The Best Shade of Green is Actually Named for a Deadly Poison

In Siweb's ongoing series Design Lodestars, we examine Farrow & Ball's famed 'Arsenic' paint.

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Jean Francois Jassaud

It’s not pea, its not mint, it’s not asparagus, and it’s definitely not apple. No my friends—Design Lodestar #2 is the unique and singular paint shade of Arsenic. Developed and sold by the esteemed English paint manufacturer , color 214 pays homage to the slightly ghastly shade of green popularized by the Victorians.

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Farrow & Ball No. 214 is known as ’Arsenic.’
Farrow & Ball

At the time (and not by F&B), real arsenic was used to achieve the hue, which was seen on the most covetable dresses, fabrics, wallpapers and paint of the day. Little did everyone know it was a color that could kill.

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Napoleon Bonaparte on his deathbed by Mauzaisse Jean-Baptiste (1784-1844). It was rumored he was killed by arsenic-laced wallpaper.
Daniel Arnaudet / Gérard Blot/Musée National des Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois- Préau

Rumor has it even Napoleon himself was poisoned by an arsenic-laced wallpaper when he was held in captivity on the island of Elba.

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A typical Victorian wallpaper. The ghastly and, at the time, incredibly popular green color was achieved by mixing arsenic, a deadly poison, into the formula.
Farrow & Ball

By the turn of the century, the adverse effects of using arsenic tint were widely exposed, color technology had vastly improved, and the practice (thankfully) grew out of fashion.

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A dress from the Victorian era was dyed using arsenic.
Farrow & Ball

Instead of closing my eyes for eternity, arsenic opened them to the idea that paint color could be edgy and steeped in history: My mother had painted our living room to match the color of the bisque at the original cafe at Bergdorf Goodman, but that seems tame in comparison.

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The Tangiers living room of designer Frédéric Méchiche.
Jean Francois Jassaud

I liked it so much I even painted a guest room in our former beach cottage the color. I also did the hallways in St. Giles Blue, and the kitchen in Yellowcake, but that’s a story for another day.

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