You can’t judge a book by its cover…

26 November 2012
Ben Pentreath

“Do you have Living in Vogue (1984)?”

…was the enigmatic pencil-written note on the back of old postcard that arrived from my friend Ruth (she who was putting me off Calendar Shots last weekend).

“If not, you will like it”.

Intrigued, I began a little research. Thank goodness for the internet, hey? Within a few minutes I had an author…well, two: Judy Brittain & Patrick Kinmonth; and within another couple of minutes I had placed an order through fantastic Abe Books and my book was winging its way to me. ACROSS the English Channel.  The only copy I could find was in France. Hello?! Crazy.

(Yes, I am sorry that I didn’t pretend to find it in the 50p box of a flea market in South West Wales, but I think that truth is the best policy).

Well, a few days later, a beautifully-wrapped parcel arrived from France that gave even the Ben Pentreath packing elves a run for their money. The book was tightly wrapped in lime green tissue fastened with the bookshop’s handsome printed label. So, can you imagine that I was a little dismayed when it revealed this:

okay, okay, I can forgive a lot from the 80s, but I’m not in favour of over-pillowed beds with little pooches and kelly-green drapes, and I’m really not in favour of that coffee pot vibe.

But I trust Ruth, so I opened the cover (skipping the peach pink end papers) to find this:

Are you hooked too?

“This is a book about houses. From outside in and inside out, it is about the spirit of some marvellous places and how to come to some agreement with your surroundings by looking into the houses and ideas of people who definitely have done so. Over ten years there have been many. Big, small, historic, mythical, mellowed with age, as bring as new paint; cottages, flats; some highly and artfully decorated, some just lived in and become beautiful with the living. They all share one thing in common, that they breathe with the people who live there or have lived there in the past. Mere taste and design are meaningless without this contribution which makes the places hum, sing, and buzz”…

Oh, man. I’m glad I didn’t have this book before I started writing mine.  I would not have been able to keep up… Hello, Patrick Kinmonth, I like your style.

Anyway, it is a book of images, so here are some of my  favourites:

John Stefanidis in North Dorset; one of the serenest interiors I have ever seen; so iconic of its moment, yet timeless:

Or handsome Christopher Gibbs:

Exotic Hicks:

And historical David Mlinaric, at work at Beningbrough Hall:

Supreme comfort in Mlinaric’s own house in Somerset. I love this room, although at lunch yesterday, when I pulled out the book, that was a slightly controversial view.

Above is Nicky Haslam’s Hunting Lodge (formerly owned by John Fowler); watch out for Folly de Grandeur, the story of the Hunting Lodge, that Nicky will be publishing in the Spring. (there’s a thought to get you through the winter).

Or, above, Charles Beresford-Clark at the Fishing Lodge in Suffolk, formerly the house of David Hicks and now owned by the great Veere Grenney (see its current incarnation here).  Charles Beresford-Clark, where are you now?  I love this room.  We wouldn’t quite do it today, but I’ve got to say, it’s kind of perfect. I suspect big curtains are back.

I am told on good authority that this remarkable piece of Country House Decoration, the blue drawing room at Chatsworth, which we will all have seen before, is dismantled. Time moves on.


Two achingly beautiful photographs from Madresfield:

Bloomsbury clutter at Charleston Farmhouse:

Dreaming of summer with Roderick Cameron:

Or with Teddy Millington-Drake in Tuscany (about 5 minutes from where I go to stay with Valentina every year…. book your week now?)

I love that kitchen, but I REALLY love this room:

And I really love Craigie Aitchison’s pink painted fireplace:

Or Angus McBean at Flemings Hall, in Suffolk:

(I’m not there yet, but I could get there pretty quickly). McBean was great friends with our very own Peter Hone, whose flat I photographed for my book. Get your Christmas walnuts now.

Nearly best of all? David Hockney.  check out that photo. You should be off to buy your blue-and-yellow rugby shirt and yellow-leisure-trousers immediately.

The best is saved until last.  Faringdon.  Time to start dyeing your pigeons.

Controversy at lunch yesterday as to the colour of this room. I vote bitter chocolate.  Others thought dark green.

No controversy about this. Perfection.

Farringdon on the back cover; ‘It is requested that all hats be removed’, alongside a clockwork guard dog.


To return to the Introduction. I can’t help wishing I had just written this in my own book.  Happy dreaming:

“….Perhaps the final function of the book as as a catalyst to dreams. Cyril Connolly had a marvellous one in his book The Unquiet Grave. ‘Daydream: a golden classical house, three stories high, with attic windows and a view over water. Outside a magnolia growing up the wall, a terrace for winter, a great tree for summer and a lawn for games; behind it a wooded hill and in front a river, then a sheltered garden, indulgent to fig and nectarine’. No mention of paint, carpet, light fittings, yet a whole house stands before us. How easily we could walk across that lawn, and the other lawns in this book, in the late evening light, with the sound of a mower somewhere and voices. Inside are vases of flowers, great sprays, peonies, colours you can smell on sight, a pile of books, a tea-tray, a chaotically ordered desk. Postcards stick out from behind the clock on the mantlepiece—one of those amazing affairs with golden figures holding bows and arrows, chins propped on wrists, dwelling on time as it passes. We might go further. Into a dark and shiny passage to a kitchen all simmering pans and lemonade in white jobs, or across a hard, echoing hall with its lantern and its grandfather clock where, as the hour strikes, a ship rocks on painted sea…”


Find your own copy as soon as you can.


