In a New York State of Mind

14 November 2016
Ben Pentreath

Charlie and I are back from the most wonderful trip to New York – we arrived home on Wednesday night, but it already feels like a dream. I’m sure I’ll have already written that there’s something strange about air travel – how it allows us to move so far, so fast – yet I read once that the mind can only really move at the speed of a walking person. So I think that part of us is still there. What an amazing few days we had – followed by an unreal election night. We watched the results in a small bar in the West Village, the New York Times’ prediction meter starting our evening with an 85% certainty of a win for Clinton, and slowly, unbelievably, dropping the other way. Around midnight, on our way home, Charlie and I took a taxi up to Times Square, just to have a glimpse of the atmosphere there (tense: the results were clear but nothing had been declared) before returning to our hotel, packing, and setting the earliest alarm clock ever for the flight home. A surreal night. Extraordinary times.  If I am completely honest, I wasn’t surprised by the final result.

We had arrived a few days earlier to get ready for my book party which was going to be on the Monday night. New York was bathed in the warmest November I think I’ve known there, the city basking in sunshine, sparkling from every corner, every day we were there.  Incredible.p1060769

We took many trips up and down the High Line, staying as we were at the Highline Hotel, and walking down to see Valentina in the village.  The High Line has settled and matured hugely since my last trip – it really is the best place. p1060772 p1060780

The Village was perfect, russet toned, autumnal.p1060788

This photograph, snapped from the High Line early on Saturday morning, reminded me of a painting by Edward Hopper, reimagined for the 21st century.p1060790 p1060792

We were on our way to meet Valentina to take her dog Daisy to the Dog run. p1060806 p1060807

A completely fun New York start to the day.

We walked to breakfast in the Village. 18 years ago, when I lived in New York I worked on the restoration of these the two townhouses. The stoops – the tall flight of steps to the front doors – had been removed in the 1950s and were completely new, as was all the ironwork, and the tall double doors. It was wonderful to see the houses settling in to the streetscape as if nothing had happened at all.p1060825 p1060832 p1060837 p1060840 p1060861

We were heading up to Grand Central, to catch a train.p1060871 p1060872 p1060876

Destination: Connecticut, where we were visiting the beautiful studio of the potter Frances Palmer. I’d bought some of Frances’s wonderful pots for Charlie’s Christmas present (don’t worry, it wasn’t quite a surprise, as he’d chosen them…) and she’d invited us out for lunch.  It was an exciting day.p1060888 p1060890

Frances’s studio, an old timber-framed barn, beautifully restored, happened to be laid out for her once-a-year studio sale that was happening the following day. Tantalising.p1060899 p1060900 p1060905

If you don’t know Frances, then do visit her website – or better still, I suggest following her on instagram where she posts beautiful photographs of the pots arranged with flowers from her garden. The dahlias, sadly, had been hit by frost about a week before we arrived. Still beautiful, though.

We returned, carrying a few more pots, back to Grand Central, and walked back through busy New York streets to Chelsea.

It’s the tiny details of this city that I love:p1060922 p1060926 p1060935 p1060936 p1060948

A perfect Saturday evening at Valentina’s catching up with old friends. Bliss.

On Sunday we woke to sparkling sunshine and headed down, first, to see the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Centre.
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The memorial was extraordinarily powerful. I hadn’t been to the site of the towers since that dreadful day. p1060987 p1060989 p1060991

Next door, the newly opened Calatrava Transit hub:p1060999 p1070001

This made me smile… windowlene left on a ledge:p1070002 p1070005

And we made our way back up through Tribeca for coffee with a friend in the Village, and brunch with friends.p1070007 p1070022 p1070029 p1070030 p1070031 p1070034

After lunch, a trip over to the East Village. We called in at the La Guardia Corner garden, which I must admit, in the 5 years when I lived here, had never, ever been open. So it was nice to get inside!p1070053 p1070055 p1070056

We called in to John Derian’s incredible shop, the best shop in the world, really, which was looking its usual beautiful self.  And of course John was there, and it was great to see him!p1070068 p1070082

At dawn on Monday morning, Charlie and I went to the flower market. We were getting flowers for the table for the book dinner that night.
p1070099 The morning sparkled brighter than ever before.
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Back on the High Line:p1070110 p1070115 p1070116 p1070117 p1070121

We were setting up tables at the Coffee House club.  There’s the huge table cloth with our favourite fabric from Soane Britain:p1070133

You can see photos of the finished table setting over on the website of Architectural Digest, who were incredibly generous in hosting the event at the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. Neither could have been kinder or more welcoming.  I gave a little talk about some of the stuff we’re up to in the office; then conversations and questions, and a happy, raucous dinner which ran long into the night on the eve of election day.

