Saturday, 17 August 2013

Guest Blogger - Jo Lee of Swedish Interior Design

I am delighted to announce that we have a new series of guest writers who will appear on Carte Blanche's blog periodically.
Our first is Jo Lee of Swedish Interior Design. Jo and Madeleine have the largest, most beautiful and best range of Swedish furniture both original and recreated that I have ever come across and their technical knowledge and understanding of this field is outstanding.
In conversation Jo and I were discussing the quality and properties of modern paints. We also discussed the "Greenwash" regarding some of the Eco Paint claims today and if you decide to go Green (not literally of course) it can be hard to find your way to a paint with really good Eco-credentials. However when I asked Jo if he could perhaps give us some background the paints they used to showcase painted furniture so beautifully in their showroom home near Brighton, he was able to give us a great report on a range of  truly organic paints, the advantages of them and their application.

Swedish Interior Design – Going Organic


When planning a design project, one of the items you need to consider very carefully is the paint you are going to use.
The rise of “designer” paints over the last 10-15 years have given us access to an unprecedented array of colours and finishes so you can have pretty much whatever you want. But this has come (certainly to my mind) as a triumph of marketing often  at the expense of product quality and usability.
So you can have chalk paints, dead flat paints, milk paints, iridescent paints, super chalky paints, organic paints, emulsions, acrylics and much more. It’s great having such a choice but how easy is your chosen paint for you to apply?  How long will it last? Is it good for you?
When we restored our glorious 1886 apartment that became the Swedish Interior Design  showroom, we had to consider a number of questions in choosing our paints.
Firstly, the apartment was full of complex original wall and ceiling mouldings, elaborately hand carved door frames and architraves, double original sash windows and flamed oak parquet flooring.

Stunning sea view from those 13 ft windows casts great light into this delightful room

We wanted to restore this faded beauty to her former glory and be faithful to the original design but at the same time put our own stamp on it as our home. Our desire was to create a Swedish Gustavian look and feel using our antique Swedish furniture, Mora Clocks & bespoke Swedish furniture. It would be a sanctuary from the outside world and also showcase our design ethos and furniture. At the same time we also needed to highlight the craftsmanship and extraordinary level of original detail evident in the original interior.
Another consideration was that since we face onto the sea; we have the most marvellous light bouncing through the 13’ high sash windows and being ‘sea light’ it changes in intensity according to time of day, the season and the prevailing weather.
We always concentrate on best use of light in our design work and so we needed careful thought on using our paint choice as an ‘interactive’ medium rather than a flat surface.
Next we had to look at the health aspect – Madeleine Lee, our creative director, has ME/CFS and so is very susceptible to paint fumes. You would be amazed if you look into paint specifications in detail, just how many ‘nasties’ still reside in different paints even with the recent and ongoing changes in paint formulation due to environmental laws.
So many paints still ‘leech’ into the atmosphere for a significant period after painting and will therefore affect anyone who is in any way sensitive – This is a serious consideration when you think about bedrooms, children's rooms, spaces with poor ventilation. There’s already too much toxicity in the world outside our homes, in the air, the water supply and so on. Why add to it in your own home? Don’t believe the sales hype and I would urge you to investigate the health properties of your chosen paint before buying to make sure you make the right choice for you.
So what about the finish? It needed to be in keeping with the feel of the apartment and since we don’t have kids (or at least only Norwegian forest cat furry ones) it didn’t need to be particularly strong, washable or non marking. It was definitely more about texture for us than anything else.
Never forget the next point on the checklist as it will hit you directly in the pocket: application and coverage.
With all the changes in formulation due to environmental rules, some well known major brand name designer paints have become really difficult to use on a professional basis. The coverage is poor (and certainly not what they claim) and the end result can be really streaky and patchy which necessitates more coats than you should really need to provide the quality finish that you would want.
At least if you are doing it yourself, its only extra time spent and general frustration.
But where you are employing someone to decorate for you, the added time and extra product required to achieve a top level finish can take 2-3 times as long to do which means significantly more cost to you. We now refuse to use certain brands of paints for clients because of this.
Also be careful to choose the right paint for your woodwork – especially in the level of ‘sheen’. Gloss, satin, matt and dead flat all have their advantages and it depends on your interior and the look you want to create but making the wrong choice can kill a design and look really out of place. Do you want the woodwork to blend in and support the overall colour scheme or work as accenting?
For example in our bedroom and living room we kept the woodwork muted in a matt finish so it played second fiddle to the main wall colour and trompe l’oeil but we used a stronger custom colour on the dado rail and to pick out the wall mouldings to provide a visual accent.

