Queen of shabby chic: Annie Sloan on reviving old items
Annie Sloan turned her back on a rock and roll lifestyle to become one of the world's most respected experts in the field of upcycling with her revolutionary paint. Ahead of her visit to Northern Ireland she talks to Stephanie Bell.
She is the Domestic Goddess of Paint, the woman who has single-handedly revolutionised "upcycling" in our homes and helped turn us all into amateur interior designers through her unique invention of chalk paint.
Annie Sloan (65), who is also a well-loved and best-selling international author, is to visit Northern Ireland later this month for a special meet-and-greet of the people whom she has chosen to stock her range of paint, fabrics, books and home fragrances.
Each of these local stockists has been personally trained by the paint legend herself to run accredited Annie Sloan workshops. And it's through these that thousands of vintage fans throughout Northern Ireland have learnt how to "upcycle" furniture – scouring charity shops to turn unwanted junk into beautiful, bespoke pieces for the home.
The beauty of the paint is that you don't have to prepare the surface – so no tiresome sanding down of old wood varnish and no laborious undercoats – just a very quick coat of Annie's special paint and your furniture is magically transformed.
TV favourite Kirstie Allsopp is one of many fans. She said of Annie's paint: "Annie Sloan's paint was invented by angels to make everything fun."
What is now known as "The Annie Sloan" look comes partly from the use and development of her unique paint and also the fact that Annie's techniques for painting and finishing do not follow the rules but allow you to work in an independent, intuitive and creative way.
These colours and techniques come from Annie's initial training as a fine artist, which encouraged the use of historical colour and design.
Her particular interest is in the 18th and early-20th centuries — and Annie's design style uses her own painterly and creative motifs, as well as calling on the classic traditions.
She has shared these in more than 20 books focusing on traditional paints, colours and techniques which have sold well over two million copies worldwide, printed in 11 languages.
Her latest, Annie Sloan's Room Recipes for Style and Colour, is to be launched by Cico Books in November and she will be performing book signings during her visit to Northern Ireland.
As well as paints, she has developed a range of fabrics and interior accessories, and this year launched her own Home Fragrances on to the market.
Her products are now sold in almost 1,000 independent stores — all hand-picked — throughout the world including Europe, USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, United Arab Emirates and Asia.
Annie has lived and worked in Oxford for the last 25 years. Her husband, David, runs the business with her and while Annie is the creative talent, David is responsible for admin and distribution, which Annie describes as “the bits I don't like”.
One of her three sons, Felix (30), is also on board as a designer and in charge of brand marketing. She has two other sons, Eugo (28), who is a singer and piano player, and Henry (33), who teaches at an international school in Kurdistan.
Her own roots are international — her great grandfather was from Co Down and Annie was born in Australia to a Scottish father and a Fijian mother.
She came to England to a farming life in Kent when she was 10-years-old. With spells in southern Africa and connections to France, Cuba and the US, Annie feels she has world roots, which has inspired her work and product range.
Surprisingly, our conversation doesn't start with interior design, but instead I am intrigued by the little-known and impressive fact that she turned down a life of rock ‘n’ roll fame to follow her passion for painting.
In the 1970s, she was a member of the girl band The Moodies who were tipped for big things. They made the front cover of The Sunday Times Magazine and had Mick Jagger and David Bowie (right) among their fans.
Annie actually turned down the chance to tour America with rock legends Pink Floyd. The band was so big at the time that it even had Roxy Music as its support act.
She laughs now as she recalls it: “That was a very, very long time ago. I was at art school and vaguely into Women's Lib. We were all
outrageous in our own way, or so we thought.
“There weren't any girl bands at the time, so we were pretty unique. There were six of us and one man who played the piano and sang, while us girls sang and danced around the stage.
“We were punkish before punk. We did a video in Berlin and Island Records wanted us to come in and record.
“Pink Floyd invited us to go on tour with them in America. We were so blase about it all — like you are when you are young.
“I actually found it quite boring being a musician, hanging around and doing soundchecks and being told what to do. It wasn't for me at all. I was a trained artist and I just knew my future was in paint.”
Now painting for over 40 years, she is credited for creating the painted furniture revolution. As well as creating her unique chalk paint, she is also successful as a teacher, entrepreneur and writer.
The Annie Sloan empire covers a mail-order business, website and two shops — one in Spain — to market her paints, courses and books as well as supplying stockists worldwide.
Annie says she has always had a strong desire to communicate and empower people creatively, which she does through her books, workshops and paint. She trained as a painter, but turned to decorative work and understanding colour after university.
In 1987, she wrote the phenomenally successful book The Complete Book of Decorative Paint Techniques. She says she never was in it for the money — just a desire to be her own boss — but inevitably it snowballed.
