Farrow and Ball paint review

Explore our in-depth Farrow and Ball paint review for insights on colours, application, and durability. Is the high cost justified? Discover alternatives and make informed choices. Contact us for expert advice.

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Can you Colour Match Farrow and Ball

Technically you are not supposed to colour match Farrow and Ball paints. Their specific paint formula has no vinyl or modern manufacturing processes. So the finish is flatter and chalkier. However in reality you can colour match Farrow and Ball to a satisfactory level as long as you are happy to accept it will not be a 100% exact match. High street brands such as Dulux will only mix to the closest colour in their range, so we suggest going to a smaller paint store where they can mix colours themselves. We also suggest using a contract mat finish over a vinyl mat finish. This is because contract mat does not have any vinyl sheen in it, thus giving a closer match to the flatness of Farrow and Ball.

Whats so good about Farrow and Ball?

A quick answer, the colours. Without doubt, they probably have the best range of deep traditional colours in the market place and being a more traditional paint they have a deeper texture to finish than say a modern brand. However, this does come at two maybe three times the cost of your general high street brands and choosing to spend the extra money is only something you can decide is worth it or not.

How far does Farrow and Ball go?

In general, all paint will state that one litre will cover 15m2. So a 5l tin should in theory cover 75m2. However, when we do our calculations we always base on 10m2 per litre so a 5l tin we say will cover 50m2

Do you need a primer with Farrow and Ball?

Farrow and Ball will specify using their own primer and if you are going for the full system we would also recommend this. However, if you are worried about the budget, you do not need to use Farrow and Ball primer and can turn to a cheaper alternative.

Can you wash Farrow and Ball Estate Emulsion

Farrow and Ball say it is wipeable with a soft cloth, in reality, we would say no. Farrow and Ball is very matt finish and it will mark just by leaning on it. So we would suggest not wiping it. This is the downside of using the product. It is not what we would call child friendly.

As Leading Painters and Decorators in London today we are going to write our Farrow and Ball paint review where we will discuss our views on Farrow and Ball paints.

With shades such as Broccoli Brown, Elephant’s Breath, and Camel Dung (okay, so we may have made the last one up), Farrow and Ball are the Marmite of the paint world: you either love them or you hate them. We thought it was worth taking a proper look with this Farrow and Ball paint review to try and understand why people’s views are so extreme.

Sitting at the higher end price-wise, we’re often asked if Farrow and Ball paint is worth it, what the problems are, and what, as decorators, we truly think about it. Now, we want to be comprehensive here and really explore the good, the bad, and even the downright ugly.

As decorators, we’ve had vast experience of how you use Farrow and Ball paint the right way, but what matters to you is if that actually makes a difference. Maybe you’re a dab hand yourself and are already experienced with Farrow and Ball paints. Perhaps you know the name and the price tag and want to know if Farrow and Ball are worth it. Either way, we’re going to do our best to enlighten you. So, with the waffle out of the way, let’s make a start.

A little bit of background

Before we get into the meaty bits, it’s well worth taking a look at the origins of Farrow and Ball paints. Being established in 1946, they can hardly be described as new kids on the block.

What being around for over 70 years does mean though, is that these are traditional paints. Paints that have survived the test of time, with customers always coming back for more.


From humble beginnings in Dorset, Farrow and Ball developed to become one of the UK’s leading traditional paint manufacturers. What sets Farrow and Ball apart from the rest of the field is that they maintain their traditional methods of production. When other manufacturers switched to producing cheaper acrylic paints with high plastic content, Farrow and Ball remained true to how they had started, and this is what led to their reputation of delivering high-quality, handmade products.

“ We use more high-quality pigments and resins and no low quality ‘fillers’, which gives our colours visibly greater depth and purity often referred to as the ‘Farrow & Ball look’. Unlike many other manufacturers, we use naturally occurring pigments, such as Umbers in their purest form, and we continue to use natural ingredients such as Chalk, Lime Putty, Linseed Oil, and China Clay.”