So what did we choose?
For health reasons, it needed to be an organic non toxic paint so that narrowed the field immediately. We wanted a super chalky finish and one that would change color according to how the light hit it to make the most of being by the sea. It needed to be go on well and not clog up the delicate cornices and mouldings in the various rooms.
We chose a fantastic color called dawn mist from EcosOrganic Paints – it goes from off white through a touch of light blue to a violet according to the light and time of day so that come evening time you have a wonderful relaxing tone to the walls which earlier in the day had been more vibrant and full of light.
The super chalky texture (while not overly practical) looks amazing with lots of grain and a 3D quality to it and in use, while drying it smelled of oranges and had absolutely no side effects for Madeleine’s ME which was great.
It took a little longer to go on than standard ‘trade’ emulsions but we budgeted for that, so it wasn’t an issue. Most importantly  it was neither gloopy nor too watery so we could get exactly the right consistency to work with both wide wall expanses and detailed mouldings.

Jo Lee  is a director of Swedish Interior Design.
Swedish Interior Design has Europe’s largest selection of Swedish antiques, over 60 antique mora clocks and a beautiful range of bespoke furniture which can be viewed at or do follow the blog at    
Join them on Facebook too

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Ultimate Furniture Painting Class

Do you make some or all of your living from painting furniture or has it become an important part of your life? Do you feel like you would like to learn more and achieve more exciting professional finishes, then the Ultimate Furniture Painting Class is for you. The next class runs 19th - 22nd May 2014. Anyone who is in the business of upcycling, repurposing and furniture restoration cannot fail to benefit immediately from this class. Taught by Cait Whitson and Gibson Donaldson, they bring their combined experience of over 40 years working in the field. Cait has been teaching decorative finishes for 25 years.

See more details on our website here and book in the shop here and there is a great discount if you pay in full before April 22nd of 10% off. Opt for full payment and use the code UFP10 at the checkout. 
Exciting gilding finishes

Furniture painting has become a huge trend and it has brought so many new faces into the decorative painting business that I have loved all my adult life, it is wonderful to have so many converted to the painting faith.

a student's cabinet elegantly finished in eggshell,  and gilded and stencilled
But what differentiates the professional from the amateur? These days I often compare painting to photography - everyone's a photographer since digital took the world by storm (well except me I have NEVER been a good photographer) and everyone's a painter, the DIY stores are filled with people ready to give it a go ......yet the message boards and blogs are full of queries about how to resolve things that haven't gone as expected.
Painting things can be easy if you stick to a small range of techniques and finishes but what happens when you want to branch out? It's not rocket science granted, but a little knowledge can make a big difference to how a project turns out and can make a piece look a million dollars

not rocket science - hand painted bee eaters
They say knowledge is power and this is very true in the painting game. If you only know a little bit you will only be able to achieve a little bit. Very simple tips and tricks can make the difference, building a really sound foundation of confidence is based on knowledge and technique. Many people say to me "but I am not artistic"; then we show them a few tricks of the trade and they realise that they are....and that they can achieve a lot more than basic paint finishes This class can fast track you to a new level.

students who have never hand painted a design before
free hand carriage lines and hand painting

learning to use professional tools for success

Working with a range of different types of paints and achieving a professional finish can be challenging if you don't have breadth of experience and although you read books and blogs and watch programmes on TV, when it says to "sand" how much sanding does that mean....with which sandpaper? When it says to apply 2 coats what brush to use?

