Living With Colour, an interview with Joa Studholme

One of the joys of my job is getting to spend time with creative talents such as Joa Studholme. Joa is the International Colour Consultant at paint power house Farrow and Ball and has been with the company since its roots in 1996. As a colour enthusiast myself I decided it was high time to cover Joa here, on my website, and as a result I penned in an interview at home with her.


I've met Joa before, as a member of the audience during her talk at Decorex - the interior design show which takes place every September in South-West London - and a second time when I visited her to ask her advice on working with specific paint tones for an interior design project I was working on at the time. Joa Studholme is fascinating to listen to. She is a genuine source of knowledge and expertise in the interior design industry. From her early days at The National Trust to her work consulting on a variety of contemporary housing projects, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world. I want to know about what brought Joa to this rather bespoke career, as much as what her work involves currently at Farrow and Ball.


Rocking up at the front door Joa greets me in full tweed attire. From previous meetings I've learned that Joa's fashion sense and choice of clothes embody her creativity and style. I’m welcomed into the hallway of her Edwardian home along with interiors photographer Alexander Edwards, who accompanied me for the afternoon.

(Image: Joa Studholme at home, Drawing Room painted in Dimpse No.277)

Joa leads us into the impressive kitchen-cum-garden room which takes up most of the back of the house and overlooks the leafy garden. The furniture and accessories are vivid and bold, representing Joa’s love of colour.


Settling down into a comfy blue velvet sofa I begin the questions which I have been pondering over and editing for the last couple of weeks.

Q: How did you come to work for Farrow and Ball, and what is your relationship with colour?

A: I always feel like I should stand up at this point during introductions and say "I am a self confessed colour geek". The truth is I have always recorded things by colour. I remember saying things to my parents like "do you remember that holiday with the vivid pink sky". It's just how my mind seems to work.

Q: Were either of your parents artistic, and is this why you have such a love and passion for colour and creativity?

A: We had a beautiful home, and my brother works for Christies which obviously involves beautiful things, but I wouldn't say either of my parents were particularly creative. My father was actually a racing driver for Aston Martin. One of my most avid activities when I was a girl was drawing with my beloved Caran d'Ache pencils. I still have them upstairs somewhere. I also used to spend a lot of time decorating and re-decorating my bedroom, which my parents were kind enough to let me do. After years working in the advertising industry, where I produced commercials, my friend announced that he had bought a very small paint manufacturing company, based in Dorset. From then on I consider myself Farrow and Ball homegrown. To answer your question, my parents weren’t particularly creative, so I think it must be innate.

Q: What, in your opinion is so special about Farrow and Ball, and how has the brand developed since the early days of you being there?

A: Do you know how Farrow and Ball really came about? A friend of mine, Tom, was working for the National Trust as a restorative decorator in the early 1990s, and he was asked to create a range of paints but he couldn't find anybody to make the quality of paint required. He was in the middle of decorating Castle Hill in Dorset, and whilst we were there an elderly decorator came up the stairs with a tin of Flat Oil, with Farrow and Ball written on the front of the tin. Tom was instantly fascinated, and tracked the paint down to - virtually - one man in a workshop in Wimborne. That was 1990. Tom ended up buying the company, and he and his business partner have made it into the decorating phenomenon that it is today.

We have never compromised on quality. The original colours were by Tom, and I have added to the palette over the last 30 years. Often people will proudly have our paints 'copied' by a paint matcher, but I always find this rather amusing because these people just won't achieve the same quality and joy that comes with genuine Farrow and Ball finish. It is as much about the quality of our finish as it is our actual colours. One of our biggest achievements as a company has been to roll out a neutral palette, and now in the most recent set of new colours we have a return to quite punchy nostalgic Farrow and Ball tones, somewhat similar in style to our original 1990s collection - hues which are as at home in contemporary domestic properties as equally as they are for specialist historic buildings.

Q: Farrow and Ball are international, with particular popularity in the U.S. How has the American market differed to the UK clientele?

A: I have spent a lot of time in America rolling out the US stores. The light is so different there, which we have really considered with these latest colours. The new tones are much stronger and have a punchier appearance in general. People spend a lot of time in their kitchens these days, so I always think it's important to have as light a kitchen as possible. But for evening rooms, where you will be sitting in the darkness, like sitting rooms, I quite often recommend that people go dark in these spaces to make them feel cosseting and dramatic.

Q: What decorating trends have you witnessed since the beginnings of Farrow & Ball?

A: There was cream in the 90s, and there was taupe in the late 90s and early naughties. Then we shifted into red-based neutrals (like Joa's White). More recently we embraced a grey palette with what I like to call the 'architectural phase', and now I firmly believe we are moving away from all of this towards earthier tones.


(Image: Sulking Room Pink, No. 295, one of nine new shades from Farrow and Ball for 2019)

Q: Are there any projects or houses that you have worked on that you think are close to being the 'perfect house', and if you could choose a dream house what would it be?

A: What a difficult question. I do sometimes come home to my husband and say "you'll never guess the house I have been at today". They are often London houses. Homes that you wouldn't necessarily know lie behind high walls, or from the street look unassuming. I guess my dream house would be something that I could improve with colour - ideally a little flat above a shop on Portobello Road. These flats offer really fun spaces to decorate - like the small, narrow corridors that many of them have, that's a challenge and a dream for me!

Q: When you approach a new decorating project for a client, what is your checklist?

A: Look at the light. Look at the architecture. The details of the room. For example skirting boards, fire surrounds, window recesses etc. Talk to the person, or the owner, and find out how they use or intend to use the space. My aim is to decorate in a way that makes them smile, because that's what decorating should do - make people happy.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration kicks?

A: I'm very inspired by art. Rothko, and his depth of colour. Adam ceilings, which I think they are incredibly clever. And I don't think you can never look past a trip to India for colour inspiration. De Mines, one of our new colours, was actually inspired by my sons workwear clothes. In short, I see colour inspiration everywhere.

Q: Before we wrap up, I have one last question: what should we be looking out for in terms of decorating trends in 2019 and 2020?

A: I firmly believe we're moving towards an earthier palette. Look out for red tinted neutrals. Also, I'm forever trying to encourage people to wrap their rooms with the one colour. Use the same tone, but in eggshell or gloss on the woodwork, emulsion on the walls, and either use a wallpaper or gloss for the ceiling, too. Make the space interesting and fun. Don’t be boring.


(Image: De Nimes, No. 299, one of nine new shades from Farrow and Ball for 2019)

Explore more from Farrow and Ball, including the nine new colours for 2019, here.

Interview: Rory Robertson

Images: Alexander Edwards

With thanks to Farrow and Ball