A tight fit

22 January 2012
Ben Pentreath

One of the advantages of living in the tiniest flat in London is that you don’t have to go very far for things. I tumble out of bed early and in two footsteps I am making a cup of tea. Having previously walked two steps into the bathroom to run my bath. People don’t really believe me when I say I live in 350 square feet (especially, I have noticed, estate agents), but I do (this dimension, incidentally, includes the wardrobe space), and I love it… let’s face it I will have been here on Great Ormond Street for 8 years this summer.

I think it is fair to say that I might have moved from my flat if I hadn’t rented the Old Parsonage a few years ago – I mean, I feel that by the time you turn 40 you need a little bit of space in your life somewhere, and I’ve chosen to find my space in West Dorset (where it is a bit more restful to the soul, a little more expansive – and, let’s not forget, rather cheaper per square foot than WC1).

But returning to London, for a moment. One of the disadvantages of living in the smallest flat in London, if you are a person like me, is that it’s getting a bit full up.  As I am sure you can tell, one of the reasons I had to rent a whole new house in Dorset was just to find space for stuff. Which is all very well, but can still present a bit of a problem up here in my 35 square metres (for continental readers).

Do you remember an advert, by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, for a mortgage company in the late 1980s… with Fry describing to Laurie his one room bedsit as ‘compact and bijou,  Mostyn, compact and bijou’ ? You do? You are revealing your age.  For those who are not in the know, you can watch below on youtube, making sure to scroll to 3 minutes and 6 seconds in. (Or, for a trip down memory lane on this Monday morning, start at the beginning, and feel glad that the 80s revival is not quite the same as the real thing).

I digress. My only fear is that this may be what’s happening to my flat.  Most recently, I have gone a bit mad and bought a Palladiana Chest of Drawers, by Fornasetti.

This is something I’ve coveted for a very long time. It must have been 20 years ago that the V&A put on a great Fornasetti exhibition, which is when I first really discovered how much I loved his extraordinary, surreal, engraved and lacquered world. I think I’ve been thinking about Fornasetti ever since. So when, a little while ago, my friend Maria interviewed me for the FT How to Spend It, and ‘What are you eyeing next?’ was one of her penetrating questions, I confessed about Fornasetti. I thought nothing of this until a few weeks later the sharp-eyed girls at Themes and Variations sent me an email, just checking I wasn’t serious.

Oh dear. That was that. Destined for my bedroom, I made the move, and shipped out my old mahogany chest of drawers to the Parsonage. The day came a week or two ago when the new chest of drawers was to arrive.

Oh dear again.

It just didn’t work in my little panelled bedroom (maximum dimensions, 8′-0″ x 9-0″).  It didn’t work at all. It was curiously a lot smaller than the handsome piece of plain old Georgian mahogany that had rather comfortably settled into place all these years. And yet, because you couldn’t really get very far away, it wasn’t really possible to have a good look. It needed more space. Unsettling.

So this morning, I moved it through to my little pink sitting room. It’s what you might call rather neatly tucked in the corner, with about a quarter of an inch to spare all round. It feels very at home with the pink walls, and with the Josef Frank armchair, and Peter Hone leaves, and with one of Marianna Kennedy’s lamps. I particularly like the way when the sun shines in, the engraved shadow of the portico responds perfectly to the light.

And I adore it. But I have to be honest. I am not quite sure there is space. It feels very happy in this room, but if I listen very carefuly I am wondering if the chest of drawers is also quietly asking: ‘do I look big in this (corner)?’ (in Italian).

I would be interested to know what you think.  I suspect time will tell. If I have made  a bit of a mistake, then I wonder if you can guess what will be appearing the window of a little shop around the corner? You can.

But not just yet. We’ve got to try and make room for our dreams. And this evening it feels, well, right.

This last image shows the book that I bought at the V&A exhibition 20 years ago. A little easier to house than the real thing. But not quite so amazing.



44 comments on this post

Oh dear, I’ve come very late to this conversation! I see in the 3rd photo what you mean about the light striking the chest so as to harmonize with the shading, spectacular! However, I agree with others that Palladiana should be given more of a spotlight. It is, after all, a monumental piece of furniture, in personality if not in size, one wants to walk around it and examine it. An entry hallway would be perfect, I think? I shall keep reading and see what you decided. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DARE YOU GET RID OF IT!!!

I love your room and how you mix styles. There is so much for the eye to discover. I can’t live in a place without books and art. Peter Hone’s plaster leaves are beautiful – I covet them. Marianna’s lamp is perfect on your Fornasetti chest. The blue really works with pink walls. You make me want to paint my living room this colour.

Hi, I love your Fornasetti, do not move it, it looks great in that corner, on the other hand if you could move the chair that is right beside it, that is if you have room of course, it could make your Fonasetti breath a little better.
Your home has great soul.