So this is what we teach in the Ultimate Painting Class - we discuss primers and sandpaper and different types of paint and the names for paint. We show you fillers and brushes; how to hold a brush and how to get a brush-mark free finish. We let you play with resists, additives and glazes and we teach techniques from traditional to trendy. There are a whole raft of metallic finishes; stencilling with a twist - enhanced and embossed; freehand carriage lines and decoration; ragging dragging, stippling, linen, moire; gilding, patinating embossing;graining and marbling and finally topcoats.

embossing, foil gilding and glazing

student sample of ragging and moire
Each student brings a piece of furniture and completes an "apprentice piece". If you are a student flying in from afar we source a piece for you to work on.

the big reveal on the finish
glazed and completed with studio dog Rosie's help

a truly authentic looking finish

dragged, bamboo and linen finishes

marvellous marbling

The Ultimate Painting Class is 4 days for 4 students to immerse themselves in paint.

Treat yourself to total immersion here and remember to add your special code UFP10 for a great discount on payment in full

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Questions Questions - Answers to the questions about Chalk Paint™ decorative paint by Annie Sloan Part 2

***Please note that we have closed comments regarding Chalk Paint. Carte Blanche are no longer stockists and the paint has changed in UK a little and we feel that we can no longer comment accurately about its performance as we could in the past. We hope that the article and comments below are useful but for technical advice we would suggest contacting your local supplier or speaking to Oxford - Annie Sloan Head Quarters***

This is part 2 of a set of answers to questions that I see regularly coming up as search terms in my website statistics with regard to using Chalk Paint™. This set deal with waxing and although I have written an extensive piece about using the wax, here are a bunch of extra things that might I hope answer your queries and stop confusion. I hope I have covered everything and if you have more....just shout and lets see if we can answer them in the comments.
These responses and answers are drawn from my own experience and are my opinions and I am always interested if people can add more from their own experience so if you have more info please feel free to comment.

Antibes Green antiqued with Annie Sloan Dark Wax

  • Can you put a sealer/another paint over wax and Annie Sloan Soft Wax? - No. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is the only paint product on the market that you can put over wax. And before you ask...even if you only put a little bit on?...NO. And again NO NO NO!!!! let me repeat - Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is the only paint product on the market that you can put over wax. And now please don't tell me you did it anyway and it seemed OK, because it will peel, scratch and other dull stuff. The answer is still NO

  • Can Annie Sloan Soft Wax be used over any paint? - possibly but with no guarantees, it is designed for the soft absorbancy of her own paint
  • Can I tint Annie Sloan Soft Wax? - yes you can, you can actually use the paint to tint

tinting the wax

  •   How long does Annie Sloan Soft Wax need to cure? - this is an odd question because drying and curing are 2 different things. If you are asking how long to leave it before buffing, I normally recommend waiting at least a few hours (vague or what eh?) If you are unsure I would say at least 4 hours. Easiest is to leave it overnight, grab some towelling or cheesecloth and buff. but if you are desperate to finish in the same day then leave it till it stops feeling sticky.

  • Can I paint over Annie Sloan Soft Wax/Annie Sloan Dark Wax? - yes you can with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint™, see the first question.

