The nicest thing about the blog

26 May 2014
Ben Pentreath

… Is the rare experiences that it brings from time to time.  This was an email that I received not too long after writing the other day about that great book English Style.

I am not sure if you got an earlier appreciative e-mail I sent for your kind words about my 1967 book ‘English Style’. Anyway, I was most grateful and should certainly visit your shop soon and, if you are there, perhaps I could take you to lunch? In any case I’ve joined up for your blog and am now inspired to restart my own which someone of your commentators said was lively! Alas, I stopped it three years ago when one of my daughters got gravely ill and required my full time attention. But you’ve made me think about it again

Kind Regards, and again thank you,

Mary Gilliatt

You see what I mean? It really is a nice thing. So we made plans and on Thursday, in between torrential thunderstorms and one or two equally stormy meetings (it must have been something in the air that day), Bridie, Will and I took Mary for lunch at Cigala, opposite the office and shop, over on Lambs Conduit Street. It was one of the most civilised moments I’ve had in a very long time. Mary is completely brilliant. We talked and talked about every decorator under the sun. She knew them all. Billy McCarty was, I think, her favourite; we learned everything you might want to know about Princess Margaret, David Hicks, Terence Conran. As lunch came to a close, all too soon, we whipped out several copies of English Style for signatures, and Mary & I had a little book-swap. I’m now engrossed in her brilliant memoir, Fabulous Food and Friends, which we all agreed (she brought it up) had a not very good title (not her choice) and a worse cover but do NOT be put off.  I can’t wait for Mary’s blog to restart.  I don’t think it will be very long. If you like reading Inspiration, I think you’ll find it’s a staple.

So this is a blog about three books.

My next Mary purchase, from Abe books, was A House in the Country. Quite a few more copies of this around, I think.P1030199

Obviously it lives in Dorset but you’ll understand why it’s in London this week. It needed an autograph.


Mary, you old flatterer…

More beautiful typography, and photographs:


Totally cool:P1030203

Serene; further views of the house owned by William Scott:P1030204 P1030205 P1030206

Terence Conran:P1030207

A stone farmhouse in Somerset with beautiful decoration by the owners Sir Brian and Lady Horrocks:P1030208

Angus Wilson’s cottage in East Anglia:P1030209

The gothick cottage Ornee at Audley End. I went there years and years ago:

P1030210 P1030211 P1030212

Decoration by David Hicks in Kent:

Comfortable Country:P1030214 P1030215 P1030216

One of the most beautiful houses I ever went to was this one, owned by the architect Jim Cadbury Brown and his wife, Betty. I was taken to see them by my friend Alan Powers, and we sat in the garden and drank Whiskey sours:
P1030217 P1030218

Something about this house reminds me of my grandparents’ house on the Beaulieu River. In vain I keep on asking my family if they have any photographs. DO YOU HAVE ANY PHOTOS?P1030219

Anyway, quite a book. We love Mary.

So, now for this week’s second book.  Did you notice my friend Robert Gladden’s comment on the English Style post? About that other perfect book from the mid 1960s? First Slice your Cookbook.


It was written by Lady Arabella Boxer, daughter of the Earl of Moray. Now the strange thing is, the current Earl is our client over in the architecture office. We’re designing a new town for Moray Estates, near Inverness, which you might find me writing about from time to time, and in decoration Luke & Lucy and I are also working on remodelling their romantic castle. So I must remember to ask. Aunt or cousin, or something?

Here she was. COOL cover.



Even cooler cover when you take the slip case off.

Other blogs will write better than this one about Arabella, or her recipes. Obviously we’re all just here because we just love the flipping design. (Literally flipping, you will see what I mean).


Perfect Typography.  The book, incidentally, is set in Bell Monotype.  It was designed by her husband Mark Boxer, who went on to become the famous cartoonist Marc.


The crucial bit comes in the next instruction, about colour coding. Read carefully:


Because then the book quite literally slices into three:

P1030179 P1030180

The colours and typography are insanely beautiful:P1030182 P1030183

The drawings by Alan Cracknell are a perfect period piece:P1030184 P1030185 P1030186 P1030187 P1030188

The recipes are beautifully simple too.P1030190 P1030191 P1030192 P1030193 P1030194 P1030195 P1030196

Perfect. I remember my Mum cooking from First Slice your Cookbook all the time. In fact, it’s probably one the earliest books I can actually remember. P1030197

I recommend you find a copy if you don’t already have one.

