The cobbler’s children have no shoes…

22 December 2013
Ben Pentreath

(Or… it takes a long time for decorators to decorate their own home).

I’m not quite feeling the Christmas vibe yet. I’ll be honest. Something to do with the fact that I’ve still got rather a lot of work to do, maybe? Or the weather, which I’m finding unseasonably mild? Or the general feeling that I seem to get every year that I really only begin to feel Christmas when I’m with my family and not one second before?  Or the fact that this year has flown by faster than ever before… basically, I’ll be ready for Christmas in a month.

In fact for years we’ve done the office Christmas party in February. One year it was in March I seem to remember.  We are a bit better than that at getting your planning application drawings in on time, I promise… it’s just that February seems more fun.

But I have taken a day today to spend a bit of time thinking… about me.  Or, rather, about my flat. Regular readers may recall a while back (‘Dear Ben, please may we see…’) that I was thinking of a few changes.  Well, that was back in the autumn.  Then time flies and nothing, I mean nothing at all, happens. My old boss in New York, Richard Sammons, used to have a favourite saying… ‘the cobbler’s children have no shoes’.  And I think it’s particularly apposite of architects and designers. We’re kind of too busy getting on with other people’s houses.

So the week between Christmas and New Year is probably the only time in the whole year when you can steal a few samples from the office and have a think.

This was the week that my ottoman turned up.  Okay – okay – only in calico. The good people at Fine Cell Work are starting the stitching in the New Year and that will take months and months to do. It was a bit of a shock to find a giant white marshmallow in the middle of my sitting room when I got home on Thursday – but I’ve got to admit, I’m already loving it.

Perhaps a tiny weeny bit tall for the 1950s sofas? I may have the height reduced by 3″ when it goes back for reupholstering.  And of course it needs its pattern.  Which, for a sneak preview, is going to look like this on top:

and even more mentally, like this on the sides:

Do you approve?

Well, in fact these crazy colours are for another project. I’m going to go for something rather more grisaille.

There’s the wool book.

I think the ‘IRON GREY’ range is the colourway for this particular room (with a bit of pink don’t forget).

Well, anyway, watch this space…

On the walls I’m after a bit of soft texture. One of these, I think.

The upper one on the far left, perhaps?

Okay. Curtains. Ever since I’ve moved into this flat I’ve wanted curtains as well as blinds… something to draw tightly shut on these dark nights.  And this is what I’m thinking.

Not the soft olive green, beautiful though those Claremont Serge fabrics are. Well, that’s what I I would have picked on a safe day.  But this afternoon I’ve been feeling a bit mental and I’m gonna go Madeleine.

Madeleine Castaign? Well, I suppose you should blame our friend Jennifer Boles over at The Peak of Chic, for piquing my interest years ago. Here’s an image of Madeleine’s bedroom stolen (borrowed, perhaps?) from Jennifer’s brilliantly knowledgable website.

Here she is:

I don’t have my copy of The World of Madeleine Castaign to hand, which is an omission, at this particular moment.

But then luckily I could find this article, from what must rank as one of the world’s best ever World of Interiors, fabled September 2007:

which featured the NYC flat of Carolina and Ian Irving, which must be as close to decorator heaven as it is possible to exist…

You see what I mean? And which showed their bedroom with its remarkable Castaing fabric lined walls.

Which I have dreamed about ever since.  Including making Bridie trek around with me on a very random trip around Paris one year to find the Edmond Petit showroom, which produces her fabrics.

Incidentally the following photo is why I am loving my giant ottoman.

As I think I mentioned back in September, it’s time to get some curtains for the guest bedroom, and at the moment I’m thinking Muriel Brandolini. I love her block printed fabrics with their beautiful off colours.

The only question being, which one.

They are all good.

There’s a pair to the wooden desk chair with the blue Josef Frank fabric, that I’m having upholstered in the green fabric, and given the cost of Svenkst Tenn fabrics it’s a good thing I picked up those two chairs for a tenner.

I think the walls are going to look good in grey.  Incidentally, I think the bookshelves are going to go.

The books are sort of more needed in the office than at home. And I think the fornasetti chest of drawers might migrate gently around the corner. We will see.  All of this is going to take months and months to actually sort out (remember the cobbler’s children).


I was reflecting the other day on how rooms take shape, and I just had a look back at some photos of my flat.

Here it was the day my friends the previous tenants cleared out.

Under construction:

Picking colours:

Nearing completion (incidentally, I chose F&B James White, which is a very good colour to pick if you don’t know what to do):

Carpet going down:

Pictures going up:

Furniture moving in – day one.

Decoration takes time.

One of the awful things I’ve realised looking back at my blog in September is the number of really kind comments – many of which are asking quite specific and easy to answer practical questions – that at the moment I still haven’t had time to reply to.  One day I hope I will – or perhaps we’ll set up a part of the website called ‘Q&A’ where such questions can be posted and anyone (including me) can answer.

As you can tell, I don’t think I’ve quite caught the Christmas bug yet. But for when I do, have a really happy Christmas. It’s been a funny old year, 2013, but let’s keep that thought on hold until next week!  For now, I’ve been grateful for a moment… to catch up.

