English Style

27 April 2014
Ben Pentreath

If you’re anything like me, you buy a lot more books than you have time to read.

My shelves are groaning. My bedside table is laden with books that could only possibly be read through some strange process of osmosis, as if by sleeping with this pile close to my head I’ll somehow absorb the contents. Don’t even think of giving me a glass of wine in the evening and putting me next to or abe books, or letting me loose on a lazy Saturday afternoon in a perfect, cluttered, well-stocked and civilized second-hand bookshop in a small market town.

I suppose if I’m honest, a lot of the books I buy are about architecture, or decoration, or gardening, or art. And one of the things that’s nice about those sorts of books is that you don’t have to read them. You can just look at the pictures.

But let’s face it, I still buy more books that I can look at. I think this is a particular problem for people who like cook books. If you’re a cook-book-kind-of-person, you just can’t stop buying cook books, can you? When you think about this, it’s absurd. When are you ever going to have time to cook half of the recipes in half of the books that you already own? Yet, just somehow, when that beautiful seductive new book emerges, with a tie-in in the Guardian or FT magazine, or an attractive offer on the shelves of the supermarket…. well, it’s hard to resist. The reality is a bit more basic. Has anyone ever cooked more than one recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem?  No, really, they have not.

Well, it’s almost as bad with decoration books. I think you’ll agree. You buy one, you buy ten. Which is why it’s a rare pleasure to come across a book that you just know you’re going to go back to again and again.

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I had to wait a while to write this blog. I bought a copy of Mary Gilliatt’s English Style rather a long time ago. I can’t quite remember how I discovered it, but I had. It eventually arrived from Abe books, from a bookstore in New York State. At which point, on opening the covers, I instantly realised it was the perfect birthday present for a friend of mine (who is almost un-buyable for when it comes to birthday presents). I immediately ordered a second copy, this time from Cleveland, Ohio. Somehow I missed the email telling me they couldn’t find the copy so the order had been cancelled.  Finally, I got a copy from a bookshop in Illinois. I somehow needed to wait before the birthday present was wrapped and dispatched before I could alert you to the FOUR REMAINING COPIES that I can spot on the internet. Well, now it’s time.

I think I’ve got to say it – I reckon this is one of my favourite decoration books of all time. English Style02 English Style03 English Style05I adore the bold opening graphics…

English Style06 English Style07…the punchy Foreword by Paul Reilly… and the elegant layout of the content page:

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John Bigg, I’m not sure who you are, but nice job.


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The book is divided into themed chapters. The opening chapter is ‘The Post-Festival Influence’.

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See what I mean?

Followed by ‘Sturdy British’, a paean of praise to Conran:English Style17 English Style18

I love these wardrobes in Conran’s London house, and these views of his Suffolk cottage:English Style19 English Style20

Or these marvellous apricot walls in the home of architect Nicholas Johnston.  Funnily enough, I came across the houses of his practice Johnston Cave a few days ago, and I liked them. English Style21

Roger Dyer’s phone nook:English Style22

Kitchen, and sitting room:English Style23

(Here’s another strange co-incidence. A few years ago I worked on a huge new leisure centre in Dorchester where the lead technical architects were the ‘Dyer Group‘. Strange to think that that giant behemoth of a firm started out with a little phone nook like that).

A chapter on ‘The Purists’ follows:

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And then ‘The New Wave’:English Style28 English Style29

Ooooh, metallic wallpaper on the stairs of your Georgian house anyone?


You won’t be surprised to learn my favourite chapter is called ‘English Style’.

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Oh god that has to be my favourite room for a long time.  Beautiful wallpaper.
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Sir Leslie Martin’s restored Mill is providing the inspiration for our new architecture studio renovation (which starts next week… could this be more timely? No, it could not.) Check out that beautifully detailed handrail…
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I sort of fancy a couple of Bacon’s in the dining room. English Style37

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Aaaaaah, lovely.  English Style39 English Style40

OH MAN Leslie Waddington’s Sitting Room table. HELLO?!?!?! perfection.
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Well, then, the delights of ‘Old Houses Renewed’:

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Hello Kensington Palace… Princess Margaret’s dining room… and Lord Snowden’s dressing room:English Style47

Lynn Chadwick’s dining room:English Style48

Zoffany House:English Style49

David Hicks at Britwell Salome:English Style50 English Style51 English Style52 English Style53

And one of my favourite rooms in the whole book, Bennett’s Hill Farm in Somerset, owned by the painter William Scott, and his wife.English Style54 English Style55

Jayne’s Court, in Gloucestershire, is a serene house with a mad interior:English Style56 English Style57

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Don’t you dream of a day bed like that in your London garden?


