Downton Abbey House Colors, Usually if you like the show, you buy the DVD box set. But with Downton Abbey you can take your loyalty to another level. Not only will you soon be able to buy Lady Mary lip gloss from Marks & Spencer, but you can now splash a bit of Downton on your walls, painting your home in the same shade as the Earl of Grantham’s family seat.
Mylands, an old British paint firm that has supplied the film and television industry for decades, has announced that it is selling Amber Grey, the very colour used in Mrs Patmore’s kitchen, and Empire Grey, the hue of Carson’s pantry. They are made with “crushed marble, which gives the paint an incredible strength”, boasts Simone Barker at the company. Yours for £16.10 a litre.
With a perfectly straight face, she insists that the Downton connection is “in no way a marketing exercise”.
That may be so. But the latest Downton merchandise proves both the endless commercial potential of the television programme, and also how the heritage home interiors industry has reached its apogee.
After decades of British consumers trying to turn their flats, three-bed semis and suburban villas into mini-Chatsworths, the vintage bandwagon has gone too far.
Much of the blame lies with interior decorating suppliers such as Fired Earth, Sanderson and, particularly, Farrow & Ball. The Homes & Gardens crowd, proud owners of Dualit toasters and Nigella melamine mixing bowls, hankered after Cooking Apple Green on their kitchen walls and Picture Gallery Red for their downstairs loos. Elephant’s Breath was just perfect for Oscar and Ottilie’s nursery.
A few years ago, F&B was making less than £500,000 profit a year. In the 12 months to the end of this March, it sold more than £50 million worth of its wallpapers and paints around the world and made a tidy profit of £13.5 million. This is an astonishing achievement for a company that is heavily reliant on the moribund housing market.
But as F&B got more successful, it lost its social caché by appealing to an ever-wider crowd, as happens to so many upmarket brands. An American author, Paul Fussell, had a marvellously snobby term for this phenomenon: “prole drift”, something that Hunter wellies, Barbour jackets and Molton Brown soap have also suffered from. You can now buy posh paint colours such as Sophisticated Sage and Natural Calico from – gasp – Dulux, and F&B is available in Homebase.
Patrick Baty, owner of the independent decorating shop Paper and Paints, was one of the first to sell heritage paint colours in the 1980s: “I am slightly bored by the whole thing, and I do feel a bit guilty for helping to start it. It’s snobbery and one-upmanship. You hear people bandy paint names over café tables to try to outdo one another. It is a natural human reaction to boost your status and ego.
“When I started out, I wanted to call some of our paints just a number, but people like names that evoke a non-existent past – the world of copper kettledom where scullery maids blushed.”
It is not just paint. The word “vintage” is now tacked on to any number of Cath Kidston-style furnishings to give them an air of authenticity. “Give your room a vintage and time-worn charm with this distressed pink-pastel frame,” says B&Q in its catalogue describing a £6.99 picture frame. “Perfect for achieving a shabby chic look in a bedroom or living room.” You can now buy “vintage” canvases to decorate your home from 99p Stores. They are made in China.