Farrow and Ball themselves state that:

So a solid British brand that has stood the test of time and remained true to their beginnings as well as their traditional methods, you may be wondering how could there be any problems with Farrow and Ball paint? Could this man’s public declaration have anything to do with a slightly damaged reputation? We’re joking, of course!

What is so great about Farrow and Ball?

It’s easy to carry out a Google search for Farrow and Ball paints and to be quickly presented with people reporting problems. What you need to be aware of with these reviews and comments is that some of these people simply do not know how you use Farrow and Ball paint correctly.

So, no one is saying that these comments have no grounding at all, but to have been around for quite so long, there clearly has to be something more than a little bit good about these paints. What is it I hear you cry?

Well, maybe the best place to start is with what the company has to say themselves.  So, in the words of Farrow and Ball:

” Ask us what the single most important characteristic that makes Farrow & Ball paint so very special is, and well tell you this… Its the extraordinary way our deep and richly pigmented colours respond to light throughout the day, bringing walls to life,”


Talking of finishes, with Farrow and Ball, you have the options of Estate Emulsion, Modern Emulsion, Eggshell, and many other specialist finishes that have an array of sheens, durability, and textures. The emulsions and eggshell all have a deep, rich, authentic, flat, and chalky texture and finish. A texture and finish that only Farrow and Ball paints can give you. So, if you’re ever wondering if Farrow and Ball are worth it, the answer is this: if you are seeking a truly unique finish that no other paint can match, then yes it is.

Perhaps the worth of Farrow and Ball can be determined by the property type that is to be used in and the feel that you are trying to achieve. These paints can certainly add a certain feel: one of tradition, one of style, and one of heritage. It is fair to say that no other paint can deliver the effect delivered by Farrow and Ball.


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Being a traditional paint, you may think that you will be limited when it comes to choices of colour. You would, of course, be wrong here. Although a very traditional company, Farrow and Ball boast 132 different shades. We’re going to look at the colours on offer a little later, but for now, it’s good to know that alongside the well known Mouse’s Back and Dove Tail, there are other Farrow and Ball paint colours in 2020 and beyond that remain popular.

There is much to be said in favour of Farrow and Ball paints, but a Farrow and Ball paint review can only be seen as half-hearted if that is where we were to stop. With so much negativity to be found online, what are the problems with Farrow and Ball, and are the criticisms really justified?

What are the problems with Farrow and Ball?

We’ve seen what’s so great with Farrow and Ball, so what could possibly be wrong with such a paint? The truth is I am not one for put-downs, and certainly not witty ones, so I’ll leave that to these guys. The jokes have been around for a long time now: the price, the number of coats required, and the tip-toeing around as the slightest contact will destroy that unique, much sought after, finish.

When it comes to the price, it’s an age-old debate as to whether Farrow and Ball are worth it. When you can pay as much as £116 for 5L, it’s not a bad question to be asking. We’ll be looking at colour matching and other brands later, but a big criticism of those that seem to hate (although it’s more of a love-hate relationship) Farrow and Ball paint is based purely on price.

It’s not just the price of one tin of paint that is the issue, after all, people are often more than prepared to pay for quality. Where the price really becomes an issue is when you consider the number of coats required to achieve the perfect finish.  Not just one. Not two. Not even three. It is not unknown to need around 4 coats of Farrow and Ball paint to achieve that famous finish that you’re paying for. Not a problem in itself, but something to be aware of when planning your budget.

Not exactly family-friendly

With Farrow and Ball paint, there is no denying that the finish and feel that the end result will give you, is second to none. It may cost you a fair bit to achieve, but anyone with this paint adorning their walls, as well as any Farrow and Ball decorator, will agree that it is more than worth it. The problem arises with maintaining this!