19 comments on this post

Really loved the decoration on the walls. I really liked the top one. Really trendy and colorful. We always look forward to hear from you something interesting every time, Thanks!

hello there,
re: the fabrics in the spare bedroom, I’d plump for for the chevron or the the little geometric, they are interesting in their own right without arguing/competing with the willow, i love the colours in the top one and as a previous bod said it works beautifully with the jug, I’d use a touch of that elsewhere in the room.
love the blog its the ONLY one I read.
question for your Q&A page – do you where i can find the white china Doric column candlesticks, i notice you have several , I’ve just broken mine which was my grandmothers

Love the decoration posts! Can’t wait for updates, even if they are months away.


Nice post, Ben ! I did my spare bedroom with Madeleine Castaing Rayure Fleurie fabric all over ( even the ceiling), I was the only one to like the fabric at the beginning and everyone who spent the night there said they loved it.
And I can’t wait to see your ottoman fully finished ! Merry christmas from Brussels, Julien


thank you, very generous post, always inspirational. Very interesting selection of fabrics for your guest room ( and I’m also favouring the top orange/pink one). let us know what your final decision is. And yes that particular issue of WoI was a standout- the living room in the Irving apartment is my dream of heaven as well. Have a wonderful Christmas and thanks again – your efforts with your posts are truly appreciated. Best wishes


In the summer I moved from London to Wiltshire and downsized. I have 2500 books and every back issue of World of Interiors ( except number one). I have managed to put all my books upstairs, so in effect I have a house with three libraries rather than three bedrooms. A magnificent calmness descended on my living space because the spines of modern books can be very chaotic and if you arrange them aesthetically you can’t find anything. They migrate downstairs and make piles (on my ottoman) and every weekend I put them away. It is the way forward.

Steve Truncellitosays:

Ben, Thanks for sharing more great design points to ponder in the last few days of 2012. Absolutely beautiful. Merry Christmas to you and yours and keep the posts coming in 2014. Be well.


Dear Ben Pentreath,
I love your posts about interior decoration.
I have always thought that books add life and a sense of cosiness and warmth to living rooms.
I was very surprised that none of the interior designers asked by House and Garden (in the Novembre issue or was it October) on how to make a room feel cosy, did not mention that. Can you imagine the Irvings living-room without books ?
Thank you very much for sharing your projects. have a lovely Xmas.


Merry Christmas Ben! This is my first time commenting on your blog, which I discovered recently (I live in Los Angeles, and I looked up your name after I saw your shop window in the background of some photo, posted in someone else’s blog.) Aside from the beautiful content, the inspiration I’ve already gotten from it is from your industriousness (the long drives to and from Dorset, the work in the garden, the early hours) despite having such a busy professional life. It’s humbling, really. And it inspires me to get out and do the stuff I should be doing to create a beautiful life despite the hard week I had in the office. Your blog is most appropriately named Inspiration.


Have a lovely Christmas. Your posts are so enjoyable, looking forward to more in 2014 and seeing your ideas taking shape!


Merry Christmas Ben thankyou for making all the Mondays tolerable!


Have you thought of doing the guest room curtains in the same Morris Willow fabric as the wallpaper? Or, more cheery, red felt. Your samples are lovely, but they may be too jazzy with the Morris!


I don’t consider myself an aesthete by any means, still less a gardener, but blundered in here about 2 weeks ago and have just caught up, much enjoying your eye and sensibility in most things indoors and out. One prosaic outcome is, I am now convinced we need an ottoman, so much more versatile and useful than a coffee table, given room for just one or the other, and I don’t know why it never occurred to me before. A view so far not shared by my wife but I think she may come round. We are only in SE London and I look forward to a joint shop visit soon, but must engineer it with care as the whole field of ‘interiors’ can have an emetic effect on her, and she will find a slightly disturbing interest on my part. I don’t know where you find the hours in each day, but please don’t overdo it and burn out, you are much appreciated. A friend of mine likes to say ‘the only way forward is backward’ and here one can see just what he means.


Ahhh, dear Ben, you have brought such brightness to my Monday morning’s. Many many thanks to you for making me feel as if I now know what I’m doing (or at least trying!) decoration wise. Your taste, insight, and humble words are such a lovely breath of fresh air. Merry, merry Christmas to you.

Cornelia harrietsays:

Happy Christmas to you. I rather like the sound of block printed fabrics so wholesome. Like bread and apples For your guestroom I like the fabric at the top it seems to dance and makes me think of summer, and goes with the ochre wedgewood the second fabric is very eighties and very french. The paisley style is a safe option but making mw gloomy. The squares are rather nice and comfortable and have historic reference. And the last one is very masculine maybe lined with a colour? of the hicks variety. Looking forward to hearing all about textures. my fav winter colours yellow metalic gold. Beautiful blue curtains and gold poles a bold choice.

Miranda alexandersays:

Where are those lovely fabrics for the spare bedroom from? I like the top one, yellow with pink, best. Happy Christmas, and have fun in Mexico…..

Linda Gearysays:

Lovely post Ben. Not feeling very Festive either! Have a lovely Christmas and thanks for the blog – I always look forward to Monday mornings, a coffee and your latest words and photos.


Happy Christmas anyway Ben – enjoy!! Cheers, Felicity


Just a small point. One my standard types of remark re interior decoration. But that lovely colourful ottoman is going to look horrible and grey in no time if you keep your FT on it all the time. Otherwise your seasonal thoughts on design are, as ever, wonderfully informed and welcome.

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