Following a career in the army, in 1981 Patrick Baty joined his father’s shop just off the King’s Road in Chelsea. Founded in 1960 as the country was gripped by DIY-fever, Papers and Paints quickly became a London institution, pioneering a colour matching service that has since been imitated but never equalled. With customers of all sorts seeking materials and advice on decorating houses from the grand to the ordinary, the shop’s records naturally formed the foundation of a unique archive tracing fashions in interior decoration through the sixties and seventies. When in the mid-1980s he produced a set of historical colours, Patrick Baty sowed the seeds of not only an enduring trend, but of his own future as a historical paint consultant.
You learned your business at the sharp end – how has your practical training as a housepainter informed your work as an historian?
In the shop I learnt how people perceive and describe colour, and what colours appeal to them, as well as how light affects the appearance of certain colours. I also learnt how to deal with painters and picked up tips from them – many of these tips have changed little over the last 300 years. It also gave me a grounding in what paint is and how it behaves. There are times when an oil-based paint might be better than a water-based one – the characteristics of one versus the other must be understood. An important lesson is that one cannot always have what one wants!
How good are people at judging the best way to decorate an interior?
Most people can benefit from a few words of advice. They can become overwhelmed by the size of a project and need help rationalising things. They often need reassuring that each room does not necessarily have to be decorated in a different fashion.
When did you become a paint historian?
Having produced a set of historical colours in the mid-1980s, I began collecting and transcribing early works on colour and house-painting. I then began a mini research degree on the housepainter, his methods and materials between 1650-1850. On completion, I began to learn about pigment microscopy and the forensic examination of historical buildings. Before I knew it I was employed with two colleagues to carry out the analysis after the fire at Uppark House in 1989. Since then, job has followed job and I have worked, by myself, on several hundred projects large and small in this country, in Ireland, and in the USA.