A One-Room Transformation with Benedict Foley

Written on 10th March 2021

As a sought-after art and antiques dealer, head of his own framing business, and member of Apartment Therapy’s Design Changemakers Class of 2021, it’s fair to say that Benedict Foley has had a busy start to the year. But not too busy, we’re pleased to report, to give his sitting room a little lift with his favourite Farrow & Ball Archive colour.

We caught up with Benedict to chat about sustainable interiors, framing dos and don’ts, and one of our favourite subjects: the transformative power of a new wall colour.

Out of all our current and Archive colours, what made you choose Wet Sand?

My friend Emma Burns of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler painted her hallway the same colour many years ago and I'd been pondering what sort of perfectly orange-yet-earthy tone I needed. I rang her asking for a picture of her hall and she said: “just do it, you won't regret it”. She was totally right!

Other than changing the wall colour, we can see you’ve kept the sitting room largely the same – what effect would you say this has created?

The past year has provided ample time to for us all to consider our living quarters, but it's not always practical or possible to bring about all the grand designs that spring to mind.

Colour is transformative. It sounds so obvious but really and truly it does help you review the same things in a new context. You get to enjoy them all over again!

Before: Benedict’s sitting room painted in Cord No.16 | Photographer: @boz_gagovski

I feel very joyful in here now. It's not that I didn't enjoy the room before, but I had become accustomed to it. I painted the room myself and it was totally addictive. I wanted to see everything against the colour ASAP!


Do you have any tips for choosing accent colours, or any favourite ways of using
them to finish off a scheme?

You might well notice that some of the framing has changed along with the wall colour in this room – this goes back to the power of colour to re-contextualise. The works are the same and hanging pretty much on the same hooks, although I did shuffle a few around.

I chose colours for the frames that contrasted with the wall colour, which heightens the effect of both. It punctuates the mass of the walls and draws your eye onwards. Plus, it was the perfect opportunity to practice what I preach and use some of the new Ready-Made frames I've been working on for the past six months, which I'm launching this March.

Successful use of colour in a room is rhythmical for me – it should be lively but not jarring. Certain notes or colours should repeat (you'll see blue and turquoise ceramics dotted about) as certain passages do in a musical piece. These repeat colour references provide a story of playful coherence, and what are interiors if not storytelling!

“Colour is transformative – it helps you review the same things in a new context.”

After: Benedict’s sitting room painted in Wet Sand No.46 (A) | Photographer: @boz_gagovski

How do you factor sustainability into your work?

Re-contextualising what you've already got as a start is far more sustainable than changing everything. Even if you have the budget, it's worth going gently and not changing everything for the sake of it being new. My sofas are both hand-me-downs older than I am. They will need recovering at some point before too long, but I feel I've got a last hurrah out of them visually!

I generally buy antique or vintage items where I can – I also have a sustainable homeware brand, Foley & Prin, surprisingly enough selling antiques! – but when I was making my new range of frames, I asked a lot of questions to suppliers about where they got their materials.

The frame range is made in the UK, which is a huge sustainability win, and finished to order. I hold a small stock ready to be painted but am able to order regularly rather than in bulk, whereas most ready-mades are mass manufactured far away using large quantities of raw materials that then sit on ships and in warehouses.

“What was a good idea in the past still tends to be good; what wasn’t good generally doesn’t get better with age.”

When choosing a frame for a piece of art, what should we be taking into account?

The visual weight of a frame is more important than the overall size. Mantra: small artwork in a big mount doesn't look like a big artwork, it looks like a small artwork in a big mount.

Natural wood – painted, oiled, or stained – is always my preference over a factory machine finish. Most machine finishes are created with plastic wrap-around foils over a composite moulding. I find them uninteresting, they have a high environmental impact, and I don't see them as a good match with an artist's hand work. Quite the opposite, really!

Framing can be fun, so don't be scared of it. Enjoy adding a little joviality to the mix if it takes your fancy but do your homework and find a framer whose work you like and who can suggest something fun rather than looking at you with horror! Instagram is a great way to get to know a framer.

Left: Some of Benedict’s framing work | Right: Benedict’s studio Wet Sand No.46 (A) | Photographer: @boz_gagovski

What impact has your trans-continental upbringing had on your work?

I suppose I don't take anything for granted! South East Asia changed hugely during my childhood and things were constantly disappearing. It made me value the past but also it made me consider what was worth keeping.

England is an old country full of old things, so it tends to be either nostalgic or iconoclastic. I don't think either stance need be the way forward and that something more nuanced is my personal approach – both in life and my work.

What was a good idea in the past still tends to be good; what wasn't very good generally gets no better with age. If you grow up with trans-cultural experience nothing just is as it is – you are always asking why as you try to find comparative standards and navigate differing cultural norms. 

Are there any non-negotiables that always make it into your projects? Anything that no room should be without?

Simple that: art!

About Benedict

Benedict is a London-based creative working in design, interiors and art. He was brought up between South East Asia and England, and has collected all his life and dealt for the last 15 years in objects of standalone interest ranging across fine art, ceramics, textiles, and furniture. He believes good work is evident and the creative impulse isn’t limited to a single field, however it’s best to display things you might want other people to enjoy reasonably near eye level.

Discover Benedict's work on Instagram at @a.prin.art.

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