A bit about the book

2 September 2012
Ben Pentreath

It’s a funny process writing a book. I can’t even remember how long ago it was that my friend Alison, then an editor at Ryland Peters & Small (and where she is greatly missed) asked me if I’d like to think about writing a book. Ages.

Last spring and summer, Jan Baldwin (the photographer) and I were already deep into the book, visiting beautiful places and friends; I was meeting with the editors from Ryland Peters & Small, sifting the material together and putting my emerging thoughts in order. Over the autumn and Christmas I completed the text and when I was (meant to be) skiing I actually sat in my hotel room and finished the captions, in the depths of an ice-cold winter.

Then you hand the whole lot in, well a little bit in dribs and drabs, to be honest, and then the proofs come back – first for the photographs, and then for the text, and there’s a mad rush to finish everything and you forget what you were thinking in the first place AND you are by this stage so close to the whole thing that… well, the LAST thing you want to think about or look at is… your book.

Visits to bookshops thereafter are filled with that sort of ‘uh oh’ feeling where you think ‘uh oh, I should have thought of that’ or ‘hmmm did we really pick the right colour for the spine’ (or ‘what colour did we pick for the spine’). And then luckily other things come along to distract you and now it’s summer and it is being printed so far away that you forget about the whole thing entirely.

When my first copy arrived I wasn’t so excited. I’ve got to be honest. All those long days and deadlines came right back and for a few weeks it sort of, um, just sat in a corner of the office.

But I began to get excited last week, when I was mooching down Marylebone High Street and wandered into Daunts, as you do, and there it was.  Hmm. A whole two weeks earlier than I was expecting.

Well it turned out the warehouse had received copies early and the process of delivery was beginning. And then, suddenly, it did all feel quite cool.

So now, I look at the book, and all I remember is the happy funny times with Jan and me and all my kind friends who let us into their houses, running amok (well, hopefully, a bit more gently than that). And the very funny meetings we had with RPS, which were actually quite hilarious.  And I re-read the text and it doesn’t seem too bad after all.  And the spine is even a nice colour.

I’ve snapped a few of my favourite pages here. You can order a book, which I will be very happy to sign, from Robin over in the shop, or you can save loads of money, probably get it sooner, and buy an extremely rare unsigned copy from  Obviously we’d love to send out a handsomely wrapped parcel from the shop with your VERY OWN personal message, but I would quite understand if the dull joys of more grown-up internet shopping are more appealing!

Either way, I hope you like reading my book and do let me know what you think. So long as it’s very kind.

The remarkable plaster ceiling at Glemham makes a dreamy endpaper:

My kitchen mugs here in Dorset, looking chic:

Old flat (farewell):

Parkland in Suffolk opens the book:

And my friend Argus’s parents’ Entrance Hall, streaming with light…

My neighbours Chris & Caddy, down the road in Dorset…

The Milligan’s in Scotland… (Scottish English Decoration):

Oak smoked Garsington, home of my friend Catherine, dream house…

Apple green joinery in A N Wilson’s London study…

Insane library in Suffolk…

Serene Library at my friend Craig Hamilton’s House in Wales (Welsh English Decoration):

Kitchen Perfection:

More kitchen perfection, in Scotland…

Even more kitchen perfection: David & Sue Gentleman in London – my favourite room in the whole book?

And Arne Maynard’s kitchen in the welsh borders…

Bonkers wallpaper and fantastic paint colours at Garsington:

Classic aristo style at Glemham  (left):

Plain and simple, my guest bathroom in Dorset:

Even more plain and simple… The Gentlemen and Garsington, from ‘Rooms of Utility’:

The Garsington utility room on the right, again, probably my second favourite room in the whole book…

David Gentleman’s study in Suffolk…

Quinlan Terry’s dining room – Venetian glass fireworks:

BONKERS Peter Hone at home in Notting Hill…

And brilliant yellow from Brian Webb:

The walled garden at Glemham, dreamily nostalgic… a garden book next?

and to end, a Ravilious mug on a mantle shelf, total bliss:

And there it is!!

