Fine Paints of Europe Colors

Interview with John F. Lahey, President of Fine Paints of Europe


SHEARER: We’re here at Woodstock, Vermont at the world headquarters of Fine Paints of Europe. I’ve asked John Lahey, who runs everything here, the backbone of the company as part of their team, to answer a few questions I have and a lot of people have about just colors. Fine Paints of Europe clearly has a reputation of the quality of the material, the durability of the material but one thing people don’t know, besides that early on the whole thing of custom colors was kicked off with Martha Stewart and her relationship with Fine Paints of Europe. But I want you to talk on your own freely about names like Guggenheim, Pantone, there’s a long run of it, you guys are all over magazines and a lot of it is about color. From my perspective people are trying to create their own color fan and you guys are dealing with these names brands. I mean Panton on it’s own is like pink in the pink industry.

Lahey: It’s huge. We are proud to have and be partnered up with some very significant players in the industry. Some of those relationships are product driven because of the quality of the materials themselves. Some of it is entirely color driven because we are able achieve colors that most paint manufactures cannot achieve because of our tinting system, because we don’t use universals tending colorants, we use product specific colorants. That’s why really Pantone came to us. It wasn’t because we’re nice people, we’re up in beautiful Woodstock Vermont, yes it was the quality of coating I’m sure helped. But more than anything, it was our ability to hit their colors. Because Pantone is color, right? It’s the backbone of their whole industry, why they’re in business. What we do and what they care about is the accuracy of their colors.

SHEARER: I think it was blue shadow, was the test color that Pantone sent, after other companies had not gotten it done. It was Emmett right?

Lahey: It was Emmett. Basically that was our interview with them. They said we’ve heard something about your tenet system, don’t tell us, show us. We were able to achieve a much higher level in tinting and tinting accuracy and to hit their colors than any other manufacturer was.

SHEARER: The guy who does the custom here at fine paints, for example when a large company like the Gap or Anthropology says we have a custom color we want a custom color, those are sent to Emmett. Who was describing the process that Pantone went through, as sort of the audition? He told me the colors you had they put the color under five different lights.

Lahey: They still continue to do that. For them to allow us to give a formula to a store they have to christen that color first. So any formula that is in our software at a retailer has been inspected and viewed under 3, 4 or5 different lights. It’s the backbone of their industry; it’s the backbone of their whole corporation, their company, everything has to be perfect. So that’s why we are so please to be teamed up with Pantone because of color. It’s been a great relationship for both of us.

SHEARER: So how are you associated with Guggenheim? That’s a coup d’é·tat.

Lahey: It doesn’t get any bigger, for us. We are so proud of our relationships, with all of our relationships that we have. But that is, as far as relationships it doesn’t get much better than that. Everybody knows the Guggenheim, Guggenheim museum all over the world. In Manhattan, it’s pretty much; if you’re into museums it’s the one you’re going to see. It’s been fantastic. So they have two fan decks in collaboration with us. They have to two fan decks. They have the classic, which is derived actually, from the art itself. Then they have another called the gallery collection the actual colors of the museum that the art sits on, inside, you know the walls of the actual museum and that is that gallery collection.

SHEARER: Since I know a little bit about these, I want you to really explain that there are some color fans out there that people just put them together and say “hey these are the southeast colors.” You actual say they did some work?

Lahey: This is, somebody actually went around to the art in the museum it’s and held up color chips of difference pieces and this is what this deck was actually derived from.

SHEARER: Was this driven from the Guggenheim or an idea from your color team?

Lahey: That was them, that was all them. I mean I’d like to take credit for it, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

SHEARER: Is that available in their gift shop?

Lahey: Yes, of course or you can call us. And this is the gallery colors. So this is the, all the colors you will see on what the art is sitting on, the walls themselves. Which is kind of off whites colors that will compliment the art obviously.

SHEARER: Is that a selection of colors that had already existed at g for a couple of decades?

Lahey: Good question, I don’t really know the answer to that. This is probably just a rotating array of colors. I’m sure like all museums they are constantly painting.

SHEARER: I know when these had gain some traction, not these so much because when colorist or interior design their colors they have their system. But I’ll tell you, when this gained some traction or became popular, the grays….

