As the charming face of Farrow & Ball’s social media channels, Patrick O’Donnell shares his colour combining expertise with millions. When he and his partner moved from an Irish castle back into the suburban home he grew up in, his instinctive use of colour helped him put his own creative stamp on it. He talks to Jessica Jonzen about decorating on a budget and multigenerational living
PATRICK UPDATED THE DINING AREA IN THE KITCHEN WITH SHELVES TO ACCOMMODATE HIS COLLECTION OF COOKBOOKS, COLOUR DRENCHING THE ROOM IN FARROW & BALL’S ARCHIVE COLOUR ‘BISCUIT’. A BLOCK PRINT TABLE CLOTH FROM LIBERTY COVERS AN UNREMARKABLE TABLE, AND PATRCK SPLASHED OUT ON FABRIC FROM HOWE AT 36 BOURNE STREET FOR THE DINING CHAIRS. IMAGE: BOZ GAGOVSKI
One of the most frequently asked questions on Farrow & Ball’s Instagram account is not how the name ‘Elephant’s Breath’ came about, but what the colour is in International Brand Ambassador Patrick O’Donnell’s study. A classic racing green (a Farrow & Ball archive colour called Minster Green), it is the perfect backdrop for the paintings jostling for space and a Georgian chest of drawers topped with books and a pair of ceramic palm lamps.
It is the archetypal gentleman’s study with an air of casual elegance, and you could easily assume that Patrick broadcasts the brand’s colour combination videos from a grand country house. In fact, he lives with his mother in the 1930s home in Worcestershire that he grew up in.
Before the pandemic, Patrick and his partner Paul Bailie, who makes hand-embroidered cushions and textiles under his label This Man’s Work, were as Patrick says, “running amok living in an absurd Victorian castle” in Ireland, where Paul acted as estate manager. Back in England, Patrick’s elderly mother required light-touch care and so he commuted between the two places, both to look after her and for work. “Then at the end of COVID it just became more problematic,” says Patrick. “I wasn’t going to Ireland and my partner and I weren’t seeing each other so one day he said, ‘I’m going to come to England,’ and so we all ended up here.”
Did it feel strange to be returning with Paul to the home he’d left as a teenager? “There is a sense of coming full circle, but I’ve never really thought about the house as it was – it was just where my mother lives. My two older sisters are married with kids and have got their own responsibilities, so it made sense for us to be here.”
For the arrangement to be a success, the trio agreed that Patrick and Paul needed to be able to make it feel like their home too. “We needed to have our own space with respect to my mother and create a certain level of our environment within somebody else’s and, likewise, she needed to have her space where she could watch TV and have the fire on all day if she wanted to,” he says. “It’s really fascinating to review a house like that because I suppose that when you’ve known it for so long, you no longer really see it anymore.”
Having lived in a castle, the couple had accumulated an impressive collection of art, objets and antique furniture. “We have a lot of stuff; I’m certainly not a collector in any grand sense of the word but we had to work out how to fit it into the house without it feeling disruptive for my mother, but while also creating an environment that we could respond to,” he says.
Did they have to streamline their possessions? “We didn’t edit anything – luckily, I’m a huge fan of oversized furniture in small rooms,” says Patrick. “Our bedroom is tiny – 12ft by 12ft – and having a big Georgian Chest on Chest in there along with all our art work is a way of playing with scale.” Patrick took that sense of playfulness up a notch when he painted a grand pediment around their bedroom doorframe. “It’s faux aspirational in a terribIy ordinary room; I quite like that sense of humour about it,” he says.
Patrick set a budget of £10,000 to update the house for its next chapter, allocating it for paint, new sisal carpet for the stairs, landing and dining room, fabric and some labour. The budget wouldn’t stretch to new carpets for the bedrooms so Patrick bought some large rugs from La Redoute to cover as much as possible. While they got a decorator in to paint the hall, landing and stairs, Patrick and Paul set about redecorating their bedroom, a spare bedroom, a bathroom, a TV room and Patrick’s now-famous study, which was his late father’s.
PATRICK’S STUDY, PAINTED IN FARROW & BALL’S ARCHIVE COLOUR MINSTER GREEN. IMAGE: BOZ GAGOVSKI
“It’s really lovely because there is still the presence of him,” says Patrick. “He died a few years ago and I miss him every day but I’m not grieving, so it’s lovely that I get to sit at his desk in the room where he worked for 50 or 60 years. It was part of him that was really important to keep, but rather than it being about my father, the process was about not interfering with how my mother lives.”
Patrick consulted his mother at every stage and redecorated the communal areas and her sitting room, re-hanging her art to give it a new lease of life. “I wanted to make sure she felt she was getting something from the process too and that it wasn’t us just coming in and taking over,” he says.