“I did have a vision, but what has happened is much bigger than I ever imagined,” she says.
“It was like you decide to make a snowball and you don't realise there is this great big hill. Once it gains momentum it is out of your hands. It is extraordinary and absolutely fantastic.
“I did want to make a stand-alone product. I knew it could be paint, but I didn't quite know what it would be.
“When you are fine art-trained, when you do things, but you are not always sure of the outcome, you tend to just follow your gut which is what I did. It was an organic process.”
It's hard to believe now, but when she finally developed her product she did struggle to get people to accept it.
It was 20 years ago and there were few interior shops, so Annie approached traditional paint outlets where, because her product was so different, many didn't grasp the concept.
She says: “I just thought I would put it into paint shops and that would be it, but that didn't work out. I explained to them that, with my paint, you don't have to sand or prime and I could see their sceptical looks. While they were mostly very polite, they were also usually conde
scending. The paint ended up at the back of the shop and just didn't sell.”
She then tried art shops, but that wasn't the right fit either. She finally found a home in small independent creative/interior style shops, which is why she had hand-picked her own stockists ever since. There are 20 Annie Sloan stockists in Northern Ireland, each trained to run workshops in Annie's paint techniques.
She says: “My stockists are very important to me; they are not just stockists, but passionate people who all have fantastic shops. I believe in supporting local businesses and, as such, we only supply Chalk Paint through this carefully selected network of independent shops.
“I enjoy inspiring people to be creative and adventurous with my paint and I believe that the stockists we have chosen in Northern Ireland are the right people to spread the message.”
She has a genuine passion for showing people how to use the paint. Colour — and people’s perception of it — fascinates her and forms a big part of her latest book, Annie Sloan's Room Recipes for Style and Colour.
She says: “When I first left art school, I would paint murals in people’s houses. One of the things I found was people either had no confidence when it came to making their home nice, or they had lots of confidence. The people with no confidence usually had quite a lot of knowledge, but they were nervous about using it.
“Colour mixing is not taught in school and I remember one woman I was working for told me she wanted her walls painted in the colour of mashed banana.
“I was stunned, but I completely got it. I knew what she wanted and I thought it was fabulous that she wasn't just like everyone else asking for blue or yellow.
“That inspired me to want to make people know more about colour and also give them the confidence to decorate their own homes and experiment with colour and style.”
She uses our approach to dressing ourselves as an illustration of what she aimed to achieve in her new book. While women's magazines tell us how to match this season's new indigo jumper with the latest tailored trouser and the perfect bag and shoes, Annie's hope is that her new book will show people how to do the same with their homes.
She says: “You wouldn't wear a pair of Doc Martens with a beach hat, or a tutu with a rain hat, although some people can put them together to create a bohemian look, and the average person needs to know what goes well with what.
“For houses, we seem to just look at beautiful photos of interiors, but I want to show people what works with what and give them information about different styles and colours, and what works well together.
“It’s about showing people they can have a beautiful home and it doesn't have to be expensive — a pot of paint is cheap.”
Annie will spend a day in the province on October 20 visiting stockists in Belfast, Lisburn, Newcastle and Crossgar.
She says: “My great grandfather is from Co Down, although I don't know where, but it is a family connection with Northern Ireland which I have always felt.
“I'm really looking forward to visiting. All the people there are so excited and enthusiastic.
“It’s very important to me to have people who are passionate about what they do.”
Don't miss your chance to see Annie
Annie Sloan will spend two days in the province on October 20 and 21 for a rare meet-and-greet of some of her local stockists.
There are 20 Annie Sloan stockists in the province, including distributor Jill Bennett from Portadown, and numbers are steadily growing.
Jill, who originally trained as an interior designer, introduced Annie's unique Chalk Paint to Northern Ireland three years ago.
She says: "I fell in love with Annie Sloan's beautiful range of colours and found that Chalk Paint allowed me to paint furniture simply, with no preparation required – you can just paint over existing paint or varnish for very impressive results. I now hold regular workshops to show how it's done."
Most local stockists run workshops which last from a couple of hours to a full day and range in price from £25 to £65, including refreshments.
To find out more about forthcoming workshops, contact Jill Bennett at Dandelion Lane Interiors, 9 Church Street, Portadown, phone 028 3835 3500, or email email@example.com.
Alternatively, visit www.anniesloan.com and look under "Northern Ireland shops" to find a stockist in your area.
You can catch Annie at Doris and Jeannie on the Belmont Road, Belfast on the morning of October 20, followed by a visit to the Little French Barn in Lisburn in the afternoon, and then The Crowes Nest in Crossgar and onto The Craft Loft in Newcastle.
On the afternoon of October 21, she will be at Dandelion Interiors in Portadown.