Winter evenings in a new coat

27 October 2013
Ben Pentreath

I’m a creature of habit, and I also love the regular things of life when they happen.  I think you know this. That moment of turning the clocks back is as welcome today as the arrival of summer time hours when they come. I love these weeks of autumnal leaves as much as I crave the break of spring.

I love today’s extra hour. I have a friend who says you must never change the clock until the evening, and you can do something special with it. I’m afraid mine got absorbed in quite a hangover. This is becoming a bit of a repeat story isn’t it? I suppose it’s the time of year.  Last night the cause was my friends Lucy & Duncan’s massive (pre-) halloween dinner and celebration (…well, that is what you would do too if you lived in an ancient moated manor house on the edge of Salisbury, with an early Georgian Gothick facade, surrounded by ancient penumbral trees).   I worked on the house with them last year, stitching it back together after the craziest not good 1970s renovation you have ever seen.   It was wonderful to see the place alive and, literally, kicking.  Lucy and Duncan have got more energy than anyone I know, and they are also the youngest clients I suspect I will ever have.  Yes, out of the some 40 or 50 guests, I was officially the oldest person there, which actually reminds me that if you want to feel young you should hang out with people a lot younger than yourself, not the other way round.

My head was protesting this morning.  Before you worry that the blog needs to be sponsored by that excellent organisation Alcoholics Anonymous: have you ever tried shots of absinthe that formed one of the opening courses? (no, you have not). Half way through dinner a vivid green cocktail emerged at all of our places. You see?  toxic.

So I’ve had an enforced quiet day… a bite of lunch with some neighbours up the valley, a couple of friends over for a cup of tea, and in the middle of a ravaging evil head state this morning, I, um, cooked a giant lamb casserole 25 people… for a bunch of all the Poundbury boys & girls – Duchy of Cornwall people, Leon Krier the masterplanner, builders, the site foremen, and a few of architects, all of whom in a rash moment I decided to invite for supper next Thursday night. No time between now and then to do any cooking, and the evidence suggests that chopping up mushrooms is actually not a bad cure for a hangover.

The following day the Prince is coming to Poundbury to celebrate 20 years since his project began. There’s a giant ‘do’ for all the architects.  Hmm.  That could be interesting seeing as all traditional architects, as we know, are very weird indeed and there are some rivalries out there to put the Montagues and the Capulets in the shade.  What joy.

Anyway, the reason I thought I’d get everyone over is threefold. One, I didn’t feel like I quite had enough on that week, you know. Two, it’s actually kind of fun when you mix everyone up – the best times ever.  Three – on Thursday (yes, Halloween) it is precisely ten years to the day since a very tearful younger me said goodbye to New York City after five fantastic years and flew home to London. How can a decade rush by so quickly?

ALRIGHT ALRIGHT you are saying.  What about his purple dining room?  Yes, it’s new paint colour time. Just in time for winter evenings. And can I confess, I’m very happy indeed. My suggestion, if you ever get bored by your place: slap on a new colour. It’s a whole new home (the previous sentence was sponsored by the British Paint Manufacturers Association).

It was a damn good thing I took these photographs yesterday afternoon.  I couldn’t go in there today, honestly, with my sore head.

Sharp eyed readers will recognise some pictures from London. I shoved them in the back of the car knowing that the purple was going to need some painkillers.  Luckily I’ve just bought a job lot (sight unseen, and I haven’t got them yet) of a massive bunch of Piranesi engravings of all the things like diagrams of foundations of walls and that sort of stuff, the ones that no-one else wants, not a column in sight, really dull I am sure but a perfect wall filler. So that will be a nice framing job and then I can really get going.  And I am debating whether I should hang my Hone Museum above the fireplace?  They look incredible but is it too much?

The purple is insane… intense. It’s ‘Plum’ from the Patrick Baty/Paper & Paints 1960s range.

It goes pretty mental in the sunshine, and I think lunch guests may need sunglasses from now on.

Somewhere I suspect this room needs some olive green and kelly green, and some burnt orange.

