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Insider Tips from a Farrow & Ball Pro

You can’t be in business for 75 years without knowing a thing or two about your craft, as iconic British brand Farrow & Ball ably demonstrates.

Its premium paint finishes and signature rich colours have long captured the imaginations of homeowners across the country (and across the pond, too), and today, we’re about to learn what these high-performance formulas can offer us as painting contractors.

We sat down with Wayne Armstrong, Farrow & Ball’s technical sales executive, to get some of his top tips on getting the most out of these enduringly popular products.

Don’t skip the primer

All pros know that preparation and priming is essential when it comes to getting the best result with any painted surface. That, says Wayne, is where Farrow & Ball’s Primer & Undercoat range comes in.

“Lots of contractors already know that using a tinted primer is a great way to enhance the depth of your chosen paint colour,” he says, “but we recommend Farrow & Ball Primers & Undercoats for lots of other reasons too.

“They come in up to four tones which, between them, will work with the full range of Farrow & Ball topcoat paint colours, and they’re made with the same high-quality ingredients as the paint finishes themselves.

“That helps them work fantastically well together, enhancing not just the richness and depth of your chosen topcoat, but also its longevity, coverage, and adhesion. It helps minimize imperfections, too.”

Priming quick tips:

  • For highly absorbent surfaces, such as new plaster or dry-lined walls, an initial mist coat of either topcoat or Primer & Undercoat, diluted with up to 20% water, is strongly recommended.
  • Always let the recommended drying time pass between coats (these can be found in each formula’s Product Advice Sheet at farrow-ball.com).
  • Remember that drying times can vary depending on factors such as temperature, airflow, humidity, and colour, with darker colours occasionally taking longer to cure.

Work with the formula

“Farrow & Ball’s water-based paints are very forgiving and easy to apply” says Wayne, “but if you’re more used to working with traditional oil or solvent based trim paints, you may want to think about adjusting your application method slightly to get the best out of the finish.”

Like all Farrow & Ball paints, the trim finishes Modern Eggshell, Estate Eggshell and Full Gloss are water borne (the brand made the move to an entirely water-based range back in 2010), which makes them more resistant to sagging than traditional solvent borne paints.

“You’ll achieve the best finish with our eggshell finishes by applying a thicker coat and laying off, rather than applying very thin coats as you might with a traditional oil paint” says Wayne. “And take care not to overwork the paint or stretch it out too thinly.”

Application quick tips

Brush application

  • For walls: apply paint in a vertical direction with a fine-tipped synthetic brush, then spread out evenly in a horizontal direction. Lay off with long, gentle strokes in a single direction to help minimize brush marks.
  • For trim: load the brush well and apply a generous first coat, working first vertically and then horizontally. Finish by laying off in a single direction using light pressure, with the brush at approximately 30º.
  • Don’t be tempted to ‘overwork’ the paint – brushing it out into thin, even coats may create excess brush marks.

Roller application:

  • Using a medium pile woven polyester roller, apply the paint in diagonal strokes, making an ‘M’, ‘W’ or ‘V’ shape. Fill in over the shape you have just painted to spread the paint evenly. Repeat this process, working in small sections at a time.
  • Always work from wet to dry areas, maintaining a wet edge to minimize roller marks.
  • On the final coat, gently go back over the paint in a single direction to minimize any roller patterning effects.

Say yes to spraying

“Some surfaces will always require specific application methods,” says Wayne, “but for most, spray application is one of the best ways to get a smooth, efficient, high-quality finish.”

Farrow & Ball’s Modern Eggshell, Estate Eggshell and Exterior Masonry finishes, plus all its emulsion finishes, are compatible with a variety of spray units and setups, while for Full Gloss – the brand’s ultra-tough gloss finish for wood, metal and walls, and the glossiest water-based finish on the market – Wayne recommends an air-assisted or airless sprayer.

“You can get a really high-quality result from spraying Full Gloss due to a high film build being applied evenly and quickly, and the superior flow and levelling of Farrow & Ball finishes means you can get a fantastically smooth mirror-like finish”.

Any final words? “Don’t forget to keep those air horns clean!”, adds Wayne.

Spraying quick tips

  • Depending on the apparatus used, your chosen Farrow & Ball finish may need to be diluted with water by up to 30%.
  • Experiment with your spray equipment’s settings before you start, testing on a piece of cardboard or an inconspicuous area until you’re happy with the finish.
  • Apply several thin coats, allowing each one to dry fully before recoating.


Consider different finishes

Farrow & Ball is perhaps best known for its signature Estate Emulsion, a very flat matte wall and ceiling paint with a distinctive chalky finish. But as one of eight high-performance interior and exterior finishes, it’s far from the only vehicle for Farrow & Ball’s famously rich colours.

“There’s a huge variety of looks that you can create with these finishes,” says Wayne “each of them adding a slightly different dimension to the colours themselves.

“Ultra-matte finishes like Estate Emulsion and Dead Flat bring added richness to darker shades, while Full Gloss gives this really eye-catching, mirror-shine finish on wood, metal, or even walls and ceilings.”

Find your finish

Estate Emulsion: Chalky matte finish for interior walls and ceilings.
Modern Emulsion: Durable, washable matte finish for interior walls and ceilings.
Estate Eggshell: Durable low-sheen finish for interior wood and metal.
Modern Eggshell: Tough mid-sheen finish for interior wood, metal, and floors.
Full Gloss: Very durable high-gloss finish for interior and exterior wood and metal, and interior walls.
Exterior Masonry: Very durable, very matte finish for exterior masonry and exposed interior stone and brickwork.
Exterior Eggshell: Long-lasting finish for outdoor trim and furniture.
Dead Flat: Exceptionally matte finish for interior walls, ceilings, wood, and metal.

Go online

Wayne’s final tip is to take full advantage of the Farrow & Ball website, which is home to a wide range of practical and aesthetic advice.

“If you have any questions about how to apply a Farrow & Ball paint finish, whether it comes in the colours you want, what surfaces it can be used on… you’ll find all of that and more in the Product Advice Sheets,” he says.

The website is also home to the Farrow & Ball blog, The Chromologist, which plays host to case studies, trends, tips, ready-to-use schemes, and how-to guides to inspire all kinds of upcoming projects.

Even its product pages are a treasure trove of information. Have a client who has a specific wall colour in mind but wants your advice on completing their look? Head to the colour page, and you’ll find a selection of ready-made palettes and an expert-approved complementary white, plus the recommend tone of Primer & Undercoat.

Last but not least, there’s the Farrow & Ball trade newsletter. Sign up here for trade-exclusive advice, events, and product information direct to your inbox.

About The Author

Wayne Armstrong is a technical sales executive at Farrow & Ball, where he has worked for eight years as part of the Research and Technical Development team. Having begun his career as an apprentice painter and decorator, Wayne now has over four decades of experience in the decorating trade, including several City & Guilds qualifications and roles as a painting contractor, trade representative, quantity surveyor, technical sales manager, and BSI Institute committee member.