Sarah Mayhew Craddock talks to Annie Sloan who is celebrating 25 years of success

Annie Sloan started circling the globe in 1949 and has barely stopped since. Inspired by ethnology, she enjoys researching and studying the evolution of paint in domestic interiors around the world.

Currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the chalk paint which established her as “the world’s leading expert in decorative painting”, Sloan is also the author of 25 books.

The 66-year-old launched her range of decorative chalk paint in 1990, her fabric collection in 2012, her fragrance collection in 2014 and her stencil collection and wall paint portfolio in 2015.

She also heads up a network of over 1,500 hand-picked, independent stockists worldwide and yet is based in a modest, jam-packed shop of Aladdin’s Cave-esque colours and curiosities on Oxford’s vibrant and culturally diverse Cowley Road, near her home on Iffley Road.

Married to David Manuel, who is involved in the business, her middle son, Felix is employed as brand manager, along with his partner, Lizzy Brown, the company’s marketing manager.

“It may appear nepotistic, but they are brilliant and I’m fortunate to work with them,” Sloan says.

She has two other grown-up sons. Henry is a teacher, while Hugo is in the band Chad Valley.

The effervescent Annie was born in Sydney to a Scottish father and part-Fijian mother. The family left Australia for South Africa before arriving in England at the age of 10. She spent her teenage years growing up on a farm in Kent.

“We did a lot of travelling at a time when most people didn’t. When I was a child we went round Europe camping, staying in hostels, and travelled a lot in Africa too.

“They weren’t safe people, my parents. My father was a journalist, and a very romantic sort of man. He’d suddenly announce that we were going to live in Portugal, then that he was going to buy a chicken farm, then he’d decide that wasn’t going to work and announce that ‘Brazil is the place!’.

“My life was very much spent that way, and although it can be slightly disarming as a child, it’s also very good for you in later years.”

It seems that Sloan’s family life and multi-cultural backdrop formed the basis of her early education built feeding her interest in art history, social anthropology and an arts education.

Enrolling at Croydon Art School, Sloan studied under Marc Camille Chaimowicz whose interest in performance art and installation had a profound effect on her, and she was soon combining her interests in music and the visual arts through her involvement in a band called The Moodies. “We were punk before punk!” she remembers.

The Moodies’ unpolished improvisation and glam rock conceptualism earned them industry admirers such as Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Pink Floyd. The band toured America with Pink Floyd and Roxy Music before they split up in 1974.

After a brief, but enjoyable stint working for Time Out as a theatre and music critic she returned to her first love – paint.

“I always think of myself as a painter, an artist, in some ways. And the one great big art piece that I’ve created, happens to be a business. It came out of my training, and the way I think about what art and painting ought to be.

Sloan met David Manuel in 1978 while she was living in an artist’s co-operative in Bow, East London. Manuel had read for his DPhil in philosophy in Oxford and loved the city. The couple married in 1979, their first son was born in Battersea in 1981, and in 1982 they moved to Oxford as they both felt it would be a good environment for bringing up a family.

The family’s first Oxford home was in Summertown, where their son Felix was born in 1983, though the lure of the countryside prompted a move to Bladon in 1985.

However, after their third son, Hugo, was born in 1986, the village shop closed, and Sloan was relying on the car habitually, so the family decided to move back into Oxford where they have settled on the Iffley Road.

“I live in a Victorian townhouse which I love, being in the centre of things, with plenty of people around me. It’s lovely. However, the house itself is always in a state of flux so the decor is busy, colourful and full of interesting bits and pieces.”

Sloan also has a farmhouse in Normandy that features in her new book.

Having settled in Oxford, Sloan looked for work that encompassed paint, her fine art training, and would fit around family life.

She started painting murals in people’s homes.

“I painted a lot of murals when I was starting out, and felt sad that so many people have a very unvisual way of looking at life. I did grow up in a creative household, and my father would say to me that he wanted to sit in his chair and look at something beautiful. I’ve always been impressed by that.

“When you sit in your house, it’s not just about having a comfortable chair. But looking up, the whole scene should be very pleasing. I’ve noticed that people’s houses often look more like hotels. They’re not personal enough.”

She then wrote her first book about paint in 1987, which sold over two million copies worldwide and actively kick-started her career in interior arts. “I became very interested in handmade paint globally. I did a lot of research, met a man at a workshop in Utrecht, and before I knew it we were in a factory in Belgium mixing paint!”

Selling the results, Annie knew early on she was on to a winner.

“Everyone that used the paint loved it and came back saying that it was amazing.”

She opened her first shop in Headington in 1999 and then moved it to the Cowley Road two years ago.

“We’ve had good times and bad,” Annie admits. “2000 was a bad time, everyone went minimal, everything was bland, tidy and clean, so that was no good for us.”

Sloan’s genuine enthusiasm is that of a lady with an unbridled desire to communicate and empower people creatively. Where does this drive comes from?

“Oh, it’s partly being an old hippy,” she laughs. “I like teaching, my books are about helping and empowering people, it’s all part of the same story.”