Book number three, by contrast, was published just the other day. I suspect it won’t necessarily be blogged about in 50 years time, but it’s brilliant for right now. “What the hell is that and why don’t I know it?” was almost the first thing my friend Rita said last week when she came round to the flat. It’s got one of those covers you can’t ignore.


I’m a bit jealous of Decorate Fearlessly! It’s brilliant.

P1030221 P1030222

For a start there is no text, just captions. Can you imagine? Just how I like a book to be (remember, I bought a poster by Andy Warhol in Stockholm that says I never read books, I just look at the pictures). There’s gloss blue from Miles Redd:P1030223

Brown and yellow from Mary McDonald:P1030224

And you can’t really go wrong with Eric Cohler’s Manhattan living room can you?P1030225

You see what I mean?P1030226 Well, we’re decorating a house up in Hampstead. It’s a lovely old arts and crafts building and we’re working with the owners and their architect on the restoration. But we’ve been thinking a lot about the basement pool that is being built. It started life a little bit deco. Then went for the New York gym-meets-Soho-loft look. Worthy, but, um, just a bit predictable. “What about a crazy 70s interior?” I said. No-one really got what I was talking about. The idea was quietly dropped.

So what a joy to open up this double-page spread (Jonathan Adler’s living room) just as I was discussing a few house ideas with Becky, the owner. “THAT’S what I wanted to do in your pool”, I said. “70’s glamour pit.”

Well, 70’s glamour pit it is.  A pool for parties, not for exercise. It’s happening. And it’s going to be fun.P1030229

Okay, okay, I’m not completely mad about the next room, but I am mad about the yellow zebra print cushions, of course (read about it here if you don’t already know):P1030231

As I am about the green palm leaf paper viewed through the soft pink archway:P1030232

Or Stephen Gambrel’s powder room:P1030233

It’s not necessarily what you’d do, but I love the attitude:P1030234 P1030235 P1030236

If anyone can tell me this wallpaper they get a bonus prize:P1030237 P1030238

Cool, huh?  But then as you know, I love a bit of Josef Frank Svenskt Tenn:P1030239

I know there’s an embargo on out there, but here’s my own bit of fearless decoration. And that’s a sneak preview of one of our Pentreath & Hall Fine Cell Work cushions, stitched by prisoners… which are looking incredible. We photograph the prototypes next week and they launch this autumn at the London Design Festival… P1030240

Watch this space.

26 comments on this post


I found a copy of ‘Fabulous food and friends’ for 1p plus postage.An intriguing mix of Mrs Pooter and Jennifer’s diary, for those of you old enough to remember that. How the other half lives. Now that many of the people mentioned have passed on perhaps we can look forward to an unexpurgated edition.

Margaret Powlingsays:

Lovely post, Ben, but Mary’s book now unavailable on Abe, sadly. Dare say all those reading this have snapped up the last copies!
The last book, on decorating … attractive, but those rooms would drive me insane … nowhere calm on which to rest the eyes.

Fabulous post!!
I’m off to find copies!

Loved it
Thank you so much for sharing.

Dear Ben,

What a treat reading about Mary and getting an email from her and then enjoying a lunch together. Mary’s was one of the first books I bought and made me want to become a designer. I still have that book too!

Now you all have to come and visit me for a British get together in San Francisco!


Ben, this post has certainly been a bibliographic feast! All those books, all those beautiful rooms. How nice that you’ve connected with Mary G, that must be a thrill. I am currently immersed in Howard Slatkin’s book, Fifth Avenue Style. Talk about over the top–not a surface left undecorated, but what flamboyance! There is text as well as gorgeous photography, and it actually is interesting reading, not only for his observations on decor, brimming with wit. He owns a set of flatware that used to belong to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. His comment: “If flatware could talk, no?”

Sounds like I better wait to go on abe and look for a copy of A House in the Country!


I wonder if you knew that Salisbury museum are holding an exhibition about Cecil Beaton’s time at Ashcombe? (apparently re-creating the bed; nothing like Tracy Emin’s I’ll warrant).

Emlyn Stancillsays:

Oooh! I just snapped up the only copy of A House in the Country on Abe Books, I hope you already got yours! Thank you so much for this post, and for your blog. I adore it, and I loved MG’s as well – I’m so happy to hear you’ve encouraged her to start it up again. I’ll be in London for a few fleeting days in early August. Will you be closed up and adventuring or will we be lucky enough to visit your store? Keep up the wonderful work, I really get a lot of inspiration and joy from your blog (AND … I was given your book for Christmas this year and love it! Cozy Porn! (If there is such a thing).


