All work and no play…

1 June 2014
Ben Pentreath

…Is no way to run a life. We all know it, but it’s hard to remember sometimes. I think it’s true that just now life feels busier than it has in a very long time. Sometimes – this is just a coalition of diary horrors… next week, I’m out of London for the whole week on this job or that one. Sometimes, it’s a perfect storm of jobs starting up at the same time. You can sort of plan for it, but never entirely. Do you know the feeling? Well, that’s where we are now. And then combined with the fact that we’ve run out of room in the office, but are not quite moving to Lamp Office Court for another eight or nine weeks… and you can see I’m rather looking forward to Autumn ’14. The office will be ten years old. We’ll have just moved to the new studio. And I’ll have just come home from what I’m hoping will be two blissful weeks in Greece.

For now – that’s all to come. All the more important therefore to switch off when you can. Well, we did this weekend. Best you don’t call Ben Pentreath Decoration at 9am tomorrow morning expecting us to be entirely on the ball. We might be a bit sleepy. The Decorators have had a weekend in Dorset.

We all made our way via various activities on Friday evening – Luke & Lucy from the Decoration office, Duncan, Luke’s other half, and of course Bridie, without whom nothing would be right. It had been quite a week for all of us. The solution was gin.

It was a beautiful soft misty evening. The valley looked like a Chinese watercolour.


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And a gentle dusk light was settling on the village.P1030289 P1030292 P1030295 P1030296

Friday night was a riot; the morning was ropey. Saturday slipped by quietly. I gardened and Bridie dozed while the  kids did a trip to Bridport. The afternoon saw us pottering down to Abbotsbury.  My favourite, unreformed, swirly-carpet-fish-n-chips-and-cheap-beer-pub, The Ilchester Arms, has been given a Gastro-pub-out-of-a-crate makeover. Disaster. I love a basic british pub with adequate food and reasonable service and a log fire. I can’t stand fake mismatched chairs around modern-made distressed pine tables and weird utterly false industrial lighting tacked to the ceiling looking as though they might fall down at any minute, and fancy menus where the food now comes stacked on the plate and the veg portion is measly. I know we’re fussy but can we have a stand against the endless standardisation going on here? Well, we had a very nice time nonetheless. The owner and staff are lovely. They were so nice, that I really couldn’t tell them how much I miss the crappy old pub.

We went to the Abbotsbury swannery. That could be a blog on its own, except I’d left my camera at home, and I really wouldn’t want to impose that on your Monday morning. It too was one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been in my life, and not in a good way. Swans are a bit creepy when you get down to it, but the swannery takes creepiness to an extreme level. Weird. The swan maze.  Swan feeding time at 4pm.  Tourist attractions in high season.  What were were doing? But, weirdly, we had a very nice time nonetheless.

We got home and the whole household descended into a deep afternoon sleep. And then it was time to get ready for dinner.
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Duncan’s superb home made tarragon mayonnaise. P1030306

A lot more gin:

Herb buttered chickens, prepared by Luke. delicious.P1030308

The dining room.

Okay – the walls are waiting for 100s of Piranesi engravings that I’m slowly slowly getting framed at the moment. But believe me the purple rocks. It is intense.P1030311

Radishes from the garden were nibbles.P1030313

My friends Edward and Jane Hurst had come over. Jane arrived with an ENORMOUS bunch of peonies from her garden. I cannot tell you how jealous I was. Who has enough peonies in their garden to bring this many over for dinner? Will you look at these? P1030314 P1030315


Also with us were Anthony & Harriet Sykes.  A long time ago I lived in the west wing over at their house in the next village. (You will find photographs in your first copy of the Farrow & Ball book).

