‘You can get away with craziness in the hallway’: at home with colour expert Annie Sloan

The paint pioneer knows how to have fun with colour – her home is a lesson in bold walls and unlikely combinations

In Annie Sloan’s front room, there is a small, wooden table that she picked up at a flea market for next to nothing. The carved legs have been painted black but the top has the appearance of dark marble flecked with orange. “I’m really pleased with that table,” says Sloan. “I took a sponge, cut some more holes in it and used it to apply paint. It’s funny – sometimes I spend ages trying to make something work and it looks just awful. And then something takes me 10 minutes and it’s like, ‘Oh wow!’”

Sloan, 73, has been experimenting with paint and colour for over 50 years and shows no signs of slowing down. “When I left art school, I realised conceptual work didn’t actually make me happy,” she says. “It was colour that people seemed to need most in their lives.” Half a century on, in this age of greige and permacrises, we arguably need colour more than ever.

The hallway is painted with a Riad Terracotta.
Riad Terracotta was used for the hallway. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Guardian

Unsurprisingly, Sloan’s own home – a four-bedroom, late-Victorian terrace in Oxford, which she shares with her husband, David Manuel – is a masterclass in how to use it. From piano to splashback, there is barely an unpainted surface in the house. The entrance hall is in a sun-baked orange called Riad Terracotta, and the floorboards in Antibes Green. Like all the paints in the house, both are from her own Annie Sloan collection. “You can get away with huge amounts of craziness in the hallway,” she says, “because it’s not an area you spend much time in.”

From here, several green steps descend to a mezzanine garden room. Here, the walls range from orange to green to pink, the latter inspired by the interiors of a Cuban cafe. “The pink has been waxed,” Sloan says, “a product I’ve developed to protect our paints. It gives the walls this beautiful mellow finish.”

Down another half level is a basement kitchen and dining room. The kitchen has been extended to incorporate a dank, underused corner of the garden, now a bright breakfast room edged with wooden planters adorned with architectural salvage – fragments of chairs and mouldings “that have just been stuck on and painted.”

The same creative approach applies to the kitchen splashback, which has been painted with bright, joyous figures that contrast with gun-metal painted cabinets. In the adjoining dining room, a hand-painted piano stands against bright red waxed walls which have the lustre of Chinese lacquer.

Annie Sloan
Annie Sloan surrounded by finds from her travels. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Guardian

On the ground floor, two separate living rooms have been knocked together. At one end, ornate plasterwork stands out against grass-green walls (Schinkel Green, named after neoclassical German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel). “I knew that I wanted something strong and bright in here,” says Sloan. “It had to be a colour that could carry the strong artwork we have. If you put those colours on anything too neutral, they just sort of die, so it had to be bright but not hot.” In the alcoves either side of the fireplace, shelves have been painted in an array of colours that “make the objects sing.”

At the opposite end of the room, the walls are a more subdued warm grey (French Linen), chosen to reflect the quieter art and objects in this part of the room. (Although she couldn’t resist a sunset streak of Barcelona orange above the picture rail.)

The kitchen
The kitchen splashback was painted with bright joyous figures. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Guardian

After a degree in fine art, Sloan segued into interiors and began working for private clients. “It was in the days of marbling and wood graining, so I did all of that and ended up writing a book about it,” she says. The Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques was published in 1987 and sold over two million copies, establishing Sloan as an authority on colour.

Three years later, as shabby-chic and upcycling were emerging as interiors trends, Sloan launched her own paint company, producing colours designed to transform vintage furniture.

“I ended up working with a factory in Belgium that was willing to experiment with me,” she says. Together, they established a formula for her Chalk Paint range, which can be used on just about any surface without preparation.

The master bedroom is painted Aubusson Blue.
The master bedroom is painted Aubusson Blue. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Guardian

Sloan was born in Sydney to a Scottish father and a Fijian mother. When she was 10 the family moved to Kent. Sloan recalls spending six weeks aboard a ship that travelled to the UK via Fiji, Tahiti and Panama. The experience instilled in her a lifelong love of travel, and her home is filled with objects sourced from her globe-trotting: a saint’s head from Brazil, maquettes from China, ceramics from South Africa, a collection of jugs from the south of France – “just things I really like the shape or colour of”.

Throughout the house, one-off finds jostle for space, and picture frames hang slightly askew. “Things do move around quite a lot,” admits Sloan. “People tend to think that the house is done now, that I’m not going to do anything else. But I think it’s a good idea to keep our homes in flux. Everybody is in some way creative – I’m just very keen on helping people find that creativity.”

Annie Sloan’s first online interiors course, How To Fill Your Home With Colour, is available at createacademy.com


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