Farrow and Ball paint, to steal a phrase, does exactly what it says on the tin: it delivers all that it promises. One thing that it doesn’t promise is durability.  Brush past that wall and you’ll destroy the finish. Scuff it as you move furniture and you’ll cry yourself to sleep. And if you have children, well I really don’t know what to say! Toys were thrown, a paddy was thrown,  dirty fingers, splashes of food, and vomit to boot: with Farrow and Ball paint you’ll be heading for a breakdown. That unique finish is something to die for, but having it remain the same for years to come is nigh on impossible.

Once there is the slightest mark, if you try and wipe it away, you will cause untold damage. It’s not a finish where you can get away with a dab of paint to hide a blemish. Once you add that dab, you’ll see that it stands out like a sore thumb and suddenly you’ll have to be repainting a whole room, at the same price, all over again.

To be clear though, none of this takes away from the superb results that can be achieved with Farrow and Ball paint: we work with this and are happy to work with it as long as our clients are fully aware of the potential problems with Farrow and Ball.

Farrow and Ball decorators may be few and far between: they are scared that because the finish is hard to maintain that they will be slated for a job poorly done. We believe that armed with the true facts, clients are more than capable of making their own decisions. As we know how to use Farrow and Ball paint correctly, we are confident that by sharing our knowledge that clients can make an informed decision.

How you use Farrow and Ball

Not all paints are created equal. There are other paints out there that even the novice can dip a brush in and make a half-decent job. Farrow and Ball paints are not amongst them! For that perfect finish that you’re paying a premium price for, you need to know what you’re doing.

The people that know best are, of course, Farrow and Ball themselves, and they go to great trouble to tell you how to use their paint correctly: a guide on how to achieve that perfect, much sought after, Farrow and Ball finish.

Durability issues


When you understand how you use Farrow and Ball paint the right way, you can quickly dismiss many of the criticisms levelled at it, although some problems with Farrow and Ball remain such as the lack of longevity.

The long-held belief that by using Farrow and Ball paint you effectively need to be living in a show home may no longer hold true. Yes, other paint brands may be more durable, but Farrow and Ball’s Modern Emulsion dispels horror stories of old.

The basics are the same as with any well-executed paint job: the surface that you are planning to paint needs to be clean! No dirt, no grease, and no moisture.  It may appear to go without saying but it is far too easy not to get the basics right and to then blame the paint that you are using. Other Farrow and Ball paint reviews focus far too much on what they see as failings but don’t seem to mention the prep work that took place before applying the first coat.

It’s important not to scrimp when you’re using Farrow and Ball paint. To save on costs, the temptation to avoid using an undercoat and primer can be too much. We would suggest that is never the right course of action regardless of the paint you’re using but there may be times when you can get away with it. That is not the case with Farrow and Ball: if you want to achieve the greatest finish, then you must be prepared to put the work in.

It’s important not to scrimp when you’re using Farrow and Ball paint. To save on costs, the temptation to avoid using an undercoat and primer can be too much. We would suggest that is never the right course of action regardless of the paint you’re using but there may be times when you can get away with it. That is not the case with Farrow and Ball: if you want to achieve the greatest finish, then you must be prepared to put the work in.

To achieve that much-coveted finish, Farrow and Ball themselves are honest in the fact that you’re going to require at least 2 coats of their paint. It’s not uncommon to need maybe 3 or 4 coats to achieve the best results though.  

Where can you use Farrow and Ball paint?

Farrow and Ball are well known for interior use: being used for walls and ceilings, interior wood, interior metal, and interior floors alike. As we have seen though, this is where problems with Farrow and Ball come to the fore: lack of durability and longevity.

Perhaps what isn’t so commonly known is that Farrow and Ball also carry a massive range of exterior paints too. In their own words, longevity isn’t an issue here:

” With our durable exterior paint finishes Exterior Eggshell and Full Gloss available in all 132 shades on our colour card – and Exterior Masonry available in 108 – you can really let your imagination run wild. Each one is precisely formulated to protect your home against the elements for up to six or 15 years depending on the finish you choose, so you can be safe in the knowledge that youre not just adding serious kerb appeal to your home, but longevity too.”

