As a kid, my favorite part of going to the hardware store was the paint swatches–hundreds of them, in vibrant hues, just waiting for me to take them home. For my parents, though, it must have been miserable trying to decide on a single color to paint the walls of the various rooms in our home.
For all the harried grown-ups out there who are tired of the traditional paint selection process–which typically includes multiple trips to the local hardware store and an overwhelming number of colors to choose from–interior designer and entrepreneur Nicole Gibbons has a new venture. This week, she launched Clare, a kind of Warby Parker for paint. First you take a quick interior design quiz that helps you narrow down the 55 colors the company offers, then a few clicks later, you’re ordering sticker samples that are easy to slap on your wall. Once you’ve decided on a color, you order online at a price point that’s low compared to luxury paints. Soon after, paint and tools arrive on your doorstep.
“I look at paint as being one of the most transformative elements in interior design,” says Gibbons, who started an interior design blog as a side hobby in 2008, began appear as an expert on interior design TV shows and in magazines, and eventually launched her own full-blown design company before starting Clare. “Color is the easiest, most inexpensive way to update your space. It’s the foundation when you start a design project.”
Similar to direct-to-consumer startups like Casper, Away, and Warby Parker, Clare is aiming to reimagine the experience around a decidedly unglamorous product–one that happens to coat nearly every interior of every habitable space in much of the world, making it a $155 billion global industry. Right now, paint is dominated by just a few big players like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams, which will make it challenging for Clare to unseat them. But while these paint companies have their own robust websites and virtual tours that show off what paint looks like in a home, their products are still mostly found in hardware stores. Gibbons had what she calls a “lightbulb moment”: why not redesign the paint experience for a customer who’s increasingly comfortable shopping online?
The process started with color. Unlike most paint companies, which often offer thousands of colors, Gibbons approached a limited selection of just 55 with a designer’s eye. “When designers are working, they’re not choosing from thousands of colors,” she says. “I wanted to bring that interior designer curation to a paint palette. You don’t need thousands of colors, you just need the best colors.”
To determine which colors to include, Gibbons says she thought about every use case, from standard, lighter colors which work well in small rooms to bright, bold colors that work better in larger spaces. Every color family from light to dark is covered. Clare’s colors each come with contemporary names, three adjectives, and a photograph of the color used in a real space. There’s an olive-colored Avocado Toast (playful, whimsical, and natural), a beige named Money Moves (classic, minimal, and natural), and a blue called Blue Ivy (edge, warm, and clean).
Limiting the sheer number of colors helps homeowners make decisions, but in case you really don’t know where to start, Clare has an algorithm that uses data about each color–as well as Gibbons’s personal recommendations about what colors work best in what kinds and sizes of rooms–to suggest colors for you. Called the Clare Color Genius and located on the company’s website, the recommendation engine comes in the form of a quiz, where you enter in details like the size of your room, the amount of light it receives, and the purpose of the room, as well as adjectives to describe your aesthetic. Then, it suggests three Clare colors that will work in your space.
When you’ve narrowed it down, you try out the colors. Clare’s stick-on samples help you get a sense of whether different colors will work for you. Then you just peel them off and throw them away.
When you’re finally ready to buy paint, you do everything online–there’s no waiting in line for someone to mix it for you. Unlike at the hardware store, where each color also comes in multiple finishes, each of Clare’s colors come in only one: eggshell, because Gibbons believes that it’s the finish that looks best on interior walls. There’s a single price point as well: $49, which Gibbons says is on the low end of high-quality paint (luxury paints from brands like Farrow and Ball can run upwards of $100 per gallon). The company also offers a single type of semigloss trim paint, a single primer, a single ceiling paint, and a curated set of painting tools, making it easy to order the less exciting essentials.
For someone who lives in a small apartment without access to a car, Clare’s promise of complete convenience, where everything is shipped to your door, seems like a no-brainer. Of course, it’s also a tiny company competing against an industry of giants that will have to explain to potential customers that there’s a better way to buy paint. And potentially, the limited set of colors could prove to be too limited for customers who do want more choice. Still, Gibbons has raised $2 million in funding from investors who’ve also backed Warby Parker and Casper, and if it succeeds, she has a shot at transforming a time-consuming experience. Though there is one casualty: a child’s unending joy over paint swatches.