So, here we are in 2020. Hope you had a good break ? I thought I would start off the year with an inspiring interview I did recently with Little Greene’s Marketing Director – Ruth Mottershead all about her job role and how this family run company work together to produce their new colours and prints each year.
As an interior designer I tend to seek out brands that are consistently reliable for both work and home. I’m a huge fan of Little Greene’s environmentally friendly ethos, twinned with their incredible paint and wallpaper palettes, having used them many times.
There were many questions I wanted to ask and hope I’ve covered anything you might like to know too …
Ruth, can you tell me a bit about Little Greene’s history and how the company was founded ?
Little Greene has historical roots dating back to the early 1700s when the Little Greene Dye Works, based on the outskirts of Manchester made paints and dye solutions for the cotton industry. The original home of Little Greene is one of England’s most ancient industrial sites for making paints and Little Greene as we know it today was founded by my father David Mottershead. Colour has always been a huge part of our family life, David trained as a chemist at university and worked in the paint industry for many years before founding Little Greene. My father’s creativity and love for art combined with his technical knowledge inspired him to create beautiful colours and high-quality paints. Little Greene was certainly something that evolved around our home and one of our first colour cards was actually produced around the kitchen table. My brother and I joined my father nine years ago and my role today is at the front end of the business as Marketing Director. My role has been taught both through experience, within the industry environment as well as marketing training – I have a masters in Digital Marketing to assist in the ever changing way our consumers wish to choose colour.
My career started in London as a Landscape Architect, designing outdoor public spaces including urban and green spaces as well as heritage sites. The job was certainly inspired by my love for design and outdoors – a fabulous chance to be creative in the outdoor environment. When the opportunity arose to join my father and brother at Little Greene, it felt like a natural transition particularly as there is a close relationship between exterior/spatial design and interior design. I have been working in the business for nine years and have experienced much change within the business within this time. It has been fantastic to be part of. We have recently moved to a new headquarters located a little further down the road than the original site but standing proudly in the heart of an area with a rich and envied manufacturing pedigree…
What is your day to day work life like as Marketing Director – is it very different each week ?
My role is diverse, which is great as every day is different ! My job sees me creating concepts and ideas for upcoming paint and wallpaper collections, choosing colours for new cards and browsing archives at the National Trust for new wallpaper collections. I write content for our marketing material, manage photoshoots and communicate with our customers. I spend a lot of time travelling, visiting our showrooms, journalists, exhibitions, managing our PR strategy and undertaking colour workshops. My job as Marketing Director is to communicate and this means making lots of talks and presentations. I undertake talks with end consumers, interior designers, architects, journalists and internal staff too. Topics tend to be colour related, based on new or existing collections and how to use colours in combination.
My work on a day to day basis focuses on managing our design and marketing team to ensure we complete our campaigns for the year ahead.
I’d love to know about the process of making your paints and wallpapers ?
All of our paints are made in our paint factory nestled in the foothills of Mount Snowdon in North Wales. We’re not the biggest manufacturer but we are obsessed with quality, innovation and an enduring commitment to be the best. Our technical team are briefed to make the best paint they possibly can ! Making paint is a complex process. The first stage is about colour and opacity – the dispersion of pigment into water. The pigment particles must be dispersed as finely and evenly as possible to achieve the maximum opacity and whiteness possible. This is very important as this provides the ability to make a full range of colours that cover in the minimum number of coats. The second stage is where we add the binder – this is the ingredient that holds the paint together and makes it stay on the wall. Our quality binders create quality products with properties such as stain and water resistance, prevention of marking and cleanability – all required for busy households ! After this the final ingredients are added to ensure the feel of the paint and the thickness are appropriate to ensure the best result on application of the paint.
Our paints are made using premium quality bases and highly pigmented formulations meaning our products are high in opacity and have fantastic coverage making them practical, beautiful and economical. We continue to make interior and exterior paints in water-based and oil-based finishes and we are the only British paint maker still producing a complete range of traditional and modern finishes.
Our wallpaper is made in Lancashire at my husband’s wallpaper factory ( another family business ) and one that is also steeped in great history. The machines they use to make our wallpapers date back to the 1830s – yes they are still using the same machines today ! Our main method of wallpaper printing is Surface Printing – this creates a beautiful painterly look that combines perfectly with our paint colours.
Our historic wallpaper designs and paint colours are sourced from historic archives. At the start of January 2018 we began a collaboration with the National Trust. With access to their properties, we conducted an extensive research project to uncover original colours and to tell the stories of the people who first enjoyed them. We uncovered over 200 shades from which we created a shortlist of 31 beautiful greens, these formed the ‘ Green’ colour card which has been a great success.
In January, we will launch ‘ National Trust Papers ’ an eclectic collection of contemporary wallpapers based on original designs from the National Trust’s properties. The beauty of working with the National Trust is that many of the designs are still on the walls of properties and can be seen today.