I guess the big question in my life now is what colour I should paint the staircase walls in between that dining room and the orange kitchen. (Actually, that’s not really the big question in my life, but it’s still a question, I guess).

The sitting room is an altogether more restful thing, in its new coat of powdery chalky pink.  Patrick mixed that for me too, a shade right in-between his 1950s pink and Farrow & Ball’s Setting Plaster (which is a beautiful colour but was a bit too grey for me here).  Should I call it Parsonage rose I wonder?   I remember a friend worrying about the yellow sofa when I told him about my plans for a pink sitting room. Luckily, it feels very at home indeed, although it too would look beautiful in a brown corduroy or olive green silk.

Like, how on earth I got a reputation for being a cool young interior decorator (okay, perhaps I’m making that up, especially the young bit) with these pink walls and  this collection of old granny china on my mantlepiece, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps because I’m gay and wear trainers, I don’t know. Nice reflection in the mirror, huh?

Okay the best room of all is my bedroom. Yes, you’re right, not that many people get to see my bedroom.  And here, I’ve got a confessional to make.  A client of mine reminded me the other day that in my book I wrote: “bedrooms should be painted in calm shades of off-white and grey” (WHAT?)… although, to be fair, I did also admit that I was thinking of painting my bedroom in London “a dark colour so that it’s a snug cocoon at night” (it’s a bit weird quoting myself isn’t it).   Well, don’t believe everything you read in my book is all I can say. Check this out. Good bye Farrow and Ball ‘Shaded white’ it was nice knowing you; hello 4-050 from Papers & Paints. (If you’re a very loyal reader you will know this also is the colour of my kitchen walls in London).

I guess I meant it when I said back in February that I was bored of tasteful greys.  They have their place, especially in the attic, but I’m off on a new trip and I’m loving it.

It’s pouring, I mean pouring, with rain, on Sunday evening, and the wind is, to be honest, picking up, and the radio is filled with warnings of a massive storm on its way and I can’t quite work out if there really is the biggest storm coming since 1987, or if its hype because it’s an unnaturally quiet moment in the news cycle at the moment (remember, we were meant to be having a war with Syria, right now, if those inconvenient Russians hadn’t come up with a rather sensible compromise… and just think how that would be selling the papers right now).  Well, yesterday morning driving home from Bridport I had a weird premonition, really very vivid, that my giant copper beech tree was going to blow over.  Hopefully without me and my new bedroom in the way, but I always go to sleep slightly conscious that I’m in the falling line.  Secretly, don’t tell anyone, I wouldn’t mind awfully if the tree blew over. It’s incredible, and beautiful, but the garden would breathe more easily. Interesting.  Perhaps I’ll sleep in the guest bedroom at the other end of the house tonight just in case…

49 comments on this post


your pink sitting room is wonderful – just perfect and just the inspiration i’m looking for. is the colour slightly warmer/peacher that the f&B setting plaster? i too find it slightly grey.


The colour was special mixed for me by Patrick Baty at Papers & Paints, and I think they will either call it Parsonage Pink or Pentreath Pink depending on their fancy!! Give them a call. It is indeed a bit warmer than Setting Plaster. Ben

Giulietta Hornersays:

I always love purple! If it was MY room and I did not have an opinionated husband… I would lose all the white including pictures, paint the ceiling, door and skirting in a darker shade made with the purple, say aubergine, and put in some splendid and vast gilt frames with brooding occupants! Wonderful fun to be had planning ….


Hi Ben, thank you for your wonderful blog, which I read every week. I love your pink sitting room and have ignored the less positive comments. I found it so inspiring that over the weekend I have painted the tiny entrance hall to my Georgian cottage in Yarmouth a similar colour. The room faces north to the main land, so ‘Setting Plaster’ from F&B with its slightly greyer tones was the very thing. I love it. It has settled the house very nicely. Thank you for the inspiration.