A colour for all tastes

If you’ve been reading carefully (haven’t bored you yet?), you’ll know that we briefly alluded to colours a little earlier on, but it’s well worth spending some time to talk a little more about Farrow and Ball paint colours 2020.

With 132 colours to choose from, knowing how to pick the right Farrow and Ball paint is understandably challenging. Now let’s be honest, if you are still with me after the last 10 minutes, then you have a serious interest in Farrow and Ball paints (and justifiably so), but even for the most ardent fan, me going on to describe the full range of 132 shades will be about as entertaining as watching them dry.  It’s worth considering some of these, just to give you an idea of the range that is available:


This is Farrow and Ball’s most popular neutral paint and is named after the fossil commonly found along the Dorset coast. This paint is great for any room regardless of the lighting conditions. This Farrow and Ball paint has a very subtle grey undertone, but this is only really noticeable when used alongside a shade such as All White.


Elephant’s Breath

No Farrow and Ball paint review would be complete without a look at this shade. The name may sound slightly odd, to say the least, but when you consider the mid-grey with a hint of magenta, the name suddenly makes sense. In cooler west-facing rooms, Elephant’s Breath appears to be almost lilac.


Hague Blue

Are there any alternatives to Farrow and Ball paint?

Perhaps you’re sold on the idea of Farrow and Ball and can see past the problems that are commonly reported. Maybe though, the price and whether Farrow and Ball are worth it is something that you just can not get past.  It could be that you are fully in love with the shades available but with kids and pets, it’s impossible to live like you are in a show home and protect the paintwork.

A strong, striking blue with a green undertone, this Farrow and Ball paint takes its name from coloured woodwork used by the Dutch. The green undertone gives a warmer fall than blue alone would and works extremely well in rooms that receive natural daylight that is a little cooler.


Stiffkey Blue

Named after the Norfolk beach, this is an inky blue that can give a very traditional feel. It is often used as an alternative to Downpipe and provides a more contemporary finish.

Of course, when you consider that Farrow and Ball paint colours in 2020 number 132, what we have looked at here is a mere drop in the ocean. They really do provide shades that are suitable for every room, and any feel that you are trying to create.


If any of that sounds like you, you may be wondering what alternatives there are to Farrow and Ball paint. A great way to achieve the much-famed shades but without blowing a budget and doing away with issues if durability is to use a paint mixing service. Any good paint manufacturer is now able to provide a colour match service.  There are others out there, but the paint of our choice here is Dulux trade. Dulux can provide an exact colour match and is of high-quality, is long-lasting, and comes in at a much more favourable price point.

As Farrow and Ball decorators, we know that sometimes just matching the colour is not enough. To achieve that unique finish, Farrow and Ball is still the go-to paint.

There are many a conversation over on mumsnet between those seeking alternatives to Farrow and Ball paint. Some of the suggestions put forward are Little Greene and Crown oil-based eggshell.  Where painting furniture is concerned though, what seems to be a clear favourite among the alternatives is Annie Sloan.

The truth here though is that it is hard to draw true comparisons between Farrow and Ball and other brands of paint. Farrow and Ball is a truly great product that offers an outstanding array of colours, with a finish that is hard, if not impossible, to achieve with any other paint. As professional Farrow and Ball decorators, we are always happy to use the paint of your choice but we will always share with you our expert knowledge and offer guidance should you need it.

So to go back to what we actually asked, are there any alternatives to Farrow and Ball paint, the answer is yes, and no. Yes, you can easily match the colours, but those who are true fans of Farrow and Ball know that you will never achieve that famous finish by seeking cheaper alternatives.

The future of Farrow and Ball

n 2019, Farrow and Ball’s account seemed a little less than healthy, with losses of £26.6 million being reported. Does that mean that we could soon be losing a company that has stood the test of time? I for one hope not, otherwise I will have wasted quite a bit of my time here!

