Any colour you like – as long as it’s green
PUBLISHED: 14:28 27 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 February 2013
Charlie Ryrie went to see how Emma and Edward Bulmer are putting their green principles into practice at their beautiful home near Pembridge.
The most appealing houses maintain their own architectural integrity while reflecting the characters of their owners. Emma and Edward Bulmer's Queen Anne house near Pembridge is not only elegantly beautiful, it also exudes an enormous sense of energy and fun and is very obviously a joyful family home for the couple and their three daughters.
It's an elusive quality, the energy of a building, but has a lot to do with the way it's lived in and loved. On the more literal level, the house is in fact increasingly energy-efficient as Edward and Emma are full-on environmentalists and practise what they preach. They run cars on bio-diesel, buy green electricity, and are converting home and buildings to renewable sources of power. They garden organically and have not only converted their own farm but joined three neighbouring farmers in becoming Soil Association certified organic holdings. The house has been sympathetically restored inside and out using chemical-free materials, from the furniture and fabrics to every speck of paint.
The interior is as beautiful as one might expect from architectural historian and designer Edward. He has been responsible for some of Britain's most splendid interiors, including Althorp House and refurbishments at Goodwood. Along with wonderful fabrics and wallcoverings his own home is full of classic and hand-painted pieces of furniture from his furniture range, and painted walls seem positively to glow with subtle but incredibly rich colours. Colour has always been important to Edward in his work, creating the perfect tones for every aspect of each commission, and he has now taken his knowledge one stage further to develop his own range of richly coloured environmentally-sound paints.
Both he and Emma are passionate about showing that green need not be gritty. Their new Pots of Paint range offers 100 per cent natural paints for inside and out, in 50 glorious pigment-rich colours. "There's too long been a preconception that 'green' means dull, because green choices have often been rather utilitarian. It's really important to bring the aesthetic into environmental choices."
There's nothing dull about these paints: even the most subtly-coloured natural emulsions have a hidden lustre. Plants and minerals provide the natural pigments and the paints not only look gorgeous, they also smell wonderful, giving off lingering scents of flowers, forests and honey.
It is the subtle depth of the colours that first catches the imagination, but Edward explains that "The whole question of buying paint is so much more than what colour you should decorate a room. It's a much bigger decision." He firmly believes that our cavalier attitude to our environment is responsible for many widespread modern ailments, even cancers. Synthetic paints are products of the petrochemical industry, and can give off unpleasant and dangerous residues in use and through their life.
"Back in 1987 a World Health Organisation research paper concluded that occupational exposure to paints as a painter is carcinogenic, but the message just doesn't seem to have got through." Natural paints are good for the planet, good for health as they don't give off any nasty compounds, and good for the health of your home as they allow the house to breathe.
Edward first developed a range of natural paints five years ago, producing a rich range to complement historic interiors and furnishings. "People loved the colours but at that stage they really didn't care whether they were eco or not." Rather than deterring him, this reaction spurred him on.
In searching for the perfect product he discovered Aglaia paints from Germany, made only with sustainably-produced raw materials such as beeswax, milk casein and linseed oil. The paints have brilliant coverage and are pleasant to use as well as producing wonderful results, but Edward was not keen on their range of colours. Now Aglaia make his paints, and he colours them with a balance of carefully sourced natural pigments.
Whereas people hadn't seemed so interested in the eco message even three years previously, when the Bulmers launched Pots of Paint in autumn 2007 the response was overwhelmingly positive, with customers responding not only to the colours but also to the qualities of the paints. Emma admitted, "It's fantastically exciting knowing that you've got the right product at the right time."
Following the successful launch the couple then made a characteristically brave move. They decided to take time out and go to India for four months with their three daughters. "We decided it was time to step off the treadmill for a while. When you're in your 40s I think you need a bit of stepping off time to dump stuff and clear your mind. We just felt we had to go for it."
They returned with even more energy and determination to spread their positive message. The health aspect of the paints is so important that Emma is on a determined mission to get natural paints into schools and hospitals round the country. "We're aiming to get more natural paints in use in the UK than synthetic paints," She admits that this is quite a task as millions of homes are painted with synthetic paint each year and a very small proportion with natural paints, but Emma is forceful as well as enthusiastic and has a way of making the impossible seem achievable. "It's so short-sighted not to act, we should all be banging on government's door to lobby for change." She laughs as she says, "I'm determined to be near the front of the queue."
The Bulmers' eco-enthusiasm spreads through every aspect of their life, and they want to open environmental doors to others. Emma is the first to admit that they are fortunate to live in such a glorious home and surroundings, and they are planning to invite others in to the space to showcase positive possibilities. "We are aiming one day to turn buildings in the farmsteads into an eco-centre where people can come and learn about the very best of sustainable building and design."
Meanwhile they are not only looking at paints and renewable technologies; Edward is also working to develop affordable and sustainable housing modules, with the first experimental buildings due to be erected later this year at their children's school, which is of course decorated with Pots of Paint.
The paints don't come cheap. Three litres of the most popular Pots of Paint whites in emulsion will set you back about £30.00, with colours significantly more, and three quarters of a litre of eggshell costs 27.00. But Emma claims this is good value. "The good thing about the current economic climate is that it is making us think about what is important. We have to relearn what value really means." They are pricey when compared with cheap chemical paints, but what price good health, especially combined with beauty?
One of the reasons the paints have such attractive qualities on the wall is that they are laden with pigments, which makes some colours very expensive to produce; but the result is worth it. Also, coloured emulsions can be diluted up to 20 per cent, and as Edward points out, "Buying good paint is probably the cheapest and easiest way to go green."
Emma and Edward have a fortunate knack of relaying important points with a wonderfully light touch. The message about natural paints is deadly serious, but as with all the Bulmers' projects, the products show a huge sense of joy. The names of the paints are deliciously seductive - who could resist a spot of French blue, Ethereal blue or Garter blue in the Pots of Heaven divinely blue range? Then there's tea green, pea green and sea green, stone white and whiting - just to say them out loud is to desire them. And the idea of using paints made from pigments drawn out of the earth and flavoured with ingredients such as citrus peel, lavender, thyme and conifer oil makes me want to redecorate just for the smell of it.
Pots of Paint for inside and outside use are available in natural matt emulsion, water-based natural flat oil, natural oil eggshell and natural oil gloss. They are available from www.potsofpaint.com
Edward Bulmer Ltd, Court of Noke, Pembridge, Herefordshire HR6 9HW
tel 01544 388535