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Farrow and Ball estate eggshell – handle with care

Listed under Blog, Eco, paint Posted Oct 19 2011

Farrow and Ball are masters of marketing. The public who appreciate traditional paint colours are eating out of their hand. Unfortunately though, they seem to be using sleight of hand to disguise a couple of flaws in their Estate eggshell.

If you buy and / or use Farrow and Ball eggshell, here’s a couple of details you should be aware of.

You HAVE to use Farrow and ball primer-undercoat on any surface before painting with Estate eggshell.

1 – If you want to use Farrow and Ball eggshell on a piece of pre-primed furniture or a kitchen, you first have to re-prime that expensive and high performance factory coating with Farrow and Ball primer.

We didn’t, we followed a fairy common practice among kitchen painters of applying 3 coats of finish over a sanded down primer. The first coat of eggshell didn’t dry properly.

So if the specification is Farrow and Ball eggshell on factory primed furniture, be prepared for an extra coat and get ready to pay for all the extra labour and materials that comes with that.

2 – If you are re-decorating a glossy door frame and it is peely or a knot is staining through, before applying eggshell, it is good trade practice to sand and prime with a high performance problem-solving primer (think Zinsser BIN or Coverstain or Classidur Universal Primer or Mythic primer etc.) These products work, and if you double prime, you are ready for topcoats.

But if you want to finish off with Farrow and Ball estate eggshell, then make sure you apply a coat of F&B primer undercoat over the high performance basecoat first. And if you don’t, you are on your own if anything weird happens.

Hopefully you see the glaringly flawed logic and ridiculous jumping through hoops required when applying Farrow and Ball estate eggshell on pre-primed or previously badly painted woodwork?

Estate eggshell is a hybrid frankenstein paint that has no history in tradition, and hopefully no future in eco.

Farrow and Ball Estate eggshell is a hybrid water-borne alkyd paint ie oil resin living in water. That is quite a deviation away from traditional paint, but nobody seems to care that the self-appointed masters of traditional have gone off on a tangent that hardly any other paint companies seem to be following.

On the plus side, they say that this water-borne paint is an advance on their traditional oil based eggshell. It has the advantages of water-based paints – which I take to mean it is quick drying, cleans out in water, no odour – but retains the old world properties and look of oil paint.

Funny that. A coat of estate eggshell over beautiful water-based factory primer took longer to dry than the oil based eggshell we used from Little Greene. (36 hours before F&B was hard enough to gingerly sand, whereas nasty horrible old fashioned Little Greene oil eggshell was perfectly fine by the next day.)

Estate eggshell has a funky smell too! But to be fair, you can clean brushes out in water.


Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Farrow and Ball anti-snob, who dislikes them just because! I used to love their flat oil wall paint, their oil based eggshell was great on kitchens, and I am completely won over by the idea of chalky flat wall paint. Their colours ARE fab too, and somewhat historical, and the flat emulsion finishes are distinct from modern sheeny shiny paint finishes.

However, when it comes to Farrow and Ball paint for traditional looking walls and woodwork, they seem to play down one key factoid that for me makes it very difficult to recommend – the eggshell (and the emulsion by the by) requires a primer-undercoat. And worse, it needs a primer-undercoat over a reliable primer. This hybrid idea is almost the worst of both worlds.

(If you paint acrylic eggshell over old oil paint or factory primer, you should bridge the gap with a primer first – but it would dry fast and away you go with your finishes. Or if it were formulated like a traditional oil paint, you should be able to paint away on any decent primer without worrying if it is going to stick or dry.)

So I am not saying you cannot produce a lovely finish with Farrow and Ball estate eggshell, because it does lay off really nicely. I am not saying it isn’t suitable for kitchens or high traffic areas, because I presume it is up to the job. And I am sure the interior primer is perfectly fine as a basecoat, as long as there is no problematic surface to worry about. But if you want to follow really top trade practice and use the best primers, and you don’t want to be straight jacketed by hybrid eggshell, I would give the Farrow and Ball Extra Coat Eggshell system a wide berth.

Little Greene products do everything that F&B do – but well. From heritage colours to history to totally reliable, predictable and beautiful results in oil or water-based paint, with no jumping through hoops. Or use one of the other paints that appear on my hand-painted kitchens painting page for less aggravation.

(And thanks to Colin at Plush Painting for letting me loose with Estate eggshell, plus I enjoyed his insights on how F&B seem to focus on retail clients ahead of the trade who actually apply the paint. Smart.)

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14 comments to “Farrow and Ball estate eggshell – handle with care”

  1. Chris

    I have some F & B original oil based eggshell which I bought to paint the kitchen and now want to go ahead with it. Have yo u got a link to old ‘how to’ articles using this paint – I need to know about primers/sanding and coverage.


  2. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Not specifically I don’t believe so. This site started in earnest around the time that it was discontinued.

    It is very liquid, flows really well, 750ml tins, so that would have been around 10m2 per coat. Don’t recall issues covering the appropriate F&B oil based undercoat (they had a few colours for basecoats that were approximate to several topcoat colours either side.)

    I didn’t have any qualms using the system on kitchens. Suitable primers would be Zinsser special high adhesion or stain blockers depending on the current surface.

    Sanding to prep the surface would best be Abranet grades to suit, the denibbing betwen coats, 320 grade.