The truth be told though, decorators have done little for Farrow and Ball and it’s reputation. Many have long publicly declared their despise of all things Farrow and Ball, describing how it is hard to work with and difficult to apply. Some decorators have even flatly refused to work with Farrow and Ball while others will charge significantly more for labour when working with it.

Farrow and Ball haven’t survived over 70 years by sheer chance alone. They have remained a fashionable and desirable brand into 2020, and will no doubt do so way beyond this. Losses from last year haven’t even put an end to new Farrow and Ball paint colours in 2020, so there is as yet no sign of this company slipping from view.


What signals a positive future for Farrow and Ball paint is the fact that they have listened. Without living on another planet, there is no way that those behind the paint could not have been unaware of the criticisms thrown their way. So what have they done? They’ve made some changes.

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The change made in 2017 means that many of the negative reviews found all over Google is probably now unfounded. This is when Farrow and Ball added up to 20 percent more pigment to make their paints more opaque and so easier to apply and work with.  Here’s what Farrow and Ball had to say on the changes:

“We have added more pigment to our paints to improve coverage and opacity. Darker paints tend to have a very good opacity. It is mainly the whites and lighter shades where the most pigment has been added. We are constantly looking at what customers want and we take feedback from all different markets in which we operate.”

Farrow and Ball paint reviews that we all stumble across on the internet, mainly pre-date this significant change. Yes, there may well still be issues with the durability of the paint, but these changes do away with the main complaint cited by Farrow and Ball decorators in that the stuff is damn near impossible to work with.

Even where durability is concerned, Farrow and Ball haven’t ignored this issue. Their Modern Emulsion seems to do away with what was once seen as a fact: if you have kids or pets, Farrow and Ball is a no go. The Modern Emulsion from Farrow and Ball is washable, scuff-resistant, and also protects against mould.

So with Farrow and Ball still maintaining their traditional heritage, they have far from stood still. The willingness to listen to feedback from their customers, and actually act upon it, could well be the company’s saving grace. So the next time you’re talking to a decorator, and their face drops at the sound of the words ‘Farrow and Ball’, maybe push this article their way so they can see that perhaps their paint is no longer the stuff of nightmares that it once was.

Bringing it all together

You’ve stuck with me for some time now, that’s assuming of course that you are still reading! If you are, then I hope that you are now feeling more informed when it comes to Farrow and Ball paints. If I have waffled so much that I have left you none the wiser, or if you’re perhaps one of those that jumps straight to the end of a story to see if the whole thing is even worth reading, then here are some of the key takeaways from what has been said:

It’s not cheap!

Farrow and Ball are certainly one of the more expensive paint brands out there. Despite some arguments, you really aren’t just paying for the name: what you are getting is outstanding quality and a finish like no other.

It’s a nightmare to work with

Again, another long-held belief that perhaps isn’t quite so relevant anymore. The changes made by Farrow and Ball to their formula means that Farrow and Ball decorators can now use and apply this paint so much easier than before. When you read the scare stories that suggest otherwise, just be sure to check that the Farrow and Ball paint review is up to date.

Using alternatives

Depending on exactly what you are trying to achieve, there is the possibility of using alternative paint brands. Whether by using a colour matching service, or exploring brands such as Little Greene and Annie Sloan, there may be more suitable brands that will allow you to achieve your desired outcome. For traditional paint that is deep and rich in colour, it is also worth considering Dulux heritage.

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London painters and decorators

At GSD Painting & Decorating, we know our stuff. We are happy to work with Farrow and Ball paint when that is the option that will deliver your desired result. Where there may be alternatives that will allow you to achieve the same outcome, we are always happy to advise and guide you.

With a history of undertaking both commercial painting and residential decorating, the team at GS Decorating in London has a wealth of experience which they are always happy to share. If you mention Farrow and Ball paint to us, we promise you won’t hear that much-reported sigh as we then try and change your mind: we will simply give you all of the facts so that you can go ahead and make an informed decision.

So if you’re looking for professional decorators in London and across the South East, we’re always here to help and can discuss any upcoming projects. Get in touch today and let us show you how we can help.

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