Here are Edward and Anthony tucking deep into my copy of the Country Houses of Dorset. It won’t be an entire surprise that Edward was charmingly dismissive that I have the 1959 not the 1935 edition. A fair point. In fact I think I’ve got the real deal in the office. That’s my Parsonage copy.P1030319

Jane Hurst and Harriet Sykes formed an elegant pair during their fireside chat. As much as I love warm summer evenings, I love those that are cold enough to still need to light a fire.P1030320

Dinner was bonkers. I will not confess how many bottles we had consumed when it was time for Anthony and Harriet to say goodbye. Here is Anthony saying good bye to Lucy…P1030321

…and to Bridie… how to make a happy man.P1030322

The evening took on that magical moment. This is why I love dining rooms. Purple or not. There’s just something so… other… about the dining room – your experience is entirely enclosed, the outside world is left outside; life for that brief moment is entirely about friends, conversations, food, wine, smoking, pleasure. We were all transported.P1030328

I love the bleak debris of Sunday morning even more.P1030333 P1030335

And I love washing up hungover, transforming huge piles of washing up in to neatly stacked piles of creamware dishes, for instance:P1030337 P1030339

The stack providing Luke Edward Hall with, um, another potential subject to Instagram. Be sure to follow Luke’s instagram account here. It’s beyond beautiful.P1030340

Breakfast. Recovery. P1030343 P1030345

We left and meandered back to London via our clients near Salisbury… to inspect the beautiful Peter Hone wall in the staircase, recently installed… Do you not dream of things like this? P1030354

And tea in the garden with Lucy and Duncan, and their son Kit. Who really knows how to play.  So it’s really quite appropriate that the last word in this blog goes to him.


Kit and Ben

A blissful weekend. This is what life is all about. LIVING!

I hope you had a good weekend too.

25 comments on this post


I love the pink in your sitting room. Don’t suppose you can say what it is?


Dear Simon – it’s mixed specially by Patrick Baty of Papers & Paints, and I think that if you call them they’ll know exactly what it’s called. Either Pentreath or Parsonage Pink!! 😉


Lovely post, Ben — and I know my heart wasn’t the only one fluttering at the view inside your kitchen cupboards. How thrilling!


Ben you live a charmed life, how I envy you! Thanks for another beautiful post. It would be great to see a blog on Anthony & Harriet Sykes house. It looked rather wonderful on the Curious House Guest by Jeremy Musson many years ago. BW Alex


Loved the dusk and washing up with ecover. And knives in pots by sink. Also love the ochre of kitchen relieved by white and sweet baskets tucked under dresser And glassware and purple dining very spiritual. Not too impressed with guests putting glasses on books tut tut! I enjoy your posts and reading the comments especially about the gin and lime and grapefruit.

Indeed a blissful weekend. Well, you aren’t alone with the feeling of jealousy..those awesome peonies haunted me with the realization about my poor gardening skills :/
Would love to get some wisdom regarding peonies! Do you have any idea regarding the maintenance and bulk growth? Thanks sharing 🙂

Hi Ben, thank you for another blissful visit to Dorset, and with Bridie and your other friends.

BTW, Why are swans “creepy”? Other than their rather unfriendly temperament, I think they are quite beautiful. I visited the swannery website (what? No link?) and enjoyed the video of the cygnets hatching.

Totally agree about the specialness of dining rooms. Mine is a completely interior room (no windows) and when lit solely by candles, it is truly magical. Your purple one is wonderful by candlelight. I am dying to see the framed Piranesis.

Ben, please clarify: your post opens with Luke and his “other half,” Duncan, as well as Bridie and Lucy. It ends with—Lucy’s and Duncan’s son?? Am I misinterpreting something here? In any case, the photo of you and Kit is priceless!


Delightful humane post, although I read it when dinner was a long way off! I loved the pinkish Dorset Chinese landscape and picture of you and the small person in particular. Cheers, Nicola

Jessica Pearsonsays:

Lovely post, that reminds me to start looking for peonies in the florists. Does anyone know who made the dish with the scalloped edges in the dishes stack, I LOVE IT!


