Paint is the London home’s best friend. It’s easy to buy and apply, very affordable and, above all, glamorous.
What’s not to like? But do a little homework before doing that impulse dash to the DIY store - there’s a lot more at stake these days than brilliant white.
Eco-paints are the big news because they are better for your health as well as the planet’s. There are also improved colours and finishes.
Lots of old-style paints (notably ones that are solvent-based) contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which is why they smell so nasty as they dry. And the effect can last for years, possibly causing asthma or other illnesses.
VOC emissions also deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. Many mass-market emulsions and acrylics (that is, water-based paints) now give off minimal VOCs (check their labels).
Officially, the British paint industry has until 1 January 2010 to cut VOCs right across the board, including in solvent-based paints such as gloss and eggshell.
Quick off the mark is Farrow & Ball (01202 876141; www.farrow-ball.com). Its gracious palette of matt chalky emulsions (about £30.50 for 2.5 litres) already has minimal VOC emissions. Now there is also a whole raft of new eco-friendly finishes in traditionally solvent-heavy products such as gloss, eggshell and floor paint.
Everything is available at its shops in SW6, W1, N1 and NW6. Here you can get expert colour advice or book an at-home colour consultation for £150 an hour (this should do up to four rooms). Or use the website: just click on a wall colour to get instant suggestions for paintwork, radiators and so on.
Several other eco-brands claim zero VOCs and natural ingredients but they can vary in quality and coverage, so a testing pot is essential. We particularly like Pots of Paint (01544 388535; www.potsofpaint.com), developed by architectural historian Edward Bulmer.
He has worked with Europe’s leading natural paintmakers to develop 50 good, pigment-rich tones. All raw materials are sustainably produced and include beeswax, milk casein and linseed oil. They cost from £52.20 plus VAT for five litres.
The Ray Munn shop (861-863 Fulham Road, SW6; 020 7736 9876; www.raymunn.co.uk) has perhaps the ultimate eco offering: Eico Icelandic paints (£23.99 for 2.5 litres). They are not only VOC-free and natural but have a virtually zero carbon footprint. Along with Beckers (Sweden’s top eco range), this paint can be matched to any colour (even a piece of fabric) by the shop’s amazing Spectrophotometer.
Other brands to look at are Little Greene (0845 880 5855; www.thelittlegreene.com) and Ecolibrium (www.ecolibriumpaints.com).
For high-fashion paint shades, try one of the big fabric houses. Look, for example, at Sanderson Spectrum (www.sanderson-uk.com); Malabar (www.malabar.co.uk); Zoffany (www.zoffany.com); and Designers Guild (www.designersguild.com) for Tricia Guild’s inimitable brights.
Meanwhile, the paint offered at your local DIY superstore has improved hugely. Dulux is already reducing the VOC content of all its paints and reducing their carbon footprint (www.dulux.co.uk/environment).
It is also sponsoring Community RePaint, which sends paint leftovers to good causes. Try out its new colour ideas on www.dulux.co.uk - you can even upload a photo of your room. Or pick up a guide in your local store. Samples can be sent by post, each with a little paintbrush, for £1 plus p&p.
A new Dulux design service (www.duluxdesignservice.co.uk) can also arrange for an interior decorator to visit your home (from £250 for a complete room scheme, including fabrics, flooring and furniture suggestions). Find a three-for-two Dulux paint offer now at Homebase (www.homebase.co.uk).
Crown (www.crownpaint.co.uk), that other big paint brand, enlisted Professor Wendy Dagworthy, head of fashion and textiles at the Royal College of Art, to revamp its 2009 colour palette. Fashion for Walls has sexy catwalk shades in a special soft-to-the-touch finish called Indulgence.
At B&Q’s new New Malden store (www.diy.com), low-VOC paints are a priority, as this is the company’s most sustainable store, with a wind turbine, geothermal underfloor heating, solar electricity and rain-water harvesting.
David Oliver’s Architectural Paint Colours are split into 24 colour groups, each with five shades, which work well together for ceilings, cornices, walls, doors and woodwork. Most of these paints have a low solvent content. Oliver’s shop, Paint & Paper Library, is at 5 Elystan Street, SW3 (020 7823 7755; www.paintlibrary.co.uk).
Find the rich colours of the English landscape reflected in TV’s Kevin McCloud’s paint range called Elements of Colour for Fired Earth (0845 366 0400; www.firedearth.com) in five super-soft colour palettes.
There are 120 colours and five finishes (matt emulsion, eggshell, gloss, exterior masonry paint and floor paint). This paint can be bought off the shelf at its London showrooms, including W1, SW1, SW3, N1 and W11.
Clever specialist paints can even target awkward ugly surfaces at home. You can paint over those tiles you hate, or that vinyl or laminate floor. Or you can mask manky melamine cupboards with a shiny new colour. There is even a spray-on chrome for old fridges or washing machines. Radiators can be painted with emulsion to match walls. Leaders are International Paints (www.international-paints.co.uk).
Reader offer: How to Paint It day at Les Tuileries
10 March, 21 March or 30 May 2009
Homes & Property has arranged a How to Paint It day for readers at design studio Les Tuileries in Dorking. Learn about colour scheming and paint types and perfect your skills under expert guidance.
The readers’ price of £85 includes lunch and materials. For more information, call 01306 888028, or visit www.lestuileries.co.uk.