Although time travel isn’t possible (so far!), Charlotte Cosby’s job seems like it might be the next best thing. As Head of Creative at Farrow & Ball, the esteemed English paint and wallpapers company, Charlotte has the unique duty of accessing some of history’s most beautiful colors and repurposing them for modern use. Since its establishment in Dorset in 1946, Farrow & Ball has gained a reputation as one of the world’s top purveyors of historically-derived paint colors and patterns, their swatch book the basis for numerous historic home and interior restorations around the globe. With one foot in the past and one in the present, Charlotte’s job of overseeing the brand’s creative division seems endlessly enriching and inspiring—and quite busy, too! Charlotte took a pause from her crazy, color-filled life to answer a few of our questions about her job, the brand, and her thoughts on future decor trends. Check out all of her answers, plus photographs of Farrow & Ball’s new wallpaper collection, after the jump! —Max
DS: The path towards any particular career is often different for each person. What was yours like?
Charlotte: Completely unexpected. I studied Management Science at university and afterwards went straight to work in a bank. As it turns out, I wasn’t that interested in Swiss Market intelligence, so I packed my bags and headed for an ad agency in London. There I worked as a planner, but soon realised my heart was in creative and I went to work for a freelance interior designer and gallery owner. Finally, at the tender age of 23, I settled at Farrow & Ball. I was like a kid in a sweet shop full of colours and patterns and have spent the last eight years growing up with the brand.
What’s the best part of your job?
Undoubtedly it’s the variety of work and all the travel I do. From visiting our Japanese agent earlier this year to looking for inspiration at various trade shows, every day is different! It’s also the people – I’m fortunate enough to work with incredibly talented, kind-hearted and hardworking people.
Can you tell us a little bit about what a typical day in your life is like?
I’m in one of those jobs where no two days are the same. Today, for example, I got into the office at 7:30 am, tidied up the paperwork on my desk and then set up for the filming of two stop-motion shorts. I had a discussion with my team about the Christmas window displays for our 51 showrooms worldwide before lunch and afterwards, I painted a mounted trout’s head before being interviewed by a Canadian magazine. The rest of my afternoon involved meetings about product development and ideas for our next campaign. This evening I’ll leave any time between 6:30 pm and 8 pm and because it’s wintery outside, I’ll most likely end up under a blanket with some friends watching a good film.
Farrow & Ball paints have long been used for historic restoration, so I’m curious about your source material—I imagine you must have been in a lot of beautiful old homes! What is the process of researching, gathering, and cataloguing historic colors like?
Yes, I’m incredibly lucky in that I’ve been able to see behind the closed doors of a lot of old historic houses and buildings. Most of our colours are historically rooted and their unique colour names are chosen to reflect the heritage and inspiration behind the colour. For example, Calke Green is named after the colour used in the breakfast room at Calke Abbey, and one of our newest colours, St Giles Blue, is named after a colour we found a few miles away from our Dorset home in the hallway at 17th century St Giles House.
Farrow & Ball has a reputation for creating products that preserve time-tested traditions and historical techniques. When working on the new collection of wallpapers, where did you and your team turn to for research and inspiration?
Anywhere and everywhere is the short answer! While I’ll often start by looking for inspiration for new wallpaper designs in archives, initial inspiration could have come from anything from Japanese manhole covers to historic houses to something interesting I’ve found in the antiques fabric dealers of New York.
Many of your wallpaper designs drew from Japanese decorative arts and motifs, something that isn’t necessarily traditionally English, but certainly saw great popularity in England in the nineteenth century. For these particular designs, was the intent to create something that referenced England’s historical interest in Japanese design or to create something altogether new?
Yes, our latest wallpaper collection was inspired by traditional Japanese papercuts and pen and ink drawings. The inspiration behind this collection came about after I had a conversation with someone in the national archive who told me that during the 19th century, Japan registered many of their designs in Britain as they believed we were pioneers in design. That got me thinking and researching Japanese craft, which I discovered had a lot of parallels with Farrow & Ball. With our four new papers, Amime, Aranami, Shouchikubai and Yukutori, I wanted the Japanese feel to remain, but I also wanted to add a touch of English eccentricity!
Unlike typical wallpapers, which are made using ink and modern printing techniques, Farrow & Ball’s use a traditional method that employs layers of paint. Can you describe what this process is like and what the desired outcome is?
The wallpaper factory is my favourite place onsite at Farrow & Ball! To give you a brief overview, the background colour of the paper is painted with a layer of our environmentally friendly water-based paint, which helps to give the papers a sumptuous and tactile texture. Our patterns are then applied either using flat bed block printing, roller block printing or trough printing methods. These traditional methods of applying a base, then the pattern using another layer of paint, helps to create a wallpaper of great distinction and beauty – something that we’re renowned for at Farrow & Ball.
Video above: Farrow & Ball’s new “Yakutori” paper being printed.
The popularity of paint colors and wallpapers ebbs and flows over time. Where do you see wall decor trends going over the next few years?
I think that using texture on walls, either actual texture or the illusion of, will be key over the next few years. I also think that there will be a big focus on creating sanctuaries within our homes in order to escape from the stresses of modern day living. We chose our key colours for 2015 – Pink Ground, Light Blue, Breakfast Room Green and Tanner’s Brown – because in their own way, each of them promote relaxation and reflection in the home.
What have you learned from your job?
Being involved with so many different projects, I learn new things every day. However, I’d say that the three main things are, firstly to always trust my instincts, secondly to always ask as quite often you get what you’re asking for, and finally that “creative” is so subjective that it’s highly likely that some people won’t like what you have produced. But, on the other hand, there will be other people who absolutely love it!