Hi Nicki!! That’s great. Nothing like a pink entrance hall 🙂


Love the purple. My sofas are the same colour! Mind you, after 7 years I also feel like a change. For the stairs, I’d go for aqua. Or, feeling bolder, turquoise. Like that spot on one of your pillows?

s psays:

well done BP….out on a limb and enjoying every plum-shaded view. good for you. beautiful.


French Ochre from Rose of Jericho paints for the staircase Walls perhaps. I suspect you would love their paints if you don’t already know them that is, and am guessing that you do, but they have this wonderful chalky quality. Burnt orange horsehair fabric on Dining Room Chairs? Yummy…

P.S. I also enjoy an organic green in the bedroom! Mine is a bit chalkier, but perhaps that has to do with the stained wood (rather than painted). We bought our place with everything stripped and stained. We promised the seller we wouldn’t paint anything he painstakingly stripped, but I imagine we’ll have to get over that at some point.

I love you and want to have your babies. However, this would upset my husband, and Chicago to London/Dorset is a formidable commute. So maybe we can just be friends?? Ok, stairhall in Dorset: a sunny yellow? Striking against the purple but related to the kitchen? J’adore the blog and wasting many work-time minutes immersing myself in the archives. Also, your father is Rock Hudson handsome. That is all. P.S. I love the car…and we have an ’87 Merc 560SL. Not midnight blue (which, frankly, I’d prefer, but desert tan). Still, a looker. We have absolutely no business having it, but…there you go.


Oh Mr Pentreath, wot ave you gorn and done now? 8/10 for the drawing room, ’bout the same for the bedroom..but the purple dining room….gawd! Can you really perform miracles and pull it off? Does it work in the country? What about that blue hundi lamp…the light must be quite odd…your dinner guests will surely look quite unwell under its glow! Please, please lose some candle stick holders and enough with the Piranesis, is that the correct plural? and are they an architects ‘must have’? How about a lovely old pier glass, floor to almost ceiling, and some of those wonderful inter-war artists works that you love, just to mitigate the purple?…and no, no, no, to the seagrass squares and kelim combo…get thee to a rug shop and purchase a large and furniture anchoring carpet…yes I know “SOD ORF”…
Goodnight to you, Princelet of Decorators….unlike Dianne, no wine for an excuse!


I think the dinning room is horrific. Especially as your other reception room is pink. Pink and then purple? Really? The pink is great as it looks like it’s always been there…. which is a hard thing to achieve and what I kind of thought you are about….. Ok, the always been there since the 60’s colours can be great too, and your new bedroom colour works well in that way…. Even harder to get right, and beautifully done. But the dining room is pure Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. Habitaty but not in a good habitat-in-the-60’s kind of way. And the sharp new white of the plaster cast makes it look even worse. Of course 10 out of 10 for going for it, and it’s really none of my business, but I’m only saying this as usually NO ONE tells you when a freshly painted room isn’t very nice. And there’s a difference between wanting or hoping it’s nice and it ACTUALLY being nice. This is a tiny point as I do think you have flawless taste and I’m probably wrong anyway…….. Enjoy the new colour scheme, and thanks for sharing and inspiring…..,

Looks lovely. As everything does here in Dorset. Enjoying my vacation so much, though it is pretty windy right now at the coast. Don’t want to return to Germany on Saturday.


I love the colours. It’s inspiring to see ever more bold choices. However, I’m concerned about the mahogany chest right in front of the radiator. Antiques – even run of the mill (is it Geo III or a later ‘in the style of’?) pieces – are a finite resource.

Thank you Ben. You have wrought wonders with our colours. It’s always good to see someone with the knowledge (and guts) to use colour. Colour should add to ones life. It should also make one smile. Well done.

Vanessa Ryallsays:

The purple reminds me of my my very hip aunt’s home in the early ’70’s…groovy..but the pink is a triumph and the yellow sofa looks beautiful.Hope the copper beech has survived.I love your blog.

love the sitting room. the dining room a bit too “cadbury” Wrapper for me but at least its not clunch
well done for being brave

Dear Ben, an exceptionally colorful post!