FOOTNOTE: Oh… and in the meantime… visit Ruth Guilding’s blog at Bible of British Taste. Perfection also on a plate.

18 comments on this post


I realize this is quite old, but thank you for the review and recommendation. I just received a copy of “The Englishman’s Room”, and now it appears I have another book to order!


For anyone looking for a copy, this book was actually republished in 1985 under the title English Elegance, copies of this book are still readily available online at a fraction of the cost for the one published under the title Living in Vogue. Just ordered my own for a total of £6 including delivery! The cheapest copy of the Living in Vogue edition is £70 with delivery from the US, so I’m very pleased! Here are the details of the republication for anybody who’s interested


Good heavens, Ben — where are the ladies? Lovely rooms but a bit depressingly all-male. Maybe that was the 80s, too! Thanks for the look, though.

Ben, I hope you have alerts to let you know when people comment on older posts, here is a sequel for this one. Thanks to Marilyn at Nilly Hall for mentioning the “English Elegance” version of this book, I found a used copy on Alas, although the copy is in excellent condition, some pages of the David Hockney section had been removed. The bookseller likely didn’t even notice. How nice of you to have scans of them here! (I once ordered a used copy of Bradford’s & Fryer’s The Sitwells and the Arts of the 1920s and 1930s, that turned out to be really butchered. In that case I can’t believe the seller didn’t know it! I complained, and was immediately sent a good, whole copy at no extra charge. So I cut out and framed the lovely black & white photo of “Entrance to the wilderness at Renishaw” from the bad copy.) I am enjoying traveling through your blog more than I can say!!



Love the old photos…corgis even then! I am so with you on wallpaper. Just discovered you via the Telegraphs list of top 20 design blogs and am happy we did….keeps us in touch with home

There’s a really nice, funny and affectionate piece about Angus McBean and his life at Flemings written by Johnnie Shand Kyd (sp?) in the brilliant ‘Nest’ magazine, if you havnt seen it I”l scan and email to you.
From my living room window in downtown Victoria I can see Ebury Bridge where McBean in his autobiography describes how and where he first met Quentin Crisp in the blackout !!! (His studio was in nearby Eccleston St)

Margaret Powlingsays:

The 1980s saw many of this kind of style book published, more so I think than now. I loved the series “The Englishwoman’s …” including House, Kitchen, Bedroom, and Garden, and I can certainly recommend The English Room by Derry Moore and Michael Pick. From the austerity of Cloud’s Hill (Dorset retret of Lawrence of Arabia) to the ‘Indian’ oppulence of Elveden Hall, it’s a cracker of a book. I have English Style which Nicola mentions and this, too, is a great book although many of the photos look as if they’ve been shot through a marmalade coloured filter. But then it is more than 25 years old and photography has moved on.


While we’re on the subject of 1980’s style books, may I mention the first two I bought/was given, namely English Style by Suzanne Slesin and Stafford Cliff, and English Country by Caroline Seebohm and Christopher Simon Sykes. They have lived happily together on bookshelves in various houses I’ve lived in and also offer perennial enjoyment and inspiration. I’ve noticed this pairing on other people’s shelves too!


Had quite forgotten about this book…..consequently have had a very happy morning reading again after years.
Have you got A Gardeners Labyrinth by Patrick Kinmonth and Tessa Traeger even more of a treasure but of the gardening dept.


Dear Pippin, I am glad you are easily distracted. Margaret that too is a wonderful book; yes Marilyn, your’e right, it is called English Elegance, and Roger though I am understandably upset to have to give podium No. 1 position to someone else… I AGREE!!!


Dear Ben and Ruth, this book is a great(re)discovery. I enjoyed your selection of photographs so much I had to read your post straight away, although I was supposed to be doing some work. Some are familiar from other books and are great favourites of mine, especially the Milnaric sitting room, others are new to me. I’m fascinated by the glimpses of Christopher Gibbs – it makes me want to hunt down some more photographs of his work. Anyone know where? Farringdon is unfamiliar to me and is stunning. I’m trying to work out where I can create a chocolate/dark green room framed by a white corridor. Glad to hear the big curtain revival is on its way, as (though I’m not quite sure why) I’ve just ordered damask to make swags and tails to crown some curtains.

Margaret Powlingsays:

This book reminds me of so many of those lovely 1980s style books, especially The Englishman’s Room.


Yes, it is definitely also called “English Elegance” (which I love even more). Just got it on Amazon for $8.50. Thanks for the tip Ruth and Ben!!

Ben, this is my absolute favourite interiors book, SORRY! Got it when it first came out, loved it then and it is the interiors book that I return to every year for more than a quick fix! Timeless and Classic, how these interiors have stood the test of time proving real quality lasts. I loved the Pierre Loti bedroom, then and now, and the Stefanidis houses are just so perfectly un-designed in an understated way. BRILLIANT.

Thank you Ben for another book that will grace my ever growing collection. I shall keep it quiet and not tell my husband!!


If your readers long for this book, but cannot find it “English Elegance” by Judy Brittain and Patrick Kinmonth published in 1984 is, I believe , the same book under a different title.


Thank you Ruth and Ben. I am now happily daydreaming with you and Cyril Connolly.

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