The Fresh on Paint

When it comes to paint we usually react to the colour, and that colour can certainly influence emotions and behaviour. But increasingly, any good paint must also address a range of requirements from substrate preservation to environmental and occupational standards. Mud, blood and minerals coloured the cave and the wigwam, and the earliest painters combined ground pigments with oil or water, adding a binder and a diluent. This essential formula hasn’t changed much and paint remains a relatively straightforward blend of these key ingredients. In many cases modern paint producers still use pigments from natural materials such as clay, talc, iron oxides and other minerals.

Original formulations and traditional methods of production are used to render Farrow & Ball Paints–a strong new contender joining the Canadian paint arena. The unique entre for this up-market U.K. company is a simple selection of paint colours that hold a remarkable depth of colour and flatness. Many of the colours are archival. The firm’s well-put-together magazine features a range of projects spanning the restoration of a Robert Adam house to a minimalist London loft. Farrow & Ball are remarkable for their sophisticated retailing: chic showrooms in tony neighbourhoods in cities like Paris, New York and Toronto, where they’ve just opened the company’s North American distribution centre.

Increasingly, developments in the North American paint industry are driven by environmental and occupational health and safety concerns. Lowering or eliminating volatile organic compounds (VOC) has been one of the main thrusts. The VOC content is most often related to colour and finish, and even zero VOC water-based paints may subsequently have colorants added that do contain VOCs, but they may not be as toxic as those used in petro-chemical-based paints. Certain additives have been phased out due to health concerns, formaldehyde, mercury and lead among them. Para is one company set on eliminating crystalline silica, a known carcinogen, from its products although its use is not yet banned.

Solvent-borne paints traditionally provided superior durability and adhesion but more and more often their use is limited to unoccupied spaces due to concerns about high VOC levels. In the past five years new developments have rendered water-based coatings virtually as durable and washable as oil-based coatings, and they offer quicker drying times. Environmentally-sound, water-based paints are well-suited for health care, corporate facilities, educational institutions, hospitality environments and children’s rooms.

Many new paints have developed out of these interests. Washability and good hiding no longer require a high sheen. Para’s latest product is Ultra Suede–a gloss-free latex that’s dead flat but has the washability of an eggshell finish. Sico has introduced the acrylic-based Cashmere, which also has a flat finish, is long-lasting and washable. They also offer a water-based melamine finish which, according to Richard Joly, Sico’s Support Representative to Architects and Engineers, is making it a top choice for hospitals. Benjamin Moore’s Pristine Ecospec is a system of environmentally-conscious coatings with very low VOCs and minimal odour, which means a minimum of down time. Sherwin-Williams HealthSpec Low Odor Coating System and their Harmony Low-Odor Latex Coatings were also formulated with environmental considerations in mind, and offer antimicrobial properties. Para’s low-E Radiance paint has recently been the subject of a study attesting to its abilities to reduce energy consumption. The list goes on.

The surface to be painted will determine which type of finish to specify. Galvanized metals can produce some real challenges and according to Douglas Snell of Sherwin Williams, the ideal way to avoid trouble is to allow the bare metal to weather for six months. The next best thing is a good galvanized metal primer. Under the Sherwin Williams umbrella, Martin Senour Paints produces a galvanized metal primer that’s a solvent-based acrylic coating with low VOC content. They’ve also got a DTM Acrylic Primer/Finish, a 100% acrylic emulsion that can be used as a primer or as a primer/ topcoat system. Sico has introduced a water-based, direct-to-metal paint called DTM Acrylic Exterior Super Rust Inhibitor, which doesn’t require a primer.

Another interesting development from Sico is their line of latex dry-fall coatings for galvanized metal, concrete, wood and plaster which are ideal for ceilings in department stores, warehouses and factories. As the overspray falls, it dries within eight feet and turns into a non-adherent dust which can be easily vacuumed.

Many factors determine the success of a paint job and specialists urge architects to be very precise about expectations when specifying paints, surface preparation, and the application of primers and finishes. It’s wise to contact a paint company’s architectural representative to discuss requirements and request product data sheets.

Some new technological developments are also assisting the consumer in making the right choices. Para has launched the Design Vision CD-ROM which offers 2,240 high resolution colours that can be applied to a digital image or a scanned photo. And Sico is promoting their Web site’s Virtual Decorator with a choice of 192 colours and which also calculates the required paint quantities.

Whatever the many technical innovations in paint, colour remains its fundamental role in any design. Provocative, sensual colours are returning to the new 2002 paint palettes, but these are quietly countered with reserved, muted shades. Janice Lindsay, one of the country’s leading colour designers, likens the beginning of this century to the last, in that there is a “purge mentality.” The modernists threw out Victorian decoration and, for a while, colour went with it, until the new blank slate triggered the use of colour as an intense punctuation. In recent years, bold colours were rejected in favour of more serene neutrals, but are now making a comeback.

As for future trends in paint colour, look to the runways of Milan and Paris. The Color Marketing Group acknowledges that there used to be a significant delay between colours used in the fashion industry and those appearing on products and in interiors, but are now finding their way more directly from the runways to interiors, suggesting stronger links between the various design disciplines.

Elizabeth Aikenhead is a Toronto design journalist and a segment producer for a variety of HGTV programs.

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