There was no budget to change the kitchen’s 40-year-old cream faux shaker melamine units, but Patrick could see the potential of the dining area. “We brought so many cookbooks back from Ireland so I went to the timber yard to have these shelves cut, added some IKEA brackets and colour drenched it all in this lovely warm Biscuit paint and it’s created this lovely dining part of the kitchen and feels really cosy.” He updated a humdrum table with a block print tablecloth from Liberty and splashed out on reupholstering the dining chairs with fabric by Howe at 36 Bourne Street. “That was a treat but it was three metres which I saved up for,” he says.
Patrick attributes the most transformative effect in the house to paint – all Farrow & Ball, of course. “I chose mostly archive colours, probably because I see the main collection so much for work,” he says. “There are so many colours that sit in the archive which are probably commercially unfashionable but they’re lovely to rediscover.”
Patrick decided to wallpaper the bathroom to add a sense of warmth and cosiness. The bath itself was very good quality but the room felt very utilitarian, with white square tiles and blue walls, “it was very abattoir chic,” he laughs. It’s anything but now, with plates and even oil paintings hanging from the walls. “I think people get really nervous about what a bathroom can be, but so long as the ventilation is good you can add texture and character and make it a room you want to spend time in,” he says.
Other decorative flourishes can be found lining the tops of the walls, which are trimmed with embroidered Indian tape from The Cloth Shop. “It’s because I’m terrible at cutting in,” Patrick confesses. Well, it looks brilliant. “I also had this grosgrain cord from an old robe and thought ‘sod it, I’m going to put it around my study door.'”
The hallway is painted in another archive colour, Entrance Hall Pink, and Patrick, who once did a specialist painting course with the legendary Leonard Pardon, painted a Charleston-esque mural around the mirror. To help his mother navigate the stairs, the bannisters and skirting are painted in archive colour Sutcliffe Green which works brilliantly with the Pink Ground on the walls. “It’s both an aesthetic thing because I love pink and green together and it also helps my mother to see the edges better,” he explains.
PATRICK AND PAUL’S BEDROOM, WITH CURTAINS SAVED FROM GOING INTO A SKIP. IMAGE: BOZ GAGOVSKI
Patrick was particularly thrifty when it came to window dressings. “The curtains in our bedroom were about to go in a skip,” he says, while the curtains in the spare bedroom once hung in the dining room at Hillsborough Castle: “I was doing a job for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and these curtains were about to go into storage and I said ‘I’ll have those.'” The original short curtains in the study were remade as a ruched blind, complete with fringed pelmet. “It’s very opulent, but it was done very inexpensively,” he says.
Patrick describes his aesthetic as “a bit old school with a bit of whimsy. I like furniture with integrity which is why I like brown furniture so much, and it’s often much cheaper than something you’d get at a department store.” He is unsure where his aesthetic and creative bent comes from. “I’m from a very pragmatic family, yet I studied fine art and have always loved interiors. I don’t come from a background of having glorious interiors with amazing curtains – I don’t come from anything grand at all. I just love interiors which are really effortless but have loads of character.”
So with the house transformation complete, how have Patrick and Paul adjusted to going from living alone in a castle to living with Patrick’s mother in suburbia? “You have to be really disciplined about the territory and the demands, and you have to control your patience sometimes – and I mean that in a good way,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll be working and my mother might be calling to me without any awareness; that just takes a little bit of time, but we’ve kind of found our groove. Like every household, every person annoys each other sometimes – that’s the nature of living with other people – but there is enough room here that we can have our own space.”
And what does his mother think of all the changes? “The only thing she doesn’t love is the sisal carpet because it’s not soft wool but I think that’s a generational thing,” says Patrick. “There might be a few pictures on the wall where she’ll say ‘I don’t really understand that’ and I’ll say ‘you’re not meant to!’ She’s really happy though; I hope we’ve handled it sensitively.”
The landing, decorated in Pink Ground by Farrow & Ball, with Sutcliffe Green on the woodwork. Herringbone sisal by Alternative Flooring replaced the tired carpet. Image: Boz Gagovski
The bathroom, decorated in the discontinued Farrow & Ball wallpaper pattern ‘Orleans Stripe,’ with a ‘Pearl’ border from Adelphi Paper Hangings running round the top. Image: Boz Gagovski
The Charleston-inspired mural Patrick painted in the hallway. Image: Boz Gagovski
The pediment Patrick painted around his bedroom doorframe in ‘Cola’ by Farrow & Ball, with the walls painted in archive shade ‘Cane’. Image: Boz Gagovski
Patrick’s mother’s sitting room, painted in ‘Templeton Pink’ by Farrow & Ball, with the fireplace given a lift with blue zellige tiles. Image: Boz Gagowski
The spare bedroom, papered in the GP&J Baker pattern ‘Hawkbury’. A lampshade by Samarkand Design stands on the side table, and a kantha from Sourced by Holly covers the bed. Image: Boz Gagowski
You can find Patrick O’Donnell on Instagram at @paddy_od_1 and at @farrowandball. Patrick is available for Farrow & Ball virtual and in-person colour consultancy sessions; find out more at farrowandball.com