When creating a wallpaper collection, we will rework the historic patterns to make them more suited to the contemporary home, this may mean removing elements of the pattern or making design amends. We will then begin to look at creating different colourways using Little Greene paint colours and selecting 3 complementary paint shades for each design. We try to help our customers to create coordinating schemes in their homes to combine colours and wallpapers with ease.
Do you tend to have ongoing popular colours and shades or does it evolve with trends ?
We certainly do – Grey has been the colour of the last decade ! Grey was a collection we launched in 2013 and was seen as an ideal neutral replacement for magnolia. The trend for grey will continue, although we are experiencing a shift to warmer greys rather than cooler shades ( those with a little blue in them ).
Many factors influence interior design trends, we look to fashion, architecture, market shifts ad well as our surrounding environment. We see trends that last as little as six months or a year and then we experience trends that last much longer.
Prior to launching our ‘ Green ’ collection in 2018, we could see Green being used regularly as a fashion choice. Green has been popular but it is still only just hitting the consumer market. Navy Blues have been a hugely popular choice over the last few years.
It is often the case that the most popular colours are also the oldest. For example, ‘ Celestial Blue ’ was originally discovered on a colourcard from 1807 and can be used in a really contemporary way.
How long does it take to produce each new collection ?
It takes about 12 months from start to finish. Sometimes the ideas for new collections start years in advance ! In September we launch paint collections in London and wallpaper collections are launched in Paris in January. We start choosing and thinking about the colours we want to include in a new collection first then we pass the colours over to our technical team to formulate. There is a lot of toing and froing at this stage as we ensure the colours are as we see them in our minds and on paper! Once the colours have been finalised we start on the colour cards, the photography, the content etc.
The same process is the case for the wallpaper – we start with a concept then begin by scouring the archives for designs we believe fit our brief. We then work with the team to ensure the designs are complete before beginning the colour work.
Are more people turning to eco friendly paints ?
People are definitely becoming more conscious of the products that they use and the impact that they have on the environment. Not only are people considering what they eat but also what they put in their environment. The home is an important environment for all of us and we are pleased to be able to make environmentally friendly products that also stand the test of time ! We insist on using only the finest natural, organic and safe synthetic pigments, giving superb depth of colour, high covering power and the long life expected from modern paints. Our water-based paints far exceed all legislation on VOCs with a VOC content of virtually zero. This means you don’t need to worry about solvent contributions to the atmosphere or any respiratory issues, or the smell; they are virtually odourless. Our oil-based formulations contain vegetable oils as a replacement for any harmful solvents. Greater coverage of course means fewer resources used and all of our packaging including our metal cans can be recycled.
What do you think is the secret to your company’s longevity ?
Running a family business is extremely enjoyable and also a challenge, being part of the family means we are in control of our own destiny and can make the decisions that we feel are best for our company in the long term. We have always strived to create beautiful colours and quality products, to the best of our knowledge and ability. We will continue to work hard to adapt to our business needs in all areas of the company in order to create a product we hope our customers will enjoy and love as much as we do.
Is there any advice you can offer to someone not knowing where to start with an entirely new home palette ?
I would always start by looking for inspiration in magazines or online. Create a mood board or Pinterest page to discover the schemes that you like and what you might like to incorporate into your own home. Follow brands that you like on Instagram and make sure you really think about the kind of environment you are looking to create. The next step would be to order a Little Greene colour card. Browse the colours and don’t be afraid to try testers ! The great thing about the colour cards is that they are produced using chips of real paint so you can see exactly how the colour will appear. We would always advise ordering a tester pot and painting large swatches onto different walls so you can see how the varying light affects the colour throughout the day – this is really important. A colour that you see in an image may look very different in your own home, depending on light, shape and proportion of the room, existing colours etc.
If you are struggling with combining colour, our Colour Scales families provide four strengths of the same pigment which can be used in combination for a really coordinated finish- you can find these on the Little Greene Colours of England card. If you need more help then visit one of our stockists, showrooms or our website to get more information and helpful tips on combining colour and how to choose. If you are really stuck, then a colour consultation could certainly help.
Which colours are going to be big for Little Greene in 2020 ?
Green is still popular and is certainly taking off in a big way in the consumer market. Dark Green such as ‘ Puck ’ is being used on woodwork and kitchen cabinets in combination with brass and golds. Earthy, muted tones such as ‘ Boringdon Green ‘ and ‘ Ambleside ‘ are perfect for creating calm in the bedroom whilst the bold brightness of ‘ Sage & Onions ‘ creates energy and vibrancy in a lively kitchen.
We predict the use of warmer neutrals and a slight shift away from the cooler grey tones to take place. Natural warm colours such as ‘ Portland Stone,’ ‘ Clay ’ and ‘ Bath Stone ’ are expected to be popular. Warm neutrals are perfect for creating restful living spaces that bring comfort to the home.
A huge thanks to Ruth for sharing her time and knowledge. Hope you enjoyed this interview ?
If you want to check out Little Greene’s amazing paints and wallpapers you can do so here.
You can check out some of my past interviews here.
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All images © Little Greene 2020.