49 comments on this post

Dear Ben, I got my copy a few months ago, what a treat!! The “insane library” in Suffolk reminds me so much of my own little library (sans wonderful chairs) that I want to do a post on my blog, Collagitation, comparing the two. I will let you know when that happens so you can see! Congratulations on yet another oustanding achievement!

Deborah Wagnersays:

I received your book, read it and loved it, and I have just reviewed it on Amazon. However, Iris and Rhoda, our West Highland Terriers, thought it was a swizz because there was only one picture featuring a dog. Perhaps more next time, they ask?

Deborah Wagnersays:

Blow me a kiss! A great big one! I just ordered it to add to my hundred+ books of the same genre. And if you ever come to Boston or Cambridge, MA, give me a shout if you want to see how we stuff an old house with art and antiques on this side of the pond.

Nicola Barriesays:

Dear Ben

I too have your book – having ordered it from your shop. I absolutely love it and after speedily -and greedily – devouring it, have now read it from cover to cover, and have ‘dipped’ into it a lot! It ffels like home to me. Every thing you say, every thing you do in the house, garden, or in picture taking or story telling, resonates with me. Your natural environment is a marked contrast to pastoral (station country) Australia where I now live, however much of the way you decorate is so familiar to me, my taste, and hopefully, part of my home. Your parents must be very proud to have had such a clever, and also generous (of spirit and in sharing of ideas etc) son.

Cheerio from the shearer’s huts, where I am today!



Dear Ben Pentreath,
I sometimes feel as if interior decoration books must actually be BREEDING in my flat, including a few on ‘English style’, and so I almost refrained from buying your book. But now I have to let you know that your book is without doubt one of my most treasured. Definitely a fresh take and, unusually for me, I love it just as much for the text as the photos. You write with an infectious enthusiasm for design and, well, life, and that is truly refreshing. Yes: LIFE! The rooms you have chosen are bursting with the stuff! No fashions, no fads, just Style, Character, Joy, Affection. You’ve even got me appreciating surface-mounted pipework!
Oh, and something else I must thank you for is for putting me on to David Hicks. I’m a bit obsessed with him right now and am loving it.
Thank you.


Thanks Tim!!

That is a very very kind comment. And I’m grateful,

All best, Ben

Dear Ben

I was so excited when my copy of your book arrived I have to admit I did a little girl dance!

It sits pride of place on the coffee table and gets poured over often. I am penning a blog post as we speak about it due to the joy it brings.

Thank You



Dear Jane, that makes me very happy too!

All best, Ben


Ben – I absolutely LOVE your book. Everything about it is inspiring. It only confirms that I should have been born British (I’m American). I also love your blog and your website which I stumbled upon by accident some months ago. I think I was day dreaming about visiting the Lake District and decided that a Google search and some day dreaming would be better than working. I’m glad I did because it lead me to one of your posts on the Lakes and your site. As soon as I can get to London again your shop is first on my list of places to visit. Thank you for being so genuine and inspiring.


Dear Lisa! Thank you VERY much indeed. All best, ben


My book arrived wrapped in blue tissue with matching gros grain ribbon and gasp…….signed! I squealed with delight, if ever you need a reason not to order books from Amazon it is this!


A beautiful book! I ordered it as soon as it popped up on my Amazon recommendations! I haven’t put it down since it was delivered! I’m mesmerised by all Englishness of it all! I love how all the images look so comfortable, nothing too contrived, just as we English like it!


Am writing again to say the book arrived last week and it, and the rooms and houses, are truly lovely. Am only slightly embarrassed to be gushing so much about a book about interiors…

I agree with Francisca above who wrote that the rooms are “refreshingly uncontrived”. There is such beauty, elegance, and timelessness in them, without any of the “styling” one finds in most such books and in the home design blogs. To me it’s that “perfection”, not to mention the need to have what shows up everywhere else — which often seems to necessitate running out to TK/TJ Maxx or Homesense for accessories to achieve the “right look” — that often seems so jarring and soulless.

