Sweden and Finland’s most beloved paint. Falu Rödfärg (red colour from the copper mines of Falun in Dalarna/Sweden), is not just a house paint, it is Swedish cultural history in a tin. The history of Swedish and West coast of Finland’s red paint can be traced right back to the 16th century and today it is as natural a choice for architect-designed houses and public buildings as it is for summer cottages.
The properties that have made Falu Rödfärg Sweden’s most tried and tested and most loved. Coming from natural sources Falu Rödfärg contains pigments from the mineralization of the Falun Mine, created from ore with a low copper content that has decomposed over the centuries. In addition to copper, red mull contains a rare compound of iron ochre, silica and zinc.
This is made to a powder to which linseed oil is added, then mixed thoroughly giving a beautiful, matt finish and a translucent surface with course silicon dioxide crystals reflecting rays of light. In warm evening light, the red colour becomes intense, almost glowing. The pigment is highly stable in terms of light, houses can be found that have been painted a 100 years ago and yet, the pigment granules are still red.
Today the colour is produced by chemical components resembling the deep warm red tone of the minerals. Falu Rödfärg is one of Sweden’s oldest and most used types of paint. The paint produces an open coat that allows the wood to breathe, letting in moisture, but equally allows moisture to evaporate quickly, minimising the risk of rot. Despite of the colour today been manufactured chemically, Falu Rödfärg’s classic colour is not available as an exact paint number that can be mixed in a machine. The colour is created by experts who burn the pigment. It is a craft that has been handed down in production process since Falun mine started serious pigment manufacturing in 1764. An experienced user of red paint knows that it is a natural product and that it is therefore best to change batch at the corner of the house just to be sure.
The traditional colour remains popular today due to its effectiveness in preserving wood. In Finland, it is known as punamulta (red earth) named after the pigment, a very finely divided hematite. The binder is starch, why the paint is permeable to water. Home cooking of the colour was widely used in every cottage in the countryside. It gives the wood a much appealing colour and because the colour is from natural mineral pigments. Fulu Rödfärg works well in countryside settings, not only gives needed colour in the bleak winter months but also preserves the wood, only needing to be repainted every 20 years.
The earliest evidence of its use dates back to the 16th century. During the 17th century Falu Red was commonly used on smaller wooden farm building where it was intended to imitate buildings with brick facing. Except in bigger cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg and in the far south of the country, wood was the dominating building material in the country. In Swedish cities and towns, buildings were often painted with Falu Red until the early 19th century, when the authorities began to oppose the use of the paint as it was said to be too ‘common’. At that point in time more and more wooden buildings in urban areas were either painted in lighter colours (yellow, white, grey) or sided with stucco.
Falu Red saw a surge in popularity in the countryside during the 19th century, when also poorer farmers began to paint their houses. The common Finnish expression “punainen tupa ja perunamaa” – “ a red house and a potato field”, referring to idyllic family life, is a direct allusion to a country house painted in Falu Red.
The white corners of a Falu Red house set of the colour, making it appear even more vibrant, evoking idyllic living. It is so engrained in the Scandinavian idea of an idyllic home, it never goes out of style.