I love EVERYTHING you have done and so, i love the chest and well, I just wish you could help and advise me even via pictures, unless you want to come to the US. I agree with Cher Pierson.

sher piersonsays:

I’ve been in the art biz for many many years. I have represented artists, sold art, run galleries – am wife to a prominent artist, and now make art myself. I will tell you what I have been telling people for 20 years. “Don’t buy art or sculpture to match an interior.” Your chest, like all Fornasetti, is an art piece. You bought it because you have always loved and wanted it. Display it with pride – use it with enthusiasm. Would you return a Chanel Blazer you bought at a vintage store because the braid doesn’t match the shirts in your closet?


I have been following this with interest. I think the chest works well where it is – it’s an interesting counterbalance to the surrounding paintings, and it’s something that should be on show – but perhaps I would think about moving the adjacent chair – And I agree with Jo S, let it settle. I’m sure you will know what to do – its a lovely room

Jo Ssays:

As an interior designer who often works on London apartments which turn into high maintance hotel suite replicas (it’s what the clients want!) I love your apartment and the individuality of it. Give yourself a 6 month window before making any decisions. I’m sure it will start to ‘fit in’ in a couple of weeks. Proportion wise I agree it’s not entirely ‘correct’ but who cares? It’s something you’ve wanted for yonks and you’ve managed to get it and so stop worrying and embrace it! The best homes are those that reflect the owner and are filled with pieces that they a kick out of seeing every day…


Although certainly an interesting and provocative piece, with its house front and garden top, the coloring of the chest is not flattered by the light pink walls surrounding, seeming a bit ‘washed out’ and possibly appliance-like. It also suffers from the uncomfortable proximity to that awful, aggressive chair. The plaster leaves flanking the fireplace have got to go!


Rob I am sorry you don’t like the chair! It’s quite nice, really 😉


Am a big fan of the shop…full of lovely things though I can only afford the greeting cards!
Just wondering where your interior fits the boring stuff…like the TV if you condescend to have one! As a fellow Bloomsbury pocket handkerchief- dweller, I have more than a passing interest!

It does look a trifle on the big side- but then isn’t perfection boring?

robert plantsays:

I like the chest of drawers very much but I don’t think it looks quite right as it is. It work very well with the pink walls but it needs more air around it.

Deirdre McSharrysays:

Keep the Fornasetti and ump the chair – glory in its Surreal power. Keep sharing your thoughts on life and how to live it, should the book comes next?

I love the chest and it looks good where it is, the pink walls really set it off (incidentally the same colour as my bathroom) which is adorned with a small collection of fornasetti ceramics. Great minds think alike! I disagree with the comments that say it needs to be placed in a more airy spot, furniture is like architecture it works best when its slightly unexpected.


Dear Ben
It is wonderful to see the Palladiana in situ.It works very well in a tight space simply because it is not in a central focal point,thus coming as a surprise to any visitor you may have.I remembering seeing one in the early 80s in a Parisian garret of an acquaintance in their bedroom flanked by 2 white leather Mise van der Rohe cantilevered dinning chairs, it was to say the least an astonishing coup de theatre.The Chest has acquired an aged patina like one sees on old masters varnishes a kind of slight yellowing brought on by age and use.It was always a joy to visit this piece,Years latter I inherited it and it now fights for space in my small bedroom,but what a joy it is to behold as I hop out of bed EVERY DAY.Leave it where it is enjoy it,and put something precious in the back of the first drawer forget about it and when next it finds a more permanent position it will be a wonderful surprise.Treat is like the memories you hold dear of your first love.


What a great story, beautifully written!


Wonderful. It looks very at home. I think the curved edges works in the space. Love your blog and shop, actually drinking a drop in one of your beautiful glasses.


What a beautiful piece of furniture. For me it does feel a little tight in that corner and perhaps makes the room feel slightly over populated. I think you wouldn’t be asking the question if you didn’t want to try and convince yourself it works. One knows instantly when something is right.If you have to ask peoples opinion about a partner I always think its a bad sign!…..It is a dream piece tho.

Alas it simply has to be relocated. Round to my house. And quickly. I have a collection of plates crying out for company.


Your question has caused a great debate, not least between me and a friend about the concept of things looking ‘right’ or not! Where do we get this deep down feeling which is often difficult to put into words? I am sorry, I don’t think your chest looks right where it is. To my mind it needs to be up against a flat wall with space around… don’t ask me why! Can’t you take it down to the Parsonage? Love your blog, I am always slightly disappointed when you don’t write as often as I would like… means I have to do boring stuff instead. Sorry, I am rambling.

I think Paula is right; “nobody puts baby in the corner”!