Finally, ‘The Decorators’:

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More Hicks in London. Wow:English Style63 English Style64

I love this drawing room by Billy McCarty, and the dressing room following:English Style66 English Style68

Jon Bannenburg’s bedroom:English Style69

(there’s a brilliant BFI archive film of Jon Bannenburg right here. If you do one thing this week, watch this film. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. I love his vibe).

And the sublime interiors of Hardy Amies’ drawing room by Colefax & Fowler’s Michael Raymond:English Style71 English Style72

You remember that name don’t you? Mickey Raymond is now retired in Tangier, and you can read that New York Times article again, all about him, here!

Here’s Geoffrey Bennison’s entrance hall,

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Or look at this cool cool cool room by Fello Atkinson, architect:English Style74

You see? Oh Fello, I like your combinations:English Style75

And your dining room:English Style76

Which brings us neatly full-circle to the cover of the book.

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You see what I mean?  Get your copy now. If you can.

I feel like this blog really belongs over at our friends The Peak of Chic. Hi Jennifer from over here…!


Bridie and I had a weekend in Dorset having a massive plan-out for the next year of the shop. What I’m calling the brainstorm in the rainstorm. There was so much rain. But idyllic moments of sunshine in between.P1020409 P1020412 P1020415

It’s always nice when it’s the Parsonage at the end of the rainbow. I hope you’ve had a great weekend too. And happy reading, or, for that matter, just looking.

27 comments on this post

Ben, thank you for posting so many wonderful pictures! If I can’t get the book I’ll have your wonderful page to refer to. Funny that you are buying books from the US, and I’m addicted to Jane Grigson, Simon Hopkinson, Nigel Slater. I have stacks like you do. All for when I have time…


This book reminds me of another with the same title, English Style, by Suzanne Slesin and Stafford Cliff. Even though it’s 30 years old and many of the photos look as if they’ve been taken through a marmalade coloured filter, some of the rooms look pretty good today. Good design is good design. Indeed, the Temple of the Four Seasons (then the home of Charles Beresford Clark) is featured, Ben.

Ben, I just had to order a copy of your friend Alan Powers’ Living with Books (used, from abebooks) A big thing around here is libraries having weekend used book sales, followed by “fill a bag day” when one can do just that and pay $5 for the lot! I’ve acquired some treasures that way, but also a lot of books I might otherwise not have bought. Books have a way of eliminating space and time…never enough space for them, never enough time to read them!


Please, please stop recommending books! I can’t help myself. This book looked too delectable to pass up, and somehow I was able to rationalize buying it.

Now I’ll consciously push it from my mind in order to forget it’s coming, and be pleased and surprised when it does.

Philip Krabbesays:

I prefer your own book Ben I must admit… I’m not a fan of all this 1960-70’ies look which is so
modern right now! And ‘Decorator just left’ look is not my taste either. Your parsonage is much
more to my liking a classic english look yet updated! Loved your post from Tangier!
But I know the book feeling – Amazon has provided me with several meters of fantastic books
on art, architecture and interior design… nothing better when the parcel arrives! A few times I
have bought the same book twice due to a changed cover! Unfortunately the shelves in my library
are full… I need more space for the new ones. English eccentric is next!

Patricia Taylorsays:

Your modesty Ben holds you back from mentioning your own
wonderful English Decoration book which I have just found
in my local library and must now buy my own copy – I love it!
This will sit alongside my all time favourite interiors book
Living by Design by John Stefanidis. Whenever I need a shot
in the arm of inspiration this is the one I turn to.

Loved this post, esp the part about books. Have you read Susan Hill’s book ‘Howard’s End is on the landing’? It describes her year of re-reading long owned and loved books, and reading books she bought but had never read, against the backdrop of a decision not to purchase any books for a year (yikes!). She talks about reading in general, the books, and the authors, many of whom she has met, or knows, and the book is a delight from start to finish. Hasn’t stopped me buying books though….and don’t even start about cookery books. I would blush to confess how many I own.

Ben (and all),

I work at Johnston Cave Associates – thanks for the mention! Here at JCA we really appreciate the ‘English Style’, we enjoy your blog and approach to design and are always glad to have a good book recommended.

Please look up our website and get in contact; we would love to hear from enthusiasts, potential collaborators, etc!



