There’s a lot I’d like to show you

19 May 2014
Ben Pentreath

…this week, but I can’t.  Lots has been going on, but my camera has been unusually quiet.

I went to stay with Jasper Conran at dreamy Wardour Castle. “Of course you can take photographs”, said Jasper, with a cheeky wry grin, “BUT NO SOCIAL MEDIA”.

Fair enough, you might be thinking. I can see that this is going to become a health warning when and wherever I go and stay (Kim Wilkie and Pip Morrison are still a little bit traumatised). So I can only describe to you Jasper’s airy neo-classical rooms, painted chalky white, walls hung with robust eighteenth century portraits; wide rush-matting rugs on wooden floors, the deepest pure white sofas, and vigorous early Georgian furniture that strictly speaking should belong in a house 70 years earlier than Wardour but… it all just… works. Perfectly. Combined with pots and pots of geraniums and pelargoniums and succulents (Jasper got the house-plant memo, or perhaps, in fact, he wrote it…) these are some of the most beautiful, timeless, fresh English interiors that I know going on right now. Which is no small claim, is it?

There, you see, no photos. But you can still imagine, can’t you?

So then I got home to my flat. Now, the morning I set off for Stockholm, about 10 days ago, very very early, this is what it looked like. As if Christo and Jeanne-Claude had been to stay.


I had decided to wallpaper. With a pale grey grass-cloth. The degree of destruction involved in doing things, how-can-I-say, out of order, was pretty crazy. A lesson to us all.  It would have been a very good idea to decide to wallpaper before I moved in? But you can’t always think of everything can you. Or for that matter afford it. Nonetheless, with our excellent builder Henry in hand, everything was taken care of. I came back three days later to find everything complete. I’m sitting here writing in the early morning, sun streaming in through the windows, and I’d love to be showing you some photographs of my new-look flat.

BUT I CAN’T. You see, this morning, the New York Times are visiting to take photographs. I’ve promised my friend Rita that I won’t do a spoiler. “NO SOCIAL MEDIA”, she had pleaded with me. So no social media there is.

You see? Awkward, isn’t it? It’s not like Ben P to be placed under an embargo.  Can you tell why I decided to wallpaper right now? There’s nothing like a photographer turning up to become an excuse to wallpaper recklessly. This also includes my bathroom, which is completely insane now.  I will show you everything as soon as the NYT publish… but not before. Hmm.

So it was lucky, I suppose, that driving back from Wardour we stopped for a moment at the great ancient arched gate to Fonthill Splendens. It’s a road I use a bit, and it always takes my breath away, but normally I am always running very late for a meeting, and there is never time to stop. Yesterday was calmer. The approach is spectacular.


I don’t need to introduce you to the strange, fabled story of Fonthill, do I?  Of Beckford’s famous tower, and the great Palladian house that preceded it? Much has been written on the blogosphere by romantics in search of the ruins; the best of which, you might agree, is by my friend Ed Kluz which you can find right here.


The gate belongs to the earlier house, Fonthill Splendens, of course, not to Beckford’s startling fantasy. The parkland setting was dreamy in the May midday heat haze.


Beyond the gate, on the village side of the road, is a pair of superb piers of monumental proportion that flank the great gateway. I’d like to measure those piers one day.  Or perhaps I’d better give my friend George a call (you may as well call him 1-800-we-measure-buildings).

The carving is superb. P1030172

I love fragments of country houses almost more than the whole thing, don’t you?


This is Ed’s beautiful painting of Fonthill Abbey, Beckford’s insane creation.  Bridie and I are thrilled to be exhibiting Ed’s new work in the shop this summer, alongside prints & drawings by Ravilious and Bawden. Can you think of a more perfect marriage?  Please save the date – opening July 3rd and running for 10 days.

And I hope to be a bit more revealing next week.

19 comments on this post


I love grass cloth wallpaper. Can’t wait.

Waiting breathlessly – can’t wait to see what Rita has to say about your place and see the changes. Please do let those of us who can no longer get a paper copy of the NYT (sniff sniff) know when it publishes.


Is the lacquer chimney piece going back up and have you made thicker wooden shelves in the niche on the left?


Dear Ben, Re potted plants: may I recommend (though the author is probably well known to you) the excellent Living With Plants by George Carter. Re the NYT: we, your readership, know our place! Best wishes, Nicola


I saw JC’s digs in a shelter mag a few years ago. Loved it madly.



I am so glad that ther is such warmth out there for geraniums and pelargoniums.
I have had a love of them ever since reading The Little White Horse as a child. I have these lovely flowers on the go all year round, especially the salmon-pink ones. (You have to read the book to understand why).

Lovely, lovely blog Ben. It makes my dull office job an awful lot more colourful.

Ellen Bernsteinsays:

Do you have any idea when the NYT will publish? I don’t want that to be the only morning I fail to read my NYT. I’m hoping for a multipage spread in the Sunday Times Magazine to be followed shortly thereafter by one featuring Ben Pentreath in Dorset.

Vert special eye candy


Dear Ellen I’m not quite sure yet but I think quite soon! I have to file my words by Friday 🙂


And I will probably be known to send a tweet or 2… x


Love your blog especially in May makes me miss England like crazy. Am fascinated by the Fonthill story. the Ed Klutz paintings perfectly capture the mystery of the place. Next time I’m enroute to South Somerset I’ll be swerving off the 303 to take a detour to the village to wander around that beautiful area.


It’s a fantastic detour…!

first tangier and hone’s home and now mr. conran? you lucky duck! thx for sharing some of the magic with us!

Well, Ben, there is no embargo on the Old Parsonage, I hope? We always love pix from Dorset. Have you laid the new carpet in your dining room yet?

BTW, have you seen “One Man’s Folly” by Julia Read, about the wonderful houses of Furlow Gatewood? Recently published, and to die for!!

I got my copy of Powers’ “Living with Books” and you are right, it is full of inspiration and delights. Thanks for the tip!




Diane, I will be looking for a copy soon! Thanks B


Dear Ben P, I currently have a new obsession, geraniums and pelargoniums … for indoors; this was an obsession of mine in the 80s (inspired by Elle Decor, Jane Cumberbatch and others who used them elegantly in their Spitalfields homes. I copied.) Then it disappeared from my life in the 90s. Don’t know why. Now I love them again. Especially whites, pale pinks, magentas. Something about old terracotta garden pots in a smart interior, which seems to bring it all down to earth nicely. Also, other vessels, especially blue and white, and copper. V nice. Plus, they are amazing value, lasting for years if looked after, and ever changing. Most importantly, they are gorgeous, and the scented ones add even more. Have seen Jasper C’s gorgeous house plants. Am I allowed to request a whole post dedicated to the beauty of the potted plant? Perhaps other feel the same way? sbw


THAT is a perfect idea for a post 😉

yes Ed Kluz’s painting is beautiful. I’m lucky enough to own one of his prints – the Dunmore Pineapple, and I love it dearly. Looking at the pictures of the Fonthill gate I’m struck that for all it’s Neo-Palladianism there’s a definite influence of Vanbrugh, don’t you think? Especially the piers.


Very much. I can never quite define the line between the two, and personally I much prefer Vanburgh!!

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