Visionaires: Joa Studholme

The woman with the eye for colour, Farrow and Ball’s colour consultant reveals where she finds inspiration and considers how the changing state of the world is impacting creative choices.

You have a five minute interview with the Queen. She says who is exactly is Joa Studholme? How do you answer?

I am a hard working woman, and a wife and mother to two of the finest children you can imagine – I love my job and I hope I will still be working when I am your age Ma’am!

Your job is unique. What is that made you the woman for the role?

I am totally Farrow & Ball homegrown – I was lucky enough to join this amazing company over twenty years ago when it was just being reinvented, I have been driven ever since by my passion for a much copied but truly unmatched product.

How do you even begin to develop a new colour? Where does your inspiration stem from and how does it come to fruition?  

I am often asked this question and the truth is I don’t really know the answer – it’s a mixture of pure gut instinct and being super aware of what people want in their homes.  There are some colours that have been stored in the colour library in my mind for many years, which are brought out at the appropriate moment, while others are a direct reaction to the state of the world around us.  I have been inspired by everything from the colour of the mud on a particularly barren beach (Stiffkey Blue) to the rosy cheeks of my 5 year old daughter (Nancy’s Blushes).

“I don’t allow myself disappointment, there just isn’t time.”

What attributes do you need to be a colour creator?   

To be honest I am a total bore about colour – I notice it everywhere – when everyone else is admiring a great view, a historic building or even a movie,  I am usually focused on some small detail of colour!

Why do you think colour is so integral to our lives?

Because it has such an enormous transformative effect on both our mood and the space it is used in.  Small dark dull rooms can become jewel like with the introduction of colour and in this precarious world we all like to come home to some tender tones.

Do you have a favourite colour?

That is almost like asking me if I have a favourite child!  But if pushed, my heart lies with the original Farrow & Ball neutrals created by Tom Helme in the early 90’s, but I also love the new Inchyra Blue, and Peignoir, and Setting Plaster, and Light Blue, and Olive – just too difficult to choose I am afraid!

Can you think of a specific time when you stood out and dared to be different?

I have spent a long time convincing people to use colour and pattern on their ceilings, and slowly I am winning!

Tell us about the early days. What was your vision when you set out?  

Being a self-confessed colour geek I just felt fantastically lucky to be working with the phenomenon that is Farrow & Ball – I just wanted to share more colours with the world, but never dared to presume that I would be allowed to create and name the colours.

Can you tell us a specific experience or person that has shaped your path today?

I admire Lidewij Edelkoort tremendously, her creative vision is second to none and her interpretation of the way we live is totally inspirational.

“The glorious thing about British style is that is it all embracing – I think we are more tolerant of personal peculiarities than any other nation.”

What are you most proud of?

My children

Has there been anything you were disappointed with and wish you had done differently?

I don’t allow myself disappointment, there just isn’t time.

What was your creative dream when you were younger? 

I wanted to run a theatre!  But probably one full of colour!

Did you always want to work with colour?

I started off working in advertising, producing TV commercials, which I did for many years, but my kitchen table was always overflowing with artistic projects, most of which involved the use of paint and colour. It felt like the most tremendous relief when I could dedicate all my time to colour.

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Be more bold and confident – don’t listen when others try to make you curb your creative instincts.

What defines British style for you?

The glorious thing about British style is that is it all embracing – I think we are more tolerant of personal peculiarities than any other nation. We are not afraid to show our personal tastes whether it be in the decoration of our homes or in our fashion.  Britain would be much duller place it we all just liked the same things.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Living in my new dream house in Somerset – a little dolls house packed with jewel like hues.  And hopefully I might even stop changing the colours in the rooms every week.

“The way we decorate our homes is directly influenced by what is going on in the world around us and I think that it is the responsibility of the creative world to react to that.”

There are currently seismic geo-political shifts taking place around the world; do you think this presents an exciting opportunity for the creative world to react through their work? 

The way we decorate our homes is directly influenced by what is going on in the world around us and I think that it is the responsibility of the creative world to react to that. For instance, large open plan spaces that were so loved in that last decade are becoming less popular – smaller ‘zoned’ rooms feel more safe and secure at this time, and these need to be enriched with deep colour.

Will this affect your creative inspiration? 

Very definitely, I am thinking about colours now that will create homes that feel like they are giving you a hug – tender colours and colours that reflect nature. We no longer crave the greys so beloved at the beginning of the century.

We can’t end this interview without a nod towards your long relationship with us at Cutler and Gross. When you did you first discover the brand?

I worked in an office next to the original Cutler and Gross store on Knightsbridge Green in the early 80s and would spend hours looking longingly at the treasures within. I then was thrilled to do some work with [now Design Director] Marie Wilkinson, introducing some colour into her London home – we spent far too long discussing colour names both of paints and glasses. I was incredibly impressed because she immediately told me the colour of the frame that would work best with my colouring – the Humble Potato no less! Still my top favourite!

Do you remember the first pair you bought and do you still have them?

I am slightly ashamed to admit that my first, beloved Cutler and Gross glasses had plain lenses in them – I didn’t need glasses at the time, but couldn’t resist the Cutler and Gross style statement! They were fabulously understated clear square frames, which felt strangely daring at the time – I still wear them to this day!

What attracted you to the brand and what does it mean to you?

Rather like Farrow & Ball, I love the fact that Cutler and Gross has never compromised on quality. It has led the way in bringing the best of British style to eyewear. And like Farrow & Ball it is the original and the best.

And finally… Shades indoors? Yes or no!

Definitely yes, as long as you are not trying to choose colours at the time (oh yes, I have had clients who have done this!)

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