Ha ha! Exactly the same font, page layout and book size as my original 1970s aga cookbook, which was written by Mary Berry.

Patricia Landrysays:

Groucho Marks might have said it best when he quipped “outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog it is too dark to read.

Leesa Vere-Stevenssays:

I’ve returned to your post tonight and have placed an order for a copy of your extraordinary looking book by Mary Gilliatt’s, purchased from a book shop in Wales. Thank you.
Not bags or shoes. Its decoration and cook books with me. Purchased for inspiration, attracted by honesty and aesthetics (I have bought a cook book because of a plate or bowl illustrated in it!), and hope they will last a lifetime. This one looks very good.
PS I have been thinking of your wonderful Tangerine post all day.


Ha! I, for one, have cooked more than one recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Possibly….three?

A couple of books that spent the weekend (and many weekends past) on my coffee table: Romantic Irish Homes by Robert O’Byrne, and The American Man’s Garden by Rosemary Verey.

This is definitely one to get!


😉 Three sort of proves my point. Oh I’m interested in the Rosemary Verey…. 🙂


Hello Ben,
just ordered the last copy on amazon – the nicest thing about ordering books is the waiting time before they arrive and need to be placed in an already cram-full book-case *sigh* and yes – I have that cookbook-problem too.

But isn’t an E-Reader such a poor substitue for the real thing? Especially for old books with quotes and markers – that open nearly automatically at the former owner’s most beloved pages?

My rational moments have never been the best in my life 😉



There really is no substitute for a book.

Ben, based on the opening sentences of this post, we are peas in a pod from a book-acquiring perspective. I have a T-shirt featuring one of Edward Gorey’s wry illustrations, with the caption, “There’s no such thing as too many books!” An article about Keith Irvine (which prompted acquiring copies of several of Chippy Irvine’s books) said he gave a book no shelf space until it had been read. Hence, his stairs had a foot-path down the center, with stacks of books closing in on either side.

Do you have “At Home with Books” by Ellis & Seebohm, with photography by Christopher Simon Sykes? Highly recommended if you don’t already own a copy. I see you do have the ne plus ultra of books about Fornasetti. To die for! My daughter gave me a copy for Christmas a few years back.

I have several of Mary Gilliat’s books, but I am unfamiliar with the one you feature. Sounds like every used copy on the planet has now been taken.

The OP is looking fresh and lovely in the spring rain! Looking forward to the coming months of beautiful photos.


I love At Home with Books!! One for all of us. And my friend Alan Powers has of course written the lovely Living with Books as well.


Know just what you mean about the books. I’ve been,ahem,acquiring them for a fair few years now; latest purchase, English Eccentrics by Ros Byam Shaw. Some displays make one’s possessions seem just that bit normalcore as they now say! Must get some taxidermy and a skull or three. Loved the Tangerine post. As you already have family history in Tangier, it would seem the likeliest solution.


Dear Nicola yes but I have to be honest… I think that taxidermy has HAD ITS MOMENT 😉 I have sold all of mine (with the exception of a scary pair of squirrels that were a gift)…

Steven Zicksays:

Lord above, they have an amazing period feel to them, don’t they–as if Stanley Kubrick had a go on his way over to filming 2001, a Space Odyssey. Or as though Patrick MacNee (sp?) and Diana Rigg were about to slink through on an Avengers shoot. Thanks for posting–I’m in hot pursuit.


Absolutely. Avengers here we come.

I have a few of Mary’s books and feel that she’s vastly under-appreciated and unknown. She has a dictionary of architectural and decorating terms which I refer to frequently.


If you can’t find a copy of this book to buy, and your local public library doesn’t have a copy either, you can always ask the librarian to bring in a copy from elsewhere; it’s called an ILLO. For free, generally.

In the meantime, Mary Gilliatt does maintain a lively blog:

I need to go to Chicago and look through my retired interior designer mothers bookshelves. I am sure there is a copy lurking there, just waiting for me to nab it, along with much of her book collection.
I share the book addiction, it seems to be hereditary.


what a discovery. Judging from your photos the book is a delight for the simple reason (apart from the interiors, which are wonderful)that its design is up to the quality of the contents – an oddly rare thing. I am reminded of Arabella Boxer’s ‘First Slice your Cookery Book’ – another product of the Sixties. ‘English Style’ has joined my wish list.



Ah… Rob, First Slice your cookbook might have to be the subject of a whole blog of its own!

Deby (in Canada)says:

That worked… nabbed what might have been the last copy at Abe books… now I can go back and properly read what your were saying!

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