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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

The Chalk of the town: 25 years of Annie Sloan paints

The British interiors expert Annie Sloan is celebrating 25 years of her Chalk Paints by launching them in Dubai.
Annie Sloan, whose pioneering range of Chalk Paints can be used to upcycle and revamp furniture. Courtesy Annie Sloan
Annie Sloan, whose pioneering range of Chalk Paints can be used to upcycle and revamp furniture. Courtesy Annie Sloan

The name Annie Sloan is a new and exciting one on the region’s design scene. The UK-based interiors expert has launched her range of Chalk Paints – not to mention brushes, waxes, stencils and other decorating treasures – in the region this year, with three stockists in Dubai (The Majlis Gallery, Falaknaz – The Warehouse and Artistique Novelties) so far.

But the story of these versatile paints – which can be used to create a range of techniques and have gained huge favour with homeowners looking to add a personal touch to their properties – goes back to 1990, when the brand was just starting out in Oxford, England.

Having graduated with a degree in fine arts in the mid-70s, Sloan decided to use her skills within the interiors industry, taking on jobs such as creating wall murals in people’s homes. By 1987, she had consolidated her knowledge into a book, The Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques, which enjoyed huge success and is still considered one of the go-to texts on the subject.

While the book gave her readers the techniques they wanted, Sloan was frustrated by the lack of decent paints available to them on the market.

“I had been making all sorts of paints from eggs, glue, milk,” she says. “You have to think about a farmer in the middle of Spain or Italy – what would they do? They couldn’t go and buy some from a DIY store; they would find what they could and make something. I found that really fascinating.”

Sloan’s artistic approach to mixing colour was also very different from the standard manufacturing techniques.

“When I was a student, you didn’t buy 50 colours. You bought what you could afford and you mixed what you needed,” she explains. “Commercial paints are normally mixed in a non-artistic way – if a manufacturer wants to make a red into a darker red, they’ll just add black. Artists just don’t do it like that.”

She began to look into the possibility of creating her own paint range, and in 1990, Chalk Paints was born.

“I can’t quite believe that it’s been 25 years,” Sloan says. “It’s amazing. It’s gone through so much. I’ve learnt so much and done so much with it.

“There’s been years of working with it, going through lots of different styles and just learning about it and learning how to do it; not just how to use the paint but how to promote it. And waiting for this ‘make do and mend’ craze. Now everybody’s doing it.”

It hasn’t always been an easy journey. Styles and tastes change on a regular basis in the home interiors game. At one point, Sloan’s factory even went bust. But the brand has always held on, and today her products are stocked in 1,300 independent stores around the world, including the new Dubai additions.

It has been a growing interest in decorative DIY and the upcycling trend, in particular, that has given Chalk Paints a real boost over the past five years.

“Around 2010, things started to get really good,” says Sloan. “We got a distributor in Ireland, we got a distributor in America, our distributor in the Netherlands got very busy. And then we got some great publicity on one of Kirstie Allsopp’s programmes here in the UK, and then in Country Living magazine and The Daily Mail. One was in November, the next in December and then in January, and it all just suddenly blew up. It was amazing.”

Now Sloan is keen to show people how much more there is to her paints than the ability to do a bit of “shabby chic” distressing. As a result – and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Chalk Paints – she has just brought out a practical new book, Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint Workbook, in which design enthusiasts around the world can record their ideas and inspiration.

“It’s both interactive and instructive,” she says. “I’ve tried to make it very practical. I have sketchbooks that I put ideas in, and that’s what the workbook is meant to be – it’s something you walk around with.”

Paint, sketch, stick, collect, reflect – this practical workbook is designed to let users do it all. They can be inspired by Sloan’s personal decorative hints and tips, which are divided into six themed chapters that cover styles from “French elegance” to “warehouse”, then fill the dedicated blank pages with notes and ideas so they can use what they’ve learnt to transform their own homes. There are even pockets so they can collect fabric samples, paint charts and magazine clippings to help create their dream look.

Sloan says: “I hope that this workbook will be useful for home decorators in developing their own colourful thoughts and design inspirations, and that it will become a treasured record of their own creativity.”

One of the goals of the book is to get people experimenting with mixing their own colours from Sloan’s relatively narrow range of paints, as well as getting to grips with sketching.

“I’ve included some simple drawings so people can see that simple is fine,” she says. “People think they can’t draw, but they can.”

This sums up the ethos behind the Annie Sloan brand and its founder herself – inspiring people to get creative in their homes is the heart that drives the business and what has made it so successful.

“It’s not just about the upcycling thing; it’s not just about saving money,” Sloan insists. “One of the nicest things is people writing to me and saying how happy they are that they have found my paint and have been able to be creative. It’s about people enjoying ­themselves.”

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