Lahey: As you know grays are so hot right now. Everything goes with them but on cabinetry, on walls and everything we’re seeing a real resurgence in very light grays, almost silver. I’m sure you’re seeing a very similar thing out in Seattle.

SHEARER: With the instant creditability with this deck, is that most designers that we work with know what the Guggenheim looks like. These colors are colors that they’d prescribe. What drew them to this is this was the color on the wall that made that piece of artwork look good.

Lahey: Right, make it pop.

SHEARER: That’s the strength really for my side of the colors.

Lahey: Push come to shove, people always come back to what they know which is off whites. So that’s why this is now actually our biggest selling color too because it does offer a lot of off white, creamy whites really soft muted colors. When people are feeling a little more adventurous we go to this.

SHEARER: Can we go to the way back machine?

Lahey: Sure.

SHEARER: This is the way back machine. So any designer, and certainly all paint dealers know what this size is. And know when these came out it blew everybody out.

Lahey: We were really probably the first company to offer chips at this size and definitely the first people to charge significant money for them. But we had to; we’re a small company. We could never produce fan decks at this size and give them away to everyone. It was really Martha Stewarts insistence that they be large and it was our insistence to charge for them.

SHEARER; So, airiconna was the first?

Lahey: No, so it was colors the garden, airiconna, sky lands and then lily pond. But it was really the airiconna that even today…

SHEARER; The teals and the blue…

Lahey: They are still being used today and were totally revolutionary, you say them in everything, print advertising you saw it in every trade magazine, was using those colors

SHEARER: There are a few designers in Los Angeles and Seattle that still have their original even though they are clipped and folded up at the edges. They’re like, “hey can you give me another one?” So I give them one that’s not like the original and they are like no. But it’s the same colors.

Lahey: Martha Stewart had been a huge supporter of ours and she was absolutely fantastic for our little company.

SHEARER: I see that you’ve kept the same size and the ring so it can be taken out and people can be familiar. There is a lot of buzz and I want you to talk about Susan Sargen.

Lahey: Susan Sargen, she has the lights and the brights collection. We don’t have all the fan decks here right now- oh actually here are the lights right here. The brights are just that, very strong colors they aren’t for everyone. The lights collection a lot of people really like this- children’s rooms, powder rooms-they are just really nice soft colors that can be used really anywhere. So we do a really good job with those. That’s a really nice relationship for us.

SHEARER: I’m gong to put you on the spot woody. Out of different paints out there, why would someone, a colorist really as famous, has the history and the gravitas choose to use you guys?

Lahey: She is also a Vermonter. We wanted to support each other and again it goes back the to the tinting system and the quality of paints. It was very much two or three things she really found fascinating with out company. The tinting system, so again we can achieve colors that most people couldn’t give her. With any other product, other than ours, that’s going to four or five coats to cover.

SHEARER: For any colorist it’s important for color accuracy but I mean not only do I prescribe color I deal with color. Certainly anyone can print a color deck, but I’ve used some of these, I know they are accurate in the paint. Which ones were the most important to her? The Oranges and reds?

Lahey: With out question, when you think of Susan Sargen it’s defiantly this fan. When you go into her shops and see her rugs because that’s really… These are the colors you think of with Susan Sargen. The limes, the strong reds, the raspberries- they do just really work well together. You look on this, you think one thing but actually in practice when you see it up it’s really quite striking.

SHEARER: Woody thanks, I k now that you guys are probably not working on getting a lot more color lines. I know you do a lot of work, in the color field with the Gap and Hermes, come on in, and everyone wanting color accuracy for their corporate identity. What do you see as far as the future of Fine Paints of Europe in your position in apparel fashion companies, designers seeing you as the color accurate team?

Lahey: We tracking to have the best year we’ve ever had. More and more magazines, more and more designers are using us all the time. We’re bringing better painters into our fold every year. That’s what they are leaving behind their paint job; what’s more important of the end result is the paint job. That’s why we’re in business. Our relationships with all these people whether it’s Hermes, Pantone, Guggenheim, the Gap, New Balance, Victoria’s Secret- it’s been a really nice niche for our operation. It’s a lot fun dealing with them. We’re always there to help them out, bend over backwards for them. When they need paint we’re there for them.