenhagen, have an enduring charm, while John Lewis has contemporary cups and plates by designer Janice Tchalenko, in her signature outsize style, with huge splodgy flower heads in a choice of two shades of blue.
GET THE LOOK
Feather & Black: 01243 380 600; www.featherandblack.com
Nina Campbell: www.ninacampbell.com
No 9 Thompson: www.jimthompson.com
Ralph Lauren Home: www.ralphlaurenhome.com
Royal Copenhagen: www.royalcopenhagen.com
SIA Wimbledon, 85 High Street, SW19 (020 8947 9339)
Taylor Howes at Imperial Wharf: www.thdesigns.co.uk
Virgin Vie: www.virginvieathome.com