I bought English Style the minute I read that post and love it — I see a lot of Tom Scheerer in the interiors, which may be why I bought the book so quickly, as I adore his approach to design.

And I see more of the bentwood armchairs in Terence Conran’s kitchen above, and there’s another pictured in English Style. Mr. Scheerer has the same in his kitchen in the Bahamas. I have a set of 6 that I found for pennies (the caning is in great shape but they are wobbly and need to be restored). Making this connection is, to me, ridiculously exciting. Don’t laugh.

Thank you for putting A House in the Country on my radar, I’ll look for it next. And I believe that wallpaper is by Sandberg — I remember blogging about it in my past life!


They’ve got that Sandberg tree wallpaper in green decorating part of the top floor of Liberty’s – looks amazing. Check it out if you’re passing. Top floor far corner.


Hi Ben – I work with Alex Papachristidis and the fabulous tree wallpaper is in his bedroom. Confirming Lolly’s comment above it is Raphael from the Swedish company Sandberg. Since we are on the topic of books, have a look at Alex’s sometime, The Age of Elegance. I think you’ll like it. Fairfax & Sammons worked with us on a few of the homes!


Hi Alice!! Hello from Instagram to here. That’s very kind. I LOVE the bedroom! And I will get a copy. A good blog in terms of results I have to admit.

Francesca Hobartsays:

Oh I am so pleased. As a self-confessed Ben Blog addict and someone who has known Mary since I was a child, I was the one who alerted Mary to your recent eulogy and I am very glad she followed it up.

Thank you. I do get an absurd amount of pleasure from your inspirations.



Thank you Francesca! That is totally cool. 🙂


The internet is the most amazing creature: I was the one who mentioned Mary Gilliatt’s blog, which I found because I was curious about her, having read your fulsome blog article about her, Ben, and I am so happy to read that that you met and enjoyed one another’s company.

I found a copy of her “English Country Style,” and it is an extraordinary and lovely book.

Thank you!


May, it was you – the internet is amazing isn’t it – it can be bad, but it can be REALLY good.

Delighted about Miss Gilliat as well. I also got a lovely e-mail from her and hope to meet up with her (and you all) when I am in London in the autumn. I picked up one of her books yesterday at our local “Book Thing” and was tickled to find it. It’s called “Setting up Home” and I can’t wait to get reading it.

I am a HUGE fan of Fine Cell! I wish they’d do something like that here in the States instead of just warehousing prisoners.

Hi Ben –
Will you providing making Fine Cell tapestry kits as well as cushions for those who like something to do in front of the tv all winter?
Thank you!!!


Oooh good idea I will talk to them…

I’ve been ogling Fine Cell work for a while now but it keeps slipping off the mental horizon before I can buy some. I absolutely love it and thank you for jogging my memory. Maybe now I’ll be galvanised into action.

And I shall also get the Decorating Fearlessly book. Then nip back to the UK, buy up a wreck and fling all manner of fearlessness about with gay abandon. Sounds like a plan.

Well, Ben you’ve made my day! Thank you for the mention! Arabella Boxer produced a second book – appropriately entitled ‘A second slice’. It’s ok – not as stylish as the first: no drawings. As for ‘A House in the Country’ I beat you to it and posted some images last week! I wish there had been more colour photos, but it’s still a lovely book. Perhaps you ca tell me if it’s THE Richard Guyatt’s cottage page 32?


Long time reader from the U.S. Have never commented before, but wanted to say I always enjoy the book suggestions. Led by the Land is one I never would have known about otherwise and thoroughly enjoyed. A book I’m semi-obsessed with now is One Man’s Folly: The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood. It does have text, but plenty of amazing photos. Check it out Ben!


Dear Matt, thank you! Not the first comment to mention that book. I think I better get a copy! 🙂

oh yes to that 70’s glamour pit! and the berry and chartreuse colored bedroom. (big sighs!)

great post – thx!!!


The Glamour pit is going to be SOOoooooo cool! 😉


I am delighted that Miss Gilliat is back in vogue again thanks to you – I treasure my many books of hers. I look forward to her blog. Please keep finding these great books! (I do believe the wallpaper is Sandberg Raphael)


Lolly! Thank you! I knew someone would know but I didn’t guess it would be the first post!

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