Give up white? Get out of neutral? Gladly. But colour's scary - isn't it? Teresa King asks the experts
Forget a nation of shopkeepers, we have become a nation of painters. A recent poll for Dulux found that the British, formerly notoriously conservative about home decor (think of Ikea's appeal for us all to "chuck out the chintz"), have started experimenting: sales of coloured paint exceeded those of magnolia and white for the first time ever in 1996. As leading interior designer Kelly Hoppen says, "I don't think the British public is at all frightened of using colour now, - if anything they use it too much, despite not knowing how to use it effectively."

Ironically, this new confidence about colour could be perceived as ill- timed, given that what is considered truly chic in design circles nowadays is a sort of universal neutral: that not-quite-white cross between grey and beige - let's call it griege. Leading interiors' stylist Sue Parker, known for her innovative use of colour, puts it down to the fact that, "What's in for interiors is to look sophisticated and cool, and colours such as brown, grey, taupe and cream are obviously sophisticated. They are also a backlash to all those horrible blues and yellows that were around in the late Eighties."

All of this means that for those who want to experiment with colour, a flick through Elle Decoration or Wallpaper magazine is not going to help. Interiors trends are changing with almost the same regularity as fashion - witness Habitat's capsule paint range which changes colour every six months. But there is hope, as Sue Skeen of Elle Deco points out: "I think there is going to be a move back towards colour. We reduced the palette to the bare minimum, so we can start adding to it again." Paint guru Jocasta Innes agrees: "I feel that mauve, brown, red and black are coming back in that order. They are brave but atmospheric."

So, how do you go about picking your palette? "Choose a colour that you like, not because it is fashionable," says Hoppen. "Don't pick from a small sample. Paint a large board, let it dry properly, put it against a wall and wait a few days." If you are very specific about the exact tone you want, take a trip to see Patrick Baty, the man behind Papers And Paints, which offers a phenomenal paint-matching service. You can bring anything into the shop and they will do an exact colour match for you - the perfect paint made to order for just pounds 25 (plus the cost of the paint).

How do you make sure that what is on the paint chart doesn't turn into something horrific on your living-room walls? There is no foolproof method and all the experts seem to agree on this point. "If you're choosing a strong colour, it really is a leap of faith," says Skeen. "Colour can vary enormously in different spaces and light. I've seen the identical paint look green in one room and yellow in another, simply because of the quality of the light in each room," says Hoppen.

And if you're still wary, remember everyone, but everyone, has at least one disastrous decorating story to tell. "You will almost always have a desperate hysteria half-way through painting a room," says one hard-headed expert. "But you should finish it and live with it for at least 48 hours before you call the decorators back."


Sue Skeen: "I'm addicted to blackboard paint. I paint everything with it - tables, chairs, lamps, lampshades, indoor and outdoor furniture. It goes on easily, it's durable, it's a lovely chalky black and when it gets dusty it looks even better. It's the miracle paint of the century!"

Jocasta Innes: "Farrow & Ball for historic colours, or try Dulux's Heritage range. Otherwise Craig & Rose and, of course, Paint Magic!"

Kelly Hoppen: "I think Spectrum paints from Papers And Paints are outstanding."


Historical colours: Cole & Son (0171 580 5369); Farrow & Ball (01202 876141) do the National Trust range; Fired Earth (01295 812088); Shaker (0171 352 3918).

Specialist paints: JW Bollom (0181 658 2299); Craig & Rose (0131 554 1131); Foxell & James (0171 405 0152); Hammerite (01661 830000); Paint Library (0171 823 7755); Papers And Paints (0171 352 8626).

Natural paints: Auro Organic Paints (01799 584888); Nutshell Natural Paints (01364 642892); Potmolen Paints (01985 213960).

Modern colours: Brats (0171 351 7674); Habitat (0645 334433); Casa Paints from Homebase; John Oliver (0171 221 6466); The Kasbah (0171 240 3538).

The big names: Crown (01254 704951); Dulux (01753 550555); Sanderson (0171 584 3344).