What a delight then to find among the furniture, pictures, china, and books so lovingly and carefully accumulated over lifetimes also messy piles of paper, a tomato box for filing, Sellotape and pencils in the porcelain bowls and mugs, squashed cushions (none of that “karate chop” nonsense) in chairs looking recently vacated. These are real rooms in real houses occupied by real people. Which for me translates into real beauty, and also happiness, and makes the book very different from others I’ve seen published in the past while in the UK and US. The houses you show are not only classic and stylish, but also such very happy, pleasant, comforting, soulful places. What an education into how to turn a house into a home.

Wonderful job, Ben. The book will be a timeless resource, much like the rooms it so lovingly depicts. Thank you so much and congratulations again.


My partner and I are finally combining our households and your book has arrived to give me the inspiration to combine our beautiful things in interesting ways. Unlike most books of this kind I actually read the words as well as loved the photographs. Wish me luck for the move! Your book is wonderful, thank you.


Good luck! Having just moved, I know it can be a fun time but quite a hectic one too!!

All best, Ben


Dear Ben, it’s a lovely book – a treasure trove and an education. Can you tell me how I can obtain a print of “Abingdon”, the Sheila Robinson linocut hanging in your friend George’s house. Abingdon has been a part of my daily life (school runs) for the best part of 10 years. I’d rather like one of the best views of it hanging in my house as a reminder of the “Abingdon years”. Oh yes – and well done for finding Rousham but don’t tell everyone about it. It’s very simple and green and a lovely place to find inspiration, especially when Chelsea flower show has attacked all your senses. Have you ever visited Studley Royal & Fountains Abbey? Don’t enter from the main visitors’ entrance, go to the other end where there is a small tea room and start your visit there. Best wishes Catherine

Love the book! Sadly not signed…but apparently you’ve been busy…so I will endeavour to carry it around in my pocket in case I bump into you in Daunts or wherever.Also…had good chat with Giles about THE map…think he’s tempted to reprint the out of print one..your blog has made an impression…


oh wow, that’s great… and very exciting! I will write to him again!!


Kate Clewssays:

Really love the book, keep going back to it again and again. We have recently renovated a house and sadly I discovered your blog about a year too late as I it has really helped me understand what I like about interiors, and what I dislike – overly fitted kitchens and modern taps! The book is very inspiring. Bring on the garden book!

This is a gorgeous book – are we in the antipodies going to be able to purchase or do you need a distributer. We have a bookshop in the family Perimeter Books which distributes and sells fine art, architecture, and budding artist books – I will be seriously searching for his book over here.
A lovely work and many congratulations Cilla Rule


Dear Cilla I will check on that for you with the publisher!

All best, Ben


Book is wonderful. Trying very hard not to read it all too quickly. Beautifully shot and beautifully written.

dana jenkinssays:

The entire book looks great but I would have bought a copy on the “insane library in suffolk” alone.


Thank you everyone for the really kind things you’re writing! It does strangely (unexpectedly) mean a lot.

Francisca de Brauwsays:

Your book is so refreshingly uncontrived I am savouring every page.

Margaret Powlingsays:

I have a large selection of interiors/architecture/design books and I agree with William: to describe a book as a ‘coffee table book is rather insulting. Yes, the size is the same as several others, but that is where the similarity in content ends. Your own take on what pleases you in English design is to the fore – greiges with a splash of colour, often a primary colour; the work of Eric Ravillious; mixing contemporary with antique (OK, a lot of people do that, it’s how the English interior is constructed, with additions by each generation); your love of mochaware; your love of maps and print; and the work of the late David Hicks, which has inspired you. Yes, the book will help promote your consultancy and your shop, but primarily it’s your very personal view on the English interior. Yes, something to be proud of.

The book looks fabulous, i have just ordered some copies to sell in our shop, I’m sure it will be a great success.


I always think to describe a book as ‘coffee table’ is rather insulting, implying it has no substance. This is a lovely book, more than just a set of pretty pictures and quite unlike many others of its kind. I can think of no other books on interiors which would wax lyrical about utiitity rooms and 1960s kitchens. And the great thing is that the photographs are not culled from some photo library but commissioned especially for the book. Congratulations. It is something to be proud of.


Congratulations! Nice photos, but I have to admit that it looks very much like all the other coffee table books on English decorating published in the last 15 years. Nothing new or different.