Dahlia purple DR—well, I was in favor, but now that I see it—not so sure. Maybe a darker shade, such as appears in the rich shadows of some of the photos? Aubergine? I am glad you are happy, and I know many readers love it. One can only get a momentary impression from the photos, its presence in real time may be something altogether more alluring than appears to me from the pix. Bottom line: chacun a son gout! By all means the Hone above the FP in the DR. It’s already a room so over-the-top, why not go for it! (Keep an urn full of sunglasses handy to pass ‘round the guests…)

“Pink” living room perfect! So many lovely shades, from a blushed almost-white in the sunlight to rich peach in the lamplight. Love how it works with the rug! Ditto yellow sofa. Did someone say it makes the other colors ‘bland’? I disagree. It makes them harmonize, which can indeed have a ‘bland,’ neutralizing effect to some, but in this case, I think not. (I’m an artist, trust me on color!)

OMG, anything Piranesi is to die for!! Do you have JW Ely’s “The Mind and Art of GB Piranesi”? I think the best study of his work ever. He was one of the most intriguing personalities of the 18th c.

Well! As I write, I am sipping my 4th (5th?) glass of Cab, for a very good reason! Tonight I finally finished my sole remaining annual calligraphy job (chucked the rest in favor of painting) which is a honking huge testimonial piece for one of the scholarly societies at University of Pittsburgh to present to this year’s outstanding scholar in their field. I do love academia! Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night and all that. Or is that a bad example? Given the murders? You do read Sayers, don’t you Ben?

Anyway, I too sometimes find myself beset with hangovers. Sheer stupidity on my part, of course. I don’t’ know about the UK, but in our Puritan-heritage-benighted land over here, you cannot get absinthe made with real wormwood. It’s illegal. I forget what’s in the absinthe they sell now, my daughter could tell you. Well, I suppose one can always grow one’s own wormwood? One of the lovely silver-foliaged artemesias. And brew your own absinthe, the real poison. Perfect for Halloween!

Ben, are you a Nancy Mitford fan? (if not—heavens, WHY NOT?!?!) Anyway, currently reading “Highland Fling” in which a c 1924 aesthete bemoans the desecration of a medieval/Victorian castle in Scotland, while other weekend guests raise the rafters in praise of the 1970’s wallpapers and so forth. You don’t know who to root for in the end. Very amusing.

Olive green bedroom, very restful. Wait—where’s the four poster? Where’s the Fornasetti chest??? Did I miss something?

Staircase. Why not a tromp l‘oeil mural? Dizzying view of himalayan crags or something? They’ll be prepared, coming out of the dining room…

BTW, the current issue of Time magazine has Prince Charles on the cover, story mentions Poundsbury If I may, I will mail a Xerox copy of it to Pentreath & Hall (almost typed “Bentreath & Hall”!) unless you can get a copy there? It even comments on his habit of wearing patched clothing.

Good night, dear Ben. Thanks for another astounding, no-holds-barred post! I think you got perhaps more decorating advice (including mine) than you bargained for? Sleep tight!



Diane that is almost a blog of your own!

Hi Ben, yes do hang the Hone over the fireplace, as well as being a beautiful piece the cool white lifts the intensity of the purple.

Love the purple. Not so sure about the pink, but the thing to remember is that its *your* house!


It may just be the lighting, but to me the new colour in the sitting room, which I am calling “Washed- out Primark bra pink” seems to make all of the surrounding colours look blah.
And I would be cautious to introduce another vivid color to your staircase. If your not careful, you lovely parsonage is going to start resembling overly enthusiastic shared student housing.


The pink is lovely, and I like the green bedroom too. I think green on the stairs too – maybe sage or even the right shade of apple? If it is too bright it might all be a bit psychadelic when you are stuck inside in the depths of winter? I can’t believe I just made a suggestion to you; I used your book heavily for inspiration when we moved recently (though we live in a Services house so sadly it is Magnolia walls all the way!).


The sitting room looks utterly beautiful even if it has been photographed
pre-housekeeping, that pale yellow settee and the Turkish cushions are very
elegant, its a masterpiece in English country decorating.

your bedroom in green is calm and inviting, a massive success id say!

