Monday, October 08, 2012

English Decoration by Ben Pentreath

Last week was mostly a waste for me as I spent it either in bed or on the sofa, nursing a terrible cold. It wasn't a complete waste, though, thanks to my copious TV watching. I learned that Victor Newman had returned to Genoa City (Hallelujah! The Young and the Restless just isn't the same without Victor) and that every episode of Remington Steele included the name "Steele" in its title. Did you know that?

What perked me up immensely, though, was the receipt of two books that were both food for the soul and feasts for the eyes. (Bear with me and the spate of recent book reviews. Just two this week, but I promise that they're good!) First up is British architectural & interior designer Ben Pentreath's new book, English Decoration: Timeless Inspiration for the Contemporary Home.

I have been a fan of both Ben's work and his eponymous shop (or at least its online version) for a few years now. I have to say that after reading this book, I'm even more of a fan now. Although I don't know Ben, I do think that we are kindred spirits as we both find vast inspiration in the past, but we reinterpret it for today. At least, that's the way I view it.

English Decoration: Timeless Inspiration for the Contemporary Home profiles a range of English homes owned by the author himself as well as an assortment of creative types. What makes this book so interesting is that the homes, for the most part, have not been decorated by professional designers, but rather were concocted by the homeowners themselves. And personal looking is what these homes are. There are family portraits, children's artwork, treasures found at country house auctions, and the "accretion of decades." These homes are not decorated to perfection, and yet, a kind of perfection is found in these homes' loosely mannered appearances.

In addition to a very complimentary forward written by the great Nicky Haslam, the book is divided into chapters on Entry Halls, "Comfortable Rooms", Kitchen and Dining Rooms, and even Utility Rooms. Each chapter is filled with lush photographs as well as Pentreath's charming and sometimes humorous captions, all of which go a long way to explaining the essence of English Decoration. And after reading this book, I really do feel as though I have a better sense of what makes up the DNA of this style of decorating. As Ben writes in the book, one attribute of the English style is "the unstudied way in which we have in an instant achieved both comfort and cosiness, grandeur and simplicity, sense and sensibility: in short, a place the English can call home." Sounds like the best of all worlds, don't you think?

After reading this book, I felt both uplifted and inspired. I have a very strong feeling that this is a book that I will return to often, and in my opinion, that's the very best kind of book there is. I hope that you'll give this book consideration, because I really do think you'll enjoy it.

Book number two, Gil Schafer's The Great American House: Tradition for the Way We Live Now, will be featured in the next few days.

All photos from English Decoration: Timeless Inspiration for the Contemporary Home by Ben Pentreath, Jan Baldwin photographer. Ryland, Peters, & Small publishers.


  1. Glad that you are better!

  2. I love this book by Ben Pentreath ... have you seen his blog, Inspriations? Worth having a look-see.
    Margaret P

  3. I've found my style evolving lately, where I am embracing much more the casual, undone beauty in rooms like those of Ben Pentreath. Looking forward to buying his book and studying it!

  4. What a great post,I was thoroughly over excited when my book arrived and was not disappointed, I think it's the best of a lot of books that have made it to my post box in a long time.

  5. Thanks for telling me about this book. Ben's online shop is indeed delightful. I've bought several intaglios from him over the last few years and, they are reasonably priced even including shipping to the States. And, his shop manager Bridie is so nice and helpful. I'm off to buy his book now! Glad you're feeling better.

  6. Both of the books mentioned are excellent! It is so refreshing to see British/American syle and both of the books you mention are full of examples sure to inspire your readers.

  7. These are the two books I am excited about this season having followed Gil Schafer's career from the beginning and loving Ben's shop in London, which I have had the pleasure of visiting. Great review! Looking forward to the next one.

  8. My love affair with Ben hasn't abated since I first received my copy of his inspiring book some three years ago :-) It is also the only décor book, besides Bunny William's "An Affair With A House", that has taken up permanent residency on my coffee table, and I find myself reaching for it at least once a week.
    You've written a wonderful review, exactly on point !