Well… hopefully it is a bit different! but you know that I don’t like too many new things 😉

My friend just sent me a link to this post as recently I had the same reaction to my book arriving. I had seen tooooo much of it. I looked at it and then put it back in the jiffy bag and stashed it away in a drawer until my friends begged me to get it out a week later and cheered me up about it! They made me feel better when I saw them reading it and drooling over the photographs. Your book looks absolutely stunning. Well done for all your hard work, when you should have been skiing. I wish you every success.

Copy already ordered, looks like there’s some great inspiration there. Thanks for sharing!

SOOOOO EXCITING! Seriously! Hopefully it will be here soon on this side of the pond – by the way, are you doing any book signings outside of the UK? Cannot wait to get my copy!

Margaret Powlingsays:

Absolutely love the book (already familiar with Jan’s pix, have her books for Farrow & Ball … haven’t you noticed how all the best companies are two words? Farrow & Ball; Colefax Fowler; Collins & Hayes; Labour & Wait, etc, etc. You should be Ben & Pentreath, har, har!)
I pre-ordered (which is a daft description, why not just plain “ordered”?) your book from Amazon and was delighted when it arrived – drooled over it, metaphorially speaking. But while I admire David Gentleman’s austere, almost-clinical kitchen, that’s not quite for me. But it does demonstrate that good design lasts, and this is obviously top-notch design.
“A cracking book, Ben!” as Wallace would say!


Who doesn’t love a good piece of interiors ‘porn’. It’s on my Christmas list.

Felicidades por tu primer libro, yo ya lo he elegido para mis lecturas de Otoño, solo me falta formalizar la última aparte del pedido. Es muy honesto por tu parte recomendar la compra a través de Amazon para los que no vivimos en Londres, pero yo quiero comprarlo como si yo misma estuviese paseando por Rugby Street me diese en la nariz con tu tienda, entrase, comprase el libro et voila, allí estabas tu para firmarlo.
Cuando lo lea, prometo darte mi opinión.
Esther-D. Abad


looks great and YES! a garden book next please.

So excited … will look and see what the exchange rate works out to for us here in the States.


The book and illustrations look absolutely lovely. I’ve been waiting to pre-order from Amazon or Chapters in Canada but it’s not available yet, which is maddening, so am thinking I might order this week from Book Depository, with free shipping. I’d love to have a signed copy, but we are beginning to build our new house at the end of the month, and need to save pennies. But so glad I’ll have your book to provide inspiration for the new rooms.

Congratulations and all best wishes!


Total bliss indeed, carn’t wait, do have the speedy pre ordered version on the way to satisfy instant gratification but will also order signed copies from Robin for me and my niece Charlotte.


I was delighted last friday when I came back from an exhausting week at work to find your book in my letterbox (I had pre ordered it on Amazon),it’s a pleasure for the eyes,the photos are beautiful and it makes me love England and English people even more (if that’s possible…).
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” Congratulations Ben!

Joanna Plantsays:

Bravo!! At last a book to really look forward to. I will savour every page just as much as I have enjoyed all your wonderful blog posts. Many congraturlations. JP x


I would have liked a signed copy but became too eager and pre ordered on Amazon ages ago , the delivery tracking tells me it will arrive tomorrow.Tomorrow I should be walking around the Botanic Gardens with my dear friend Sue do I stay in or go , friendship dictates I go and hope it arrives in the afternoon.

I will send my husband to the shop next time he is in London. I thought that you might be a Whittington Court yesterday doing some signing!!!

CONGRATULATIONS! I absolutely cannot wait to purchase this book – and personally, I’d rather have a signed copy before you become far to famous to consider such a time consuming act – lol! Heading over to the shop now. Well done,
Paula x


The book looks absolutely wonderful…but I skimmed through the photos after studying the first five..because I don’t want to spoil having the real book in my hands and seeing the images for the first time! Order? You bet.

What a beautifully honest and informative post! What a beautiful array of places you’ve visited *polishes tissue box in kitchenette, sits and waits for inclusion in your follow up* – and very cleverly leaving out photographic evidence of spine. Love Jan’s work too. Can’t wait to see it.

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