    No great problems, it was a decent oil based system and not a dissimilar look to the new hybrid, so they tell us 🙂

  3. Anonymous

    Hi there
    I started off as a traditional sign writer then went into decorating due to technology taking over nearly 30 years in all, any how what I’m getting at is that I’ve been doing hand painted kitchens for some time for various company’s and up until 3 weeks ago never had any trouble … Ever !!!! So one of the company’s I do work for emailed me as normal with address and colour but stated the client will only have actual F&B no aquivelent mixes
    Although I’ve used it befor not for some time though thought nothing of it, turned up got stared rubbed it down 2 of us got a coat on in a day the next day still tacky!! Tried rubbing with fine pad not having it at all, next day managed to rub it down just and 2nd coated it but because it was dark blue it would need a third coat so I left it to harden for around a week. Week later client called saying the paint is still tacky and coming off when she scrapes it with her nail she said that it should have been primed with there primer, so we done a test with there primer and it too scraped off I’ve now had to remove all doors and rub them back to the original “new ” primer and repainted them in an oil based undercoat and oil satin and matched the colour exactly
    Absolute nightmare… Now would this be entirely my error or can I try to get kitchen company to stump up towards it.

  4. Gaz

    Hi Andy

    I found this blog after using waterbased F&B eggshell and experiencing the funky smell Do you have any advice at all on getting rid of the funk? It smells awful, worst when the sun is on it. The door was painted around four months ago and the smell just keeps appearing. Quite hard to describe the aroma but it’s really quite rank. The colour and the finish is fine, it’s just the smell.

    Any advice greatly appreciated


  5. Steven Pinder

    Just read the comments about F&B eggshell on ordinary oil based primer (Homebase standard). Only painting a sanded pine bookcase and found it was a nightmare. F&B’s eggshell was repelled by the primer. Decided to use two coats of primer to give an even finish. Ended up painting two coats of primer and three coats of F&B eggshell. Looks ok but could nearly have bought a new bookcase for the cost of paint, the secondhand bookcase at £25 and a B&D mouse sander at £20! F&B are breaching trading standards with this, the buyer should be warned that it will not adhere to ordinary primer properly.Won’t buy it again, at £22 for a small tin nothing but rip off!

  6. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Farrow and Ball say that their advice on compatibility errs on the side of caution, and they always spec their own products; this is really clear in their advice sheets.

    I don’t know of any manufacturer that doesn’t recommend their own primer, mainly because they cannot be held responsible for potential reformulations by third parties. The Zinsser range of primers for instance does offer a reliable base for most oil- or water-based paints, but having used Zinsser primer and F&B topcoat, if the paintwork ever did fail, or didnt perform as hoped, who can you turn to to resolve a problem?!

    Just a hunch, but with F&B being sold at retail outlets, most customers wouldn’t necessarily be into reading the nitty gritty of data sheets. I have also had a good look on the F&B section of HomeBase website, and I don’t see any data sheets or guidance about sticking to the F&B primer and topcoat system.

    I suspect the DIY sheds especially have a bit of work to do with staff training too, because in theory, retailers (like HomeBase) would or should know their products and should therefore provide their customers with some guidance, or at least stick up leaflets or posters about the general perceived wisdom of keeping to one system.

    If there really is no literature readily available to HomeBase customers recommending F&B primer with F&B topcoats, why not go back and give HomeBase a nudge and ask them to sort themselves out, and consider reimbursing you for the cost of the HB primer?

  7. Ste

    I’ve used f&b eggshell over dulux professional water based primer/undercoated with no issues at all and drys in a few hours.

  8. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Out of interest, over what surfaces are you using the primer and how long are you leaving it before overcaoting with F&B eggshell.

  9. Marlon

    Hi, This was a really interesting post; thank you. We’ve looked at F&B Estate Eggshell to paint a kitchen table and benches, which are made of untreated pine. Would the high performance base coat be needed/suitable for this, or would you still recommend Little Greene instead? They will likely be wiped several times a day and need to hold up. Thank you

  10. Tarzan

    Old thread I know but I painted a tv cabinet and a table using F &B estate eggshell on top of a traditional deluxe primer and undercoat. First coat was still tacky after a week and second coat applied after 2 weeks. I actually don’t think it ever cured. It’s a year later now and the telly base still sticks to the cabinet. Every time I pull it off it takes a chunk of paint with it. F&B told me that I should have used their undercoat. I wish I had but really who buys new undercoat every time they buy new top coat? Shame cos the colour is so nice and the finish now looks great. So the lesson is to never apply F&B estate eggshell to anything other than F&B undercoat. Regardless of what’s underneath that. They go together like a horse and carriage, bread and butter, pint and fag etc etc.

  11. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Interesting report, thanks. It is best to follow recommended systems from the manufacturer if nothing else to cover yourself if problems arise and does happen to be faulty paint used to the letter.

  12. Steve burrell

    Just had a beautiful hardwood door made at great cost used f&bprimer 2 coats

  13. Ian Lisseter

    I am still toiling to get a decent finish with estate eggshell- before reading this I had primed some nice birch ply with 3 coats of Zinssers BIN to fill the grain and then the eggshell. It was going off within seconds, no chance to lay off between strips. I then bought the F&B primer and it’s now worse for brushmarks but the feather edge is better. Any recommended rollers?

  14. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Zinsser BIN or Mathys Isofix are shellac based and dry by evaporation. So speed of roller and brush is of the essence. I wouldnt use BIN to fill grain. A good tip is to dilute 50/50 with meths and apply two coats to ensure no misses. With a few square metres to paint, you should be able to keep going round after the first coat.

    Once it has dried, sand it smooth (Isofix gives a better finish easier than BIN) and then carry on with your F&B primer undercoat and topcoats.

    Too help reduce marks in their water-borne paint, use a soft tipped brush and wipe over the surface with a damp (barely wet) microfibre cloth prior to painting.

    Microfibre mini rollers from Wooster and others will work for both products. Foam and shellac tend to make a mess.

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