Words: Madeleine Howell
‘It all began with just me and a bag of brushes,’ Phil Robinson, Clapham dad and founder of pioneering eco-luxe brand Paint the Town Green, reflects. Robinson started out as a painter with Channel 4’s Sarah Beeny, but originally aspired to be a musician. The crunch point came when he started a family, and decided to focus on his vocation.
‘I was far more successful as a decorator than I ever was as a musician,’ he laughs. ‘When I got married it was time to make some decisions.’ He went on to work with high-end interior designers such as Nicky Haslam, and his clients included the Conran shop at Bluebird and Damien Hirst’s London gallery – before he spotted a gap in the market for products more mindful of the environment, and easier on the lungs.
‘We were doing up our own house ahead of the birth of my first child, and at the time I was very conscious of toxic fumes and feeling rotten after work. I look back on using solvent-based paints now and I think I was mad to use them. I’d feel filthy by the end of the day, with a splitting headache. I thought, hang on a minute, let’s do something different – and it just snowballed from there,’ he explains.
At the time, Robinson says, there was no variety or wow factor when it came to greener products. ‘I tried them all, but they weren’t great to use and I just didn’t like the colours. I was surprised at the difference between what you could achieve with mainstream paints and the results I was getting – so I made my own colour chart. The aim was to create non-toxic paints that could also make a house look stunning.’
The market for environmentally sound choices has grown since, but Robinson’s carefully curated colours and thoughtful service still stand out from the crowd. ‘There’s less of gap now than when we got set up in 2007. New legislation came into play in 2012 to limit the amount of VOCs – that’s volatile carcinogenic compounds – that you can have,’ he tells me.
I was surprised at the difference between what you could achieve with mainstream paints and the results I was getting – so I made my own colour chart. The aim was to create non-toxic paints that could also make a house look stunning
As well as being an eco-warrior, Robinson is keen to challenge the stereotypes surrounding painters and decorators as a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen. ‘It’s a massive thing being invited into someone’s home,’ he says. ‘A lot of tradesmen lose sight of that and just see it as their place of work. It’s important to explain the process, to explain that it will be a bit dusty, but that it will be cleared up. That’s why it’s great to have this showroom. People can come in and talk to us. It breaks down the barriers between the tradesperson and the client.’
The team recently headed out to Banbury to work on Thenford House for Lord and Lady Heseltine, and have branched out to take on projects in Fulham and Chelsea. Despite this success further afield, the new showroom is an opportunity for Paint the Town Green to continue to establish roots in Wandsworth and the surrounding areas. There is even a native French speaker in the showroom, and the website has been translated into French – a welcome service for South West London’s large French community.
So far, Robinson has ticked all the boxes for me when it comes to the environment and the service: what about the colours themselves? Robinson beams: ‘Have a look – there’s something for everyone!’ There are 36 colours, ‘shrunk down to eradicate the agony of choice’, including contemporary greys, powdery blues and trendy greens, as well as more traditional creamy hues. There’s a stand-out red, Ruby, which I’ve already got earmarked.
The paints are available in a chalky matte, wipeable emulsion (good for grubby paws) and eggshell for woodwork, and are ordered in from Sweden and Iceland. Robinson has sought to demystify the often ‘intimidating’ colour selection process. ‘So many people are incredibly nervous about getting it wrong,’ he explains. The classic shade ‘Dignity’ is on the walls around us, which Robinson describes as ‘warm and safe – it would never look out of place in a Victorian house’.
Pictures of You is a popular colour. It’s got one foot in the beige camp, and one foot in the grey camp. I believe “greige” is the term
What colours are most sought after at the moment, and what trends does he predict for the remainder of 2016? ‘Pictures of You is very popular. It’s got one foot in the beige camp, and one foot in the grey camp. I believe “greige” is the term – it’s not too modern, but it still has the contemporary feel. Dream On is very subtle, an off white with just a hint of grey. It looks white if there’s no juxtaposition. Night Swimming, a striking dark blue, works well for feature walls. Kitchen units are great to experiment with, and you can be a little more adventurous.’
The environmentally friendly paints themselves come in minimalist white pots with hand-drawn illustrations by illustrator Alice Tait, a favourite of Gwyneth Paltrow, famed for her quintessentially British designs. Above me are three unusually shaped pendant lights sourced by Andrew Kornat, and strewn on a classic cream chaise longue are cushions by surface pattern designer Hannah Watchorn – one to watch for her finely detailed prints of pheasants, falcons and herons in earthy colours.
‘We wanted to bring our paints to life so they’re not just a square on a page. Hopefully, we can help to trigger a bit of creativity,’ explains Robinson – and he’s certainly done that.
39 Allfarthing Lane SW18 2AP; 020 8871 0531; painthetowngreen.biz