  • Can I seal  Annie Sloan Chalk Paint™ with shellac so I don't use so much wax? - well, you could, but it is a bit of a silly idea. The wax was created by the manufacturer with the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint™ in mind as a flexible creative sealant and protector. If you paint shellac over the surface then it is sealed. It is sealed with a brittle rigid finish that has no flexibility in finish or style. Shellac doesn't like water much and will you could but for all the cost saving, I can't actually see the point.
  •  How soon after painting should I be waxing? - when you are sure the paint is dry. Dry time for the paint is variable depending on how humid it is and how much air flow you have where you are painting. Air flow helps speed drying in a warm dry atmosphere; humidity is not your friend if speed is on your mind....
  •  Do I need the wax brush - no you don't NEED it ......but you want it I know, it is a lovely tool and will aid your waxing over larger areas
  • What does Annie Sloan Clear Wax do? - it seals and protects, it is water repellent and strong and makes a good connection to the paint and it is a flexible creative material to work with that gives a soft attractive lustre that ages beautifully.
  • What does Annie Sloan Dark Wax do? - You use the dark wax to age and enhance any texture to your paintwork. You apply Annie Sloan Clear Soft Wax first then apply apply Dark Soft Wax. Wipe off any excess, then use the Clear Soft Wax to take more off if you need to.
  • When you wax with Annie Sloan Dark Wax can you just do some areas?- yes, you can use it as much or as little as you want
  • Can you use Annie Sloan Soft Wax over cabinets - yes you can, 3 coats really good protection on kitchen cabinets. Here is what Annie says about it "Refresh every now and again with some more Soft Wax when its needed. Wipe over with a damp cloth to clean. Using a strong cleaner like Mr Muscle may be necessary for stubborn marks but it will remove some wax and the area will need rewaxing."
  •  How much buffing does Annie Sloan Soft Wax require - well, just enough LOL. The more you buff the higher the how shiny you want it?? high shine will dull over time but a wee buff will bring it back up....maybe refresh the wax every now and again.....just the same as you would with fine wooden furniture. Like it dull? well don't buff, or buff a bit and allow to dull over time.
  • How do you clean the wax off Annie Sloan Wax Brushes - if your brush is a dedicated wax brush then warm water and soap. If you use the same brush to paint as you do to wax then I would suggest you use a little white spirit to rinse the brush first and then warm water and soap
I hope these tips will help everyone with successful painting and waxing....more than anything Chalk Paint™ is designed to be fun and easy, if it feels difficult then think about changing how you do it...thin the paint maybe, use a brush to apply wax instead of a cloth, keep it simple and fun and please feel free to ask questions about the process here.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Tortoiseshell Bravura

I know it has been forever since I posted must have thought I had forgotten about you, but I hadn't. I am back and determined to post here more often as we have so many lovely things happening.
Here is a little job I did toward the end of last year that was just a sweet project and I have been meaning to write about it ever since.

It's a long time since I was asked to do a bravura finish. What is a bravura finish you ask, it is one of the rather over the top finishes popular in the 1980's tortoiseshell, malachite, lapis lazuli and other dramatic finishes. It was rather lovely to be invited to do a little tortoiseshell accent recently.
This little accent also had rather a lovely story behind it.

Faux Tortoishell, painted tortoiseshell, faux finish
Tortoiseshell accent
  The client is a theatre director in and had at one time worked at the Mermaid Theatre, sadly no longer here. He had been at that time writing for the theatre and was commissioned to co-write the story that became the musical "Cole" about Cole Porter first performed at the Mermaid. During his research he went to New York and had the opportunity to see Cole Porter's apartment at the Waldorf Astoria. which was designed by the wonderful and inimitable Billy Baldwin.

a momento of the theatre that is no longer there
Billy Baldwin designed a beautiful library for Cole Porter made from tubular brass floor-to-ceiling bookcase-étagères that were set against lacquered faux tortoiseshell walls and Alan adored it, always holding its memory as something he would like to pay tribute to in his own home.

Watercolor of the famous library with brass bookcases designed by Billy Baldwin for Cole Porter, painted by decorator Mark Hampton as seen in Hampton's 1992 book, Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century.

The return to Scotland and a new home to decorate gave him the perfect opportunity and so we set about adding a decorative accent, just to 2 small areas of the drawing room....just enough to give Billy his tribute.

The first stage of the process applied over an alarming yellow

Since the time of the Roman Empire Tortoiseshell has been considered a beautiful luxurious material and well into the 20th Century tortoiseshell was used to make elegant combs and brushes, jewellery boxes, and ornaments but tragically it was made from the Hawksbill Turtle shell and the exploitation of the turtle  for its shell decimated populations and this turtle is now an endangered species. Thankfully, in 1977 the tortoiseshell trade was finally prohibited and the production of new material is banned, although I believe that there is still an illegal trade in the material. So save turtles have painted tortoiseshell!!!

The natural material would normally be made up as a series of small pieces, and on certain projects I would consider painting it as if it was small pieces but decided in this instance that the flow would be spoiled.

A Burst of Baldwin
I think that bravura is back....I hope so!