Looks a brilliant weekend Ben but I nearly passed out when I saw the gin glasses on the books, you get physically beaten around these parts if that should occur!! My peonies haven’t popped yet but will have armfuls when they do 🙂 x


I want a purple dining room so bad!
great post. loved every moment of it.


Tartan trews! Sartorial perfection for supper in the dining room.

I so agree with you Ben. The dining room is my favorite room in the house. So many good memories are forged there over dinners and lunches with good friends and family. When I purchased my home, that was my top priority, a dining room. I find it appalling that so many newer homes are eliminating a formal dining room, and instead inserting a breakfast bar area to kitchens instead. People tend to eat so horridly and hurriedly nowadays in everyplace BUT the dining room. OK, I’ve been caught nibbling over the sink in a hurry (breakfast), but for real meals, a dining room is a must.

Enjoyed your beautiful garden and home shots. Your weekend looked to be divine.

Jane Goldingsays:

Talking of cooking, do you have the lovely “Dorset Country House Cookery” by Venetia Ross Skinner? It contains a recipe from the Old Parsonage (Prawns with Cheese and Mushrooms … ). The occupants of country houses donated recipes in aid of charity, and there are delightful illustrations of all the houses. The Stuffed Cabbage from the Levant is very good!


THAT is how to spend a weekend. Loved every moment of this post.

Elizabeth Barrsays:

Thanks for including all of us in your lovely weekend. Is there any chance that we could get the recipe for Duncan’s tarragon mayonnaise?


OK, now that I’ve read the comments, I’m switching to GTs for the summer. I’ll sit on the back step with the dogs and watch the garden grow. Party on, my friends.


I could murder that breakfast! But it is the garden that really brings tears to my eyes. Although considering all we have is a container garden in a dense urban – think tarmac everywhere – environment, we have been eating and sharing a bumper crop of spinach and rocket for weeks now, the peas are in flower, the sweet peas are rising up the canes and the herbs are looking very happy) I managed to score a pair of those woven wicker cloches from Williams-Sonoma last week, so now I just have to figure out how to use them without buying the house next door in order to dig up the driveway and make a garden.

I was the lucky recipient of a mass of peonies over the weekend. The gardens from which they came are magnificent and their peonies were even more spectacular! You can see it here.


“…and of course Bridie, without whom nothing would be right.” Hear hear!

Ooh, I love a spot of gin. Have you tried the (fairly) new ‘The Botanist’ gin from the isle of Islay, (off the west coast of Scotland?) It is absolutely gorgeous……shame it’s a bit early for one just now…..

Nicola Barriesays:

Gorgeous! That is my kind of weekend….. except the mornings after are too sludgy to enjoy washing up with a hangover…. The house looks beautiful and peaceful – even more so with your friends enjoying it.

PS – I have discovered one advantage in living ‘over here’ (Australia). As I am reading your blog on Monday mornings when perhaps your readers in northern hemisphere are in bed…. I am often able to find/purchase one of your suggested books before they all disappear in a flurry of post Ben google purchases! Hooray!

Lawdy, but ain’t Dorset beautiful. Those initial photos do look like a Chinese watercolour but because I’m a clayhead they put me in mind most of water etched ceramics.

Peonies? I’d give my kingdom for a mess of peonies. Especially like the ones from the Hurst garden, all snowy white with just those flecks of carmine. Images of moons and virgins…

Yes, I do absolutely dream of Peter Hone walls. I need one for the hallway of a house in Devon, totally bastardised over the years, which I’m obsessing over from way across the world.

And I know so well the feeling of wishing to be past the clots of busyness, where a patch of clear blue time hovers seductively beyond, promising the ability to just breathe out and sink down and float…

But it’s good you had a wonderful weekend. Gin is the cure for everything. It is! Gin and tonic, gin and fresh lime, gin and pink grapefruit juice. Gin and anything. In a restaurant in Istanbul last year I spied a drinks trolley dedicated entirely to different types of gin. A new ambition was born.

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