But the purple…………oh no its very 90’s makeover, we all have our off
days….try again !

what may help for the time being is a huge collection of blue and white

Steve Truncellitosays:

Great post again! Love love love the purple and hope all is well in the UK post storm.


love it. love it all.
best of luck with the storms.


You should have no fears that the Hone Museum will be too much for your dining room.
When Joel Schumacher was directing the film version of “Phantom of the opera” it was suggested that it was all pretty over the top. Quite rightly he replied “No one ever wanted to see UNDER the top”
Love your blog Ben and your homes are very enviable.


Yes I agree with Catherine, leave the sofa yellow

Loving the strong colours. Staircase in Little Greene Tivoli 206 perhaps?


Love the pink. Have chosen a similar colour for my hall/stairs in London with a massive yellow light.
Can you offer any suggestions on where you get your lovely rugs from? the Kilims etc. Do you sell any in the the shop?

It simply must be green for the stairs!


Lovely colors all. Leave the sofa yellow. Soft sage green for the stairs…not too dark…stairs are usually too dark anyway.

Ellen Spencersays:

I say yes to hanging the Hone Museum piece!


Hip or classic … who cares? You are generous with color (and you make me laugh) please don’t change.

Love the new dining room purple. The green bedroom is so warm and cozy, bit the rose drawing room is my favorite. All of your guest will look beautiful in that color. Great job!
xo, Lissy


For the staircase, electric blue.

Lucy Claytonsays:

LOVE the purple. Sorry about the hangover (not really that sorry) Lx

Linda Gearysays:

Love, love, love the new colours! I’m currently painting my porch and utility area in F&B Arsenic. Now planning a pink sitting room. Suggestion for the stairs – F&B Ball Green.

I’m glad strong colour is making a comeback. Nice to see a scheme that doesn’t look like undercoat.

Amicia de Moubraysays:

What about a strong yelllow for the staircase?

Hilary Lambertsays:

Youre colour schemes & Ravilious mugs show great taste? Especially like the pale pink room.

Go color! Its nice to see something different from the all white Scandinavian look on the internet these days.

I enjoy all of your posts, but it’s interesting how different the tone is in this one — so sassy! Love it. Stress and after-effects of drink, but it works. And even if you wouldn’t mind the loss of your copper beach, I would. My neighborhood across the sea has several, and whenever it’s hurricane season I pray they’ll make it without falling. My partner and I have spent a few nights in the front bedroom to avoid a possible accident from the sycamore grove behind our house, which would smash us and the back half of the house to smithereens. One more comment/question: I had to look up “penumbral” (which spell-check does not believe is a word) and in ALL OF GOOGLE, there are only 5 uses of the phrasing “penumbral trees” (a few poems, some overwrought lesbianish writing, etc.). I think you mean that they’d lost their leaves, as it refers to something casting a half shadow, but perhaps you mean simply that the trees grow in a surrounding, peripheral location? Great word, thanks for the introduction.

The new colors are all winners. I’ve had a red sitting room and a Delft blue bedroom and a purple bedroom and . . . . no color in your interiors means no life. The pink/yellow combo reminds me of David Hicks. I know that was not your intent but his room with those colors was a room to spend a lifetime enjoying. So don’t go redoing that sofa too soon.

Paulette hostetlersays:

Ben-My husband says to save the tree you must run” a cable to a dead man against the prevailing wind.” “A dead man” is a buried anchor and you and your wonderful blog are NOT! Good luck!


What a treat to see picture upon picture of your gorgeous home, and in technicolor. Terribly, terribly inspiring Ben.

I really like the purple. Prints and perhaps a colorful, framed textile or 2 (?) will help break it up. The living room buff is soft and fabulous. Please don’t reupholster that gorgeous yellow sofa. Though, you know, perhaps you could have a winter slipcover made for it in a darker, cozier fabric (the reverse of when slipcovers are normally employed, but oh well!)

As to why you are a hip, young decorator: it take guts to embrace the old and classic these days.

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