State of the Arts
A high-end Vermont paint company is expanding as a result of a deal it recently made with New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
Under the exclusive licensing arrangement, the terms of which were not disclosed, Woodstock-based Fine Paints of Europe  and the Guggenheim are jointly marketing two lines of colors for use in homes and businesses . One consists of 150 paint colors inspired by works in the museum’s extensive collection of modern art; the paints re-create the palettes of Cézanne, Van Gogh and Kandinsky, among others. The second includes 50 hues that Guggenheim curators and designers have used in the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building on Fifth Avenue, which opened in 1959.
“We have chosen Fine Paints of Europe to develop these new collections because of the company’s expertise in re-creating even the subtlest nuances of color and because of the quality of the paint itself,” says Karen Meyerhoff, the Guggenheim’s managing director for business development.
The museum was specifically drawn by the company’s unique tinting system, says John Lahey, founder and president of Fine Paints of Europe. An in-house color-reading device developed by the company’s techies “enables us to create a formula for producing any color in the world,” Lahey explains. He’s also proud of his paints’ pedigree, which is traced to the family-owned paint company in the Netherlands from which Lahey sources ingredients.
It was on a trip to Amsterdam in 1987 that Lahey experienced an epiphany that led him to a new career after several years in the wine industry. He recalls being stunned by the beauty of a green-enamel façade that he glimpsed in a restaurant. Lahey found out where to get a bucket of that green paint, and he brought it back to his home in the Hudson Valley.
He knew just where to use it: on a kitchen door that his three dogs scratched so much that it had to be repainted once a year. The Dutch paint looked great — so much so that it drew admiring comments from “everyone who visited, from the UPS guys to my bridge partners,” Lahey relates. The paint also proved so durable that, despite the pups’ scratching, the door remained unblemished a year later.
Lahey figured there would be a big market in the U.S. for this kind of paint. “We live in a country that put a man on the moon, developed the polio vaccine and built supercomputers, but that can’t produce paint that lasts more than a few years,” he comments.
Fine Paints of Europe was founded in Blooming Grove, N.Y., not far from Lahey’s home. Soon, though, he was looking to relocate and inquired with economic-development agencies in Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont about moving the business to one of those states. Lahey was persuaded to choose Vermont after getting a call from then-governor Howard Dean, who made a 45-minute sales pitch.
It proved a smart move. “The power of the Vermont brand — its association with high quality — is such that I’d rather have the business located in Woodstock than on Park Avenue [in Manhattan],” Lahey says.
The deal with the Guggenheim is having a “dramatic impact” on his business, adds Lahey, and could provide some sweet payback to his adopted state. With branches in Venice, Berlin, Abu Dhabi and Bilbao, Spain, the museum has a global reach, and that has already resulted in several queries from potential customers outside of North America, Lahey says. He expects to bulk up his 16-person workforce in the coming months.
Fine Paints of Europe aims to continue doing business with Vermonters, as well, Lahey says. He notes that the company supplied paints for 600 mahogany windows installed a few years ago in four buildings on the Middlebury College campus.
Well-heeled institutions such as Middlebury, along with moneyed homeowners and successful corporations, account for the company’s sales. A gallon of standard house paint from most companies can be bought for $25 or less; Fine Paints of Europe charges $130 for two-thirds of a gallon. “Our paint is pretty pricey,” Lahey allows, “but consider that the paint on a Chevy costs $300 a gallon.” Besides, he notes, his company’s paints yield up to 50 percent more coverage per ounce than traditional U.S. coatings. Most Americans in need of a paint job will probably still head to the hardware store to pick up some Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore. But with the Guggenheim’s cachet enhancing its upscale allure, Fine Paints of Europe may be able to widen its market niche.