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Colour Notes 15

There’s something undeniably special about this time of year. Front garden flowers have begun to line London streets, the sun (thankfully) is setting later, and we’re gearing up to reunite with friends and family under sunnier skies. Finally our patience throughout the winter months is being rewarded in the form of blossoms and blue skies. We thought it was good timing, then, to take a moment to write about our Old Oak ~ Blue wallpaper, and do a little matchmaking with some perfect paint colours. Perhaps you’ll see these longer, brighter days as a chance to rejuvenate your space, and bring a bit of blue sky inside.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest evidence for the colour sky blue is from 1681, in the writing of Nehemiah Grew, botanist and physician. Grew’s pioneering work on plant anatomy, using both naked eye observations and a microscope, meant the inner structures of plant parts were pictured in much higher detail than ever before. He was an innovator who held the natural world in high esteem, not unlike the designer of Old Oak ~ Blue, William Kilburn.

Although born in Dublin, it was in London that Kilburn became acquainted with botanist William Curtis, who was impressed by Kilburn’s draughtsmanship and employed him to produce some of the plates for his book Flora Londinensis (1777–78). Kilburn’s creations for Curtis paved the way for his later move into the textile industry and his success as a pattern-maker, with a focus on floral motifs accessorised with leaves, shells and ribbons. Indeed, the original design for Old Oak ~ Blue hints to Kilburn’s training in botanical illustration, and offers something different to the chintz designs Kilburn was famed for. This original watercolour motif was found in a sketchbook; CommonRoom has brought it into the modern interiors space in the form of larger-scale wallpaper, in a wavy repeating pattern.

Why did we decide to offer this design in sky blue? It’s simple: blue is one of those rare colours that is both deeply moving and easy on the eye. Blue is symbolic of dozens of meaningful ideas, from melancholy and contemplation, to the boundlessness of sea and sky. It’s a shade that is beloved by many and has stood the test of time. Paler blues in particular hark back to Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe of duck-egg shades, meticulously curated to give the impression of utter innocence. Similarly, in the Victorian era, light blue was the colour of choice for paintwork and wallpaper in homes - probably as it offered some respite from the smoggy, industrialised world outside. Sky blue offers levity, clarity and cleanliness in the home, and is particularly striking when coupled with moodier tones. As Virginia Clark writes in House & Garden, sky blue is ‘cheerful and elegant at the same time… a wonderfully forgiving colour.’ Essentially, it’s a bit of a failsafe option - and one that can be truly striking and energetic in a room.

To match our Old Oak ~ Blue wallpaper, we’ve selected Farrow & Ball’s Lulworth Blue, named after the sea at Lulworth Cove, Dorset. Alternatively, there’s Pale Wedgwood by Little Greene, which they say is ‘a colour derived from the 18th century blue Jasperware, popularised by the innovative industrialist Josiah Wedgwood at his Etrurian pottery in Staffordshire.’ Fittingly, both these paints exemplify this idea that blue is more than the sum of its parts - it can symbolise a place, a time in history, or even an artistic movement.

Whilst we were looking into the sky blue shade, Gwen John’s oil-on-canvas painting The Pilgrim (c. 1920) came to mind. Gwen John, the elder sister of painter Augustus John, was born in Wales but trained at the Slade in London, the only fine art school at the time to admit women. She then lived in Paris, training at Whistler’s studio and later modelling for Rodin. Her life was peppered with intimate and at times obsessive relationships with women, who were often the subjects of her work. John’s paintings are truly intimate, and often used subdued colour palettes and thinly applied oil paint, reminiscent of fresco.

In her lifetime, John was overshadowed by her brother’s reputation, though today she is widely considered the more talented of the two. In fact, even by 1959, she was only listed in the Penguin Dictionary of Art & Artists as an appendix to her brother, rather than having an entry of her own. In some ways, she was prey to the patriarchy - which makes her body of work all the more impressive, proof that no system would stop her from pursuing her art.

The Pilgrim exemplifies the style for which John is now rightfully respected. Her use of colour in particular was highly skilled - a considered, meticulous blending together of tones. ‘John described using an extremely complicated numbered disc,’ writes Neil Lebeter at Amgueddfa Cymru (Museum Wales), ‘which denoted colour and tone relationships to any other colour and tone. She also developed her own notation system to sketch out and record planned compositions. This ‘code’ has proved incredibly difficult to crack and her notes have a poetic quality that, while beautiful, makes decoding even harder.’

John used her very own colour notes to refine her work - proving that her process was second to none. The Pilgrim encapsulates a sense of stillness and wisdom, and the reverence John held for the women in her life and for her craft itself.


The hues of John’s painting work beautifully in tandem with Kilburn’s Old Oak ~ Blue. In particular, if we match our wallpaper to the pale pigment of John’s sitter’s skin, the result is a tone akin to Pearl Colour by Edward Bulmer. This paint is straightforward to use and would suit almost any space - and its simplicity means the focus can remain on the wallpaper decorating the room.


Turning our attention now to the leaves of Old Oak ~ Blue, it’d be remiss of us not to colour-match the pinky shades and take note of the harmonious pairing of reddish colours with blue. As Virginia Clark notes, ‘a pop of red… make[s] a perfect foil’ to blue. Perhaps it’s because of these colours’ positioning on the colour wheel; the meeting of two opposites, contrasting in the best possible way.

We’ve gone for three Farrow & Ball colours. First, Brinjal, wonderfully described as a ‘sophisticated aubergine’. We then have Crimson Red, which is more of a romantic pink, and would gorgeously go with the pink Old Oak leaves. Or you can take it a step further, going down the more earthy route with Deep Reddish Brown. The overall look of this colour paired with Old Oak ~ Blue would be reminiscent of the natural combination of soil and sky found in springtime countryside. We were also reminded of Lucy Williams’ lovely kitchen, which combines pale blue cabinets with chocolatey marble worktops. A winning combination.

We hope this helps with some decoration inspiration. We’d love to see how you bring our wallpapers to life in your homes. Tag us on Instagram @commonroom.co.

words by Alice Hodgson

Further reading...

Shop Old Oak Blue samples here

Colour picks for Old Oak Green in Colour Notes 14




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