In conversation with: Edward Bulmer
Eco-worrier, interior designer and founder of his eponymous natural paint brand
For 30 years, Edward Bulmer has worked in some of Britain’s finest buildings. As a leading interior designer, architectural historian and ‘colour expert’, he is renowned for restoring heritage buildings, and bringing his design ingenuity to the creation of modern living spaces surrounded by character.
Bulmer is an expert in conservation too. And it is this that motivates him. His years of interior and architectural experience have resulted in his creation of Edward Bulmer Paints, a natural paints brand that cares for the environment.
We joined Edward to talk about colour, his experience and passions. It has been a delight to gain insight into one of the most interesting interior design minds in the country.
You are first and foremost an interior designer. How do you feel that this experience set you up for adding paint-maker to your list of accomplishments?
“Really because first and foremost I am an eco-worrier. It pains me that interior design is so wasteful and disregarding of its impact on people and the planet.
I used to do my eco-worrying through charitable activity but realised that if I directed my energies to something I knew about from long experience, that I could make more difference. Modern paints are petro-chemical preparations. Our paints are plant-based preparations. Replace the former with the latter and you can have a major reduction in plastic pollution, carbon emissions and poor air quality.”
You mostly focus on historic home and heritage restoration projects. What fascinates you most about these buildings?
“All of life is there! They encapsulate the human endeavor of generations of occupants, craftsmen and designers. They are endlessly adaptable and repairable, so like antiques they are sustainable provided the associated energy use to maintain them is kept in check.”
Image by Lorfords Antiques
When you walk into a room, do you immediately understand what colours will work in that room, or is it a process that takes time and patience?
“On the whole, yes. I divide rooms between those of passage and those of dwelling. The former (halls, corridors, stairs, etc) were painted simply with ‘common’ colours in the past and I believe our default ‘evolutionary aesthetic’ is based on this – warm whites, greys, stones and pale pinks derived from earth pigments.
Rooms for dwelling would be treated more richly and fashionably with mineral pigments used to obtain stronger colours and wallpapers and fabrics introducing deeper hues.
Fundamentally though, colour is a preference but the tonality of the chosen colour is key and that is the service that I give and now our paint range provides.”
You work on stunning renovations of houses full of natural character. How do you recommend adding character to younger buildings – to a mid-century house in the country for example?
“Colour is the obvious answer – but it need not be wall colour – it can be on joinery or on pieces you acquire. Often the patina of an old painted or polished surface of an antique can punch above its weight in bringing your room a sense of calm and historic resonance.”
How challenging is it to design a modern / contemporary feel whilst retaining or adding character too?
“Anything is a challenge if you are trying too hard! Don’t be too self-conscious. Use and buy what you like, but if you are combining pieces look for a tonal unity and try to ensure a similar level of design quality and integrity.”
Do you have any favourite antiques pieces that you have placed recently?
“The last things I bought from Lorfords give me pleasure every day because I used them here at home rather than on a client project.
The first was a Louis XVI style writing table (see image below) with very chic geometrical marquetry and the second was a pair of large fluted Doric columns which now dress the frontispiece on the west façade of the house!”
Image by Paul Whitbread
Do you think that handcrafted British furniture is the future of interior design in this country?
“I sure hope so – whether new or old. For my work I have always sought to use native timber, traditional construction and the minimum of sheet material. But it is hard for cabinet makers to compete against producers who don’t do this because they can ‘outsource’ the polluting and exploitative effects of waste, poor labour conditions and manmade materials to offer us ‘cheap’ prices.
We are all culpable here! Recycling, repurposing, upcycling, antique collecting, bespoke commissioning would be the stuff of a bright future for interior design.”
You have spent years perfecting your very own plant-based paint. How did you feel when you were finally able to launch your paints onto the market?
“I started by using the paints on client projects with my own skilled painters. Gradually we launched to the wider market and realised that modern plastic paints had made builders and painters lazy with expectations of paint that were being met with a cocktail of petro-chemicals.
So we worked with our manufacturers to develop paints that could outperform modern paints but only require plant derivatives for their formulation. We have played a long game and that has worked in our favour as the market has professed ‘green’ credentials for longer than customers have really cared.
Now the worm is turning and the value of natural paint is being recognised as an easy win in reducing the carbon footprint and pollution impact of building projects. This month we open our first shop, though we continue to sell and supply our paints online, it will be great to have a place where customers and designers can come and see for themselves the revolution that is going on in house paint.”
Your paint is made from natural raw materials that are responsibly sourced and you have made your manufacturing process as eco-friendly as it can possibly be. Your passion for protecting our environment is a wonderful thing. What top three tips can you share for those of us who would like to create a more sustainable interior without breaking the bank?
- Do it once and do it well.
- Ask your supplier to take responsibility for their packaging.
- Always ask for the ingredients/materials used in what you are buying and ensure the principle of repairability that antiques have.
If you can pick a favourite colour out of your collection, which would it be and why?
“Aquatic is a great example of a colour that has weight and drama. It hovers between blue and green, providing a great backdrop for all sorts of pieces.”
Image by Lorfords Antiques
Where do you take your inspiration from?
“The long history of paint making. With the exception of the last 100 years, we have used natural materials for 40,000 years. The basic 12 earth and mineral pigments we use have been known about for millennia. They are as useful today as they have always been and my work as an interior designer leads me to concentrate on colours that I believe work as part of successful productions, rather than seeking to be the main event.”
What are your predictions for the future colour mixes over the next 12-24 months?
“As you will gather I believe that what goes around comes around. I do think that good mid to deep tonal browns may have a resurgence. They can create atmosphere, straddle the urban/rural divide and flatter your furnishings.”
Do you have any tips for bringing light into a room and at the same time, attempting to create an opulent feel?
Insert a Venetian window! Like this one at Lorfords for instance, or any ornamental reclaimed window.
Join Edward Bulmer on his Create Academy course
Edward Bulmer has teamed up with lifestyle learning platform Create Academy to launch a course on colour, teaching you how to achieve harmony and cohesion throughout any interior scheme. We have secured L-Shaped readers with 15% off the course ‘A guide to pigments, paints and palettes’ at createacademy.com. Use code ‘LORFORDS15’ when booking.
Leading image: credit Andrew Crowley
Edward Bulmer has poured over 30 years of experience into every tin, creating beautiful colours backed up by ecological principles.
The plant-based recipes offer more than just a colour choice; the paints are highly breathable, healthy with no harmful VOCs or microplastics.
Historically resonant yet robust for modern living, these pigment rich paints give outstanding coverage. They are easy to apply and create an unrivalled finish.
Beautifully, breathable colours are backed up by ecological principles which are kind to both people and planet.
All the paints are freshly mixed to order and delivered directly to your door. New flagship store open from 9th May at 194, Ebury St, SW1W 8UP