Creative Confessions: Five minutes with Patrick O'Donnell
For the next instalment in our series, Farrow and Ball's Colour Consultant and brand ambassador Patrick O'Donnell chats to us about how his varied career led him to colour, the best of British design and why he's excited about the design industry right now.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR JOURNEY INTO DESIGN?
I took an age to settle into anything - I originally began to train as an auctioneer doing an ISVA in fine art and chattels, but left early after an illness and headed to London to find my feet! I studied specialist painting at the Leonard Pardon School in Knightsbridge and spent a while doing private commissions then started cooking too for private suppers. It was only latterly after a few years in TV and film and then a stint as a florist at Moyses Stevents that I moved back into interior-based work (it's always been my passion), and the rest is history - eleven years later I'm still at Farrow & Ball.
WHERE DID YOUR LOVE OF COLOUR COME FROM AND HAS YOUR VISUAL PALETTE CHANGED?
Having done fine art at A Level and then a foundation course, my love of colour came through the language of art but from an interiors perspective. It was my great friend's parents' house in Oxfordshire that opened my eyes to the possibilities of colour and decoration - their house, to this day, has to be one of my favourite homes. The interiors are a perfect balance of good 'country house' pieces, but with such comfort and informality. It's British design at its very best.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR AESTHETIC?
I'm a hoarder, so my interiors are much more an expression of self rather than a discipline or style of anything definitive. Also, I work on relatively tight budgets so have to be clever where to spend and what to up-cycle - you can occasionally see my legs poking out from a skip on the hunt for lost treasures!
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
I love the interaction I get with our customers. The idea of presenting or public speaking used to terrify me but the pandemic gave us the opportunity to reach out in an accessible and natural way through social media. I was very adamant that the tone should never feel sales-driven or preachy, and it seems to have worked. I love doing Colour Consultancy too and I love helping clients re-imagine their space beyond colour, so often help them change their space by re-hanging pictures, moving furniture from room to room and generally giving (hopefully) better flow and scale.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR FARROW & BALL COLOUR THAT YOU ALWAYS TURN TO?
I'm obsessed with browns - they are so smart. Most people are petrified by browns, but they are a great alternative and less ubiquitous than the 'go to' dark blues or greens. 'Pantalon' in our archive is a joy to work with and has a lovely, earthy quality to it with its underlying green notes.
WITH YOUR WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE CONSULTING ON COLOUR, HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT DESIGNING AND COLOURING YOUR OWN HOME?
Colour invariably comes at the end for me - it often starts with a fabric, whether than be plain (always with some trim) or trad floral; the colour becomes the glue to unite all the elements in the space. Whilst colour can be bold, I never want it to dominate a room - it has to unify all the other elements. Scale is everything too - our bedroom is tiny (3.5 x 3.5) and I've crammed quite a lot in the space, but it all sits very happily and is deeply cosy.
IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONE PARTICULAR PERIOD OF DESIGN YOU WOULD LIKE TO LIVE IN, WHEN WOULD IT BE?
Definitely now - there is so much exciting design happening here in the UK, NA and EU and our reference points are so vast and wide from exotic to elegant, to collector heaven, so whilst I'm not advocating a 'mash up' of styles, it always inspires. If I had to choose a period or even more a house, it would probably be Haseley Court in Oxfordshire, the last home of Nancy Lancaster and where I had the huge pleasure of visiting many times as good friends moved in in Nancy's later life.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE OF DESIGN IS?
With the rise of AI and 3D printing, I really hope we can keep a human spirit in design - it's the personal element that makes homes come alive. I love the renaissance in craft and handmade, so long may this continue, even though I appreciate it's a rarified world. And lastly, egalitarianism - we need to pool all our talents to bring design and good living spaces to everyone, good design shouldn't be for the privileged few.
IF YOU COULD OWN ANY ARTWORK WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Wow, this is tricky - but I think it would have to be 'The Mill Pool, Wormingford' by John Nash. British art in the first half of the 20th century was just wonderful, and this watercolour and ink is the very essence of Nash. It's an incredibly tranquil work but the reduced palette gives it a hint of melancholia. His landscapes always move me.