On the day I visit, the owner Simon March is tucked away in the back of the shop carefully placing small squares of color onto beautiful homemade color cards. Wearing a knitted Fair Isle jumper and a workman’s apron, he appears like a modern day Gepetto sitting at his work bench. He introduces himself with a smile before giving me a tour of his slightly bonkers shop/studio/apartment.
All 60 of Simon’s Siecle paint colors are displayed on clogs that cover the entire left hand wall of the shop in a rather striking display. Displaying them on a 3D shape instead of a flat card allows customers to see the colors in different degrees of light.
Simon opened Colour Makes People Happy in 2010 and has a growing base of customers attracted by his colored electrical cord, wallpaper and, primarily, his own Dutch-made Siècle paint. Each of the 60 colors has a tongue-in-cheek name that pokes fun at his paint contemporaries; the first collection is a sly reference to British paint brand Farrow and Ball and includes colors like ‘I thought I told you to wait in the car’, ‘Let it go, Doug’, ‘I resent that snide remark’ and ‘Difficult to explain in words,’ to name just a few. Simon is not just a color mixer, he's a man on a mission to expose the myths of the paint industry. “I tend not to like the credulousness of other paint companies,” he explains. “When they say things like ‘This is the color of a wheelbarrow owned by George VI,' it’s total bollocks. A color’s a color. I wanted to make mine an honest collection and something a bit more fun.”
Currently taking center stage in the shop space is a huge picture painting device which Simon built out of an old potters wheel and an upside down table from Ikea with a drum around the edge.
A canvas is taped onto the surface of the wheel, when it’s set into motion by the wheel, Simon dribbles thin paint onto the paper to create instant, hypnotic artworks full of swirling hues. Customers are free to create their own artwork, and Simon has also framed a selection that he sells in the shop.
And don’t get him started on color fads, which he regards as the scourge of the interiors industry: “I tend to think that trends and trend forecasting is a nonsense, it’s disingenuous to go to insecure corporations with this sense of self-importance and peddle them a color forecast.”
All of Simon’s own brand Siecle paint is made in Holland to his own specific ratios of resin, chalk, and water. “The company I work with makes it in a machine that looks like a giant Kenwood mixer.”
As well as his own special blend, Simon also sells Dutch paint De Drie Molens. “I like these guys. They’re really, really old. Holland is the home of paint making it has been for four hundred years. The only way to tell a good paint is to see whether it’s still on the outside wall of your house after six years.”
So what makes a person this opinionated about paint? Surprisingly Simon’s background is not a creative one, and he has no formal training in interior design. In his 20s, Simon moved to New York and there he noticed a gap in the market for a modern paint brand: “Paint companies were evoking Colonial houses and a bygone sort of aesthetic. At the same time people were buying Alessi toasters and Starck door handles and yet they were painting their rooms in the style of Victorian drawing rooms." Inspired, Simon set off to Holland, the ancestral home of paint, where he learned how to mix the perfect paint and where he now manufactures his own brand.
With such a clear display of contempt for interior designers, trend forecasters and paint brands, I wondered if Simon ever felt like a hypocrite when advising clients on which shades to choose for their walls? “I do tend to sort of undermine myself, but I hope people can see that there’s an honesty about my brand."
His freewheeling, somewhat defiant attitude seems to have a struck a chord with his young, urbanite fan base who flock to the store in London's Dulwich neighborhood. And what of colors that are making people happy at the moment? Ironically, bluish-gray paints are the bestsellers. Simon pontificates on that, “I suppose if you think about it, gray is actually the most colorful color, if you throw all of the colors together you end up with gray. Funny that we always see brighter colors as being more valuable, which is quite odd.”