I think it’s just heavenly and wouldn’t change it for the world, a grand dolls house in the corner of the room. Luckily the chair is not too solid so it doesn’t completely obscure the view of the chest. I don’t think you’ll ever fall out of love with an object like that, but if you ever do please send it my way!


Brushing all diplomacy aside: I think that it barely works, just barely — but do not regret buying it. (If you dump it, you will lament it, and the word “Fornasetti” will escape your lips with your dying breath!) While your flat is marvelous, you will not be in it forever, and the chest will find a suitable home in some new Ben Abode. And my, it IS stylish out the wazoo.


I’m ravished by the chest of drawers and if it were mine I would NEVER sell it. I know it’s a bit ‘decoratory’ but I’d put white or grey or black slip covers on the chairs so the beauty of the chest could be clearly seen.

Judith Percivalsays:

It is perhaps a little too deep for the space, but I think the real problem is that it does rather shout LOOK AT ME. I’M AMAZING. (Yes you are; quite beautiful and very desireable). Living in a similar space I find that these rooms go best with pieces that are a little more restrained. Having said that, I yearn for a small piece of Fornasetti – one of the small tables perhaps, or even a magazine rack.

Realmente chic viniendo de ti. No todo tiene el mismo resultado, depende de la proporción de buen gusto de la persona que está detrás. La cómoda por si misma es protagonista absoluta pero al integrarla en la sala de estar discretamente a un lado has conseguido “un todo” fuera de todo lo correctamente establecido. Magnífico!!!

lal jonessays:

sorry, ben, but yes, despite its utter desirability it is very slightly too squashed into that corner….however, i would be VERY HAPPY to house it for you…


That is the most magical, beautiful piece of furniture I have every seen. And it works perfectly with your rug and the wall color. I think you have misunderstood the chest’s Italian – it is asking “Why have you stuck me in the corner?” I think it works where it is. Keep it.


As a person who also lives in a limited urban flat I understand the lack of space. And sadly I don’t have a parsonage! So its rather depressing to know you can only buy a new item if an older beloved item is sacrificed to make room for it. But I’m so glad you posted a picture of the top of the cabinet! I’ve only ever seen pictures of the front and the top is such a delightful surprise. As for the cabinet in your own home…I do not think it looks too big, it seems to fit in proportionately in that corner.


It ties in with the rug and fire surround very nicely indeed but if you have clothes in the new chest (?) might you resent running across to open the drawers in the morning? Cold knees and toes etc. Ideal for papers, playing cards and elegant boxes of Godiva chocolate, however.

‘mi sento grande in questo angolo?’

I remember reading the article about you buying the fornasetti and was hoping you would! I’d love to do the same…I can easily say your apartment is my favorite of all I’ve seen on the web (and I’ve seen alot!)…che fortunato! 🙂


Thumbs up from me – looks great – and congratulations on writing a blog that gets 13 comments within a day of being posted. A ray of witty elegance on a very grey January Monday.


I think it is occupying too much space, both m2 and visually.
And it must have been pretty expensive? Every time you move that chair you might knock the chest. And you can’t put your teacup on it, etc. I (ok its not my problem;-)) would feel a bit nervous having such a piece of furniture, in such a tight space.
If I were you, I would carry it over to the shop while it’s still in one piece, and sell it.

Jo in NZsays:

I actually think the chest looks rather good where it is. Always awkward when one brings in a new piece, non? It seems to shriek “I am too big!” for quite some days until the eye settles down. PS – I too live in 35 square metres (without a weekend retreat, I should add, but I do have a decent sized outdoor space). You inspire me enormously!


Oh, I remember that exhibition and came away coveting a chest like that … not that I’ve ever achieved one!

Mary Jenkinssays:

It’s lovely but too eyecatching! I love your blog!

I really, really, love it, but think it is a little too bulky as you enter the room. Would it not fit where you have the chair alongside the fireplace, so that you could see the Palladian effect as you walk in the door.

Jane Marshallsays:

I think it looks great in your adorable flat, particularly against the perfect pink walls but do not love that chair next to it , what about a plain meaty Chippendale, I know not as comfortable, but I am sure you will have a spare one lurking at the Parsonage.I love your blog it’s like entering a very civilized little world.Best Jane Marshall

those leaves above the mantle, love them…great space


The leaves are from the great Peter Hone. The one on the left was my birthday present. We would be able to special order these or put you in touch with Peter… Ben

I love it and think it goes perfectly with your pink walls and the rest of your belongings, but if I’m going to be totally honest, it does look like a tight squeeze. If you are okay with needing to move your chair in order to open the drawers, I’d keep it.


Sasha, you’re right. I am okay with that. I already had to move the chair before! B


Please, oh please, don’t move the chest. It’s charmingly inspired exactly where it is.


It looks perfect! I am quite envious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.