December 2, 2013

Booked: Ben Pentreath’s English Decoration

When I was in NYC last week at Grace & Favor, a book caught my eye, and I knew I had to have it. First, it’s by Ben Pentreath, about whom I wrote last month, here. Ben is a hugely accomplished architect and shop-owner as well as a blogger. Second, it’s about English decorating, which, as in many houses in the UK where I’ve been a guest, is all about generations and layers.

I’ve seen a number of images of Ben’s house on his blog, as well as the houses of friends, so I knew this book would be a treat.

Ben talks about six or eight houses and what makes them work. Obviously, classical architecture’s a good jumping off point.

And then a selection of great pieces that’s been assembled and collected over the years, not just picked up at HomeGoods.

Ben talks about the art of styling a table, and of course, he goes right to the master – David Hicks.

One of the things I love about British decorating books is that the rooms are not styled to within an inch of their lives, like American rooms are. For instance, you’d never, ever see an image like this in an American book.

Or this:

Or this:

In an American book or magazine, everything would be perfect. The pillows would be fluffed and chopped, the blanket would be thrown over the back of the chair at an insouciant angle and the books would be in the Hicksian colour arrangement. I think that more people live in houses that look like this than in houses where everything’s perfect. I know I do!

It was great fun to see Ben’s massive London map in a few of the images of his flat.

And in the bottom image, you can spot the map in the mirror and the David Hicks book on the table.

The book is terrific and if you’re looking for a present for yourself or someone who loves English Decoration, you can find it here.

15 comments:

  1. That looks like a great book, Meg. And that warts-&-all honesty is what I love about English magazines. I'll always remember seeing my first issue of WoI, and how disoriented I was to see the cold half-burned logs in the grate with wood ashes spilling onto the hearth, and the arms of a slipcover worn through with the piping hanging loose. It was every bit as shocking as being confronted with a real, live model on the first day of Life Drawing class.
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    BTW, it was great to finally meet you the other evening. What a fun night. Your Fig & Bourbon preserves were a big hit at dinner on the train coming home Thursday. Amtrak was serving a traditional turkey dinner, but when I saw those sad little foil packs of Welch's in a little dish, I knew the time was right break out the good stuff. And boy, was it good! Thanks.

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    1. Brilliant to meet you, as well! Glad you liked the preserves and hope they brightened your holiday breakfast!

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  2. When we had our former home on the market several years back, an English couple made an offer. It was a large 1902 four-square with beautiful woodwork, high ceilings and old-fashioned bathrooms. The husband said it reminded him of an English house. I think it was the combination of the house itself, books everywhere, pretty china on display and that "lived-in" look--not really messy, but definitely not "styled." I took his remark as a great compliment!! I realized all the years of reading Period Homes and other English decorating magazines had seeped into my consciousness without my realizing it, since I had not set out to create an English-style home, just used the things we loved and had acquired randomly over the years.

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    1. I always hear from my UK friends that our interiors look too sterile.

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  3. I have his book. It is really worthwhile owning, to read and read and reread again and again!

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    1. I totally agree. I think I will be going back to this one time and again!

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  4. Enjoyed this post - just another reflection what I admire about your style and point of view as expressed here. Added this book to my holiday wish list. Hope all is well with you.

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  5. I love her sense of humour - I definitely get the sense that she would be fun to collaborate with as her design client. Interior design ideas

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  6. Hi Meg, I read your blog quite often and always enjoy your laid back, elegant style - very English! The styled to perfection homes do absolutely nothing for me - I find it uptight and boring! Thanks for another great blog!

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  7. That is why I'm not buying american interior design magazines for over 10 years now. Everything is boringly perfect, symmetrical and color coordinated.

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  8. So many of these pictures make me swoon. I agree with overly styled US mags. But, I think some of those messy English photos are more styled then they initially appear. The one of the desk in particular (which I love). I think it started as a messy desk for sure, but some of the mess looks styled nonetheless.

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  9. OMG, was that a drycleaner's bag hanging on the office doorknob?! You're right -- they even airbrush out the electrical outlets and light switches in American magazines, and human models get Photoshopped to the point that they look plastic. What do you think it is about American culture and our collective psyche that demands this degree of sterility in aspirational images? Why do we yearn for homes that appear to be uninhabited, anyway?

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