Time had flown.  I was having lunch near Central Park on the Monday, so we had the briefest wander through the park, which was looking spectacular. So different being uptown.


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And then I met Charlie down in Soho, and we wandered lazily through what I think are the most beautiful streets in the whole of New York City as the sun gently settled.p1070153 p1070154 p1070156 p1070161 p1070168p1070167 And the light faded, and dusk fell over the great city, and a thousand memories flooded back – this place I called home for five years, and loved, and still love, to the bottom of my heart. It had been a magical few days.

Blinking into the dawn on Wednesday morning, we left to come back to a London that feels somehow a little less exciting, a little drab, a little less energetic by comparison. That mood lasted two or three days… perhaps because my brain was still there? But we’ve had the best weekend ever in London, rain pouring all day on Saturday, incredible sunshine all day on Sunday, and taking Mavis for a walk down towards the city, we wondered at the sparkling, older beauty of our own place that we call home.

Thoughts this morning with New Zealand.

18 comments on this post


A few too many blocks of windows and fire escapes for me, but really enjoyed the glimpses of nature amongst them. Thank you also for the introduction to the instagram of Frances Palmer – if one is ever stuck for what to do with some blooms, she has the answer for sure. Good to have you back in Blighty. Congratulations on what will be another great tome;(Christmas present, so can’t comment further). Best, Nicola


Me too Katherine! I am passionately in love with New York for all of the reasons in Ben’s blog. I was lucky enough to be seconded to the Pan Am building for a month in 2003 and it was one of the best times of my life. As with you Ben, I wasn’t that surprised by the outcome of the US election, like I wasn’t that surprised about Brexit.

Isla Simpsonsays:

Sigh of huge admiration for Frances Palmer. I’ve been a big fan of her work for years, would love to visit her studio one day. NYC is perfection at this time of year, best time to visit.

Mary Jane Glasssays:

I would truly love to hear your thoughts more fully expounded upon regarding our election. It seems a bit frustrating that you said you were not surprised by the results. If you are reticent because you don’t want controversy to harm your blog, perhaps you could just give it a try; this group seems so collegial and respectful, so it might do us all some good to talk in this particular forum.


I grew up across the river in a town with a special street high on a hill known for its Manhattan skyline view. I also got to spend an incredible semester in London (more than a few) years back. Lots and lots to love about each city, but New York wins out for me. Your photographs celebrate the building facades, stoops and crazy geometry that is Manhattan. And the light. I love how it alters textures and colors from moment to moment throughout the day. Uptown or down, you never know what you’ll bump into around the next corner. That’s the magic.

Thanks for this beautiful post.
Looking forward to your new book.

David Sanderssays:

Thanks Ben, the world seems to have been tipped on its axis lately; in our case quite literally – almost.

From a quake-hardened Kiwi.

Deborah Wagnersays:

Glad you enjoyed it. People seem to. My husband and I live just a two hundred miles away, but we can never bring ourselves to go there. It is just a beast compared to Boston and Cambridge, where we live. The Met Opera is the only draw to us, and we don’t even consider that to be worth the effort.


You captured NYC at it’s autumnal best. And my old “back yard” and so many touchstones. There’s nothing like walking from one end of NY to the other. When I moved back to NY after 2 years in London John Derian was the bridge between the two places. It embodied all the beauty that I missed about London. Thanks for sharing such a nice time.

Ashley Levisays:

I think this is one of your best posts yet. So nice to hear the love and enthusiasm for NYC in your words and photos.
Ashley C. Levi
Nashville, TN

Anne Guionsays:

What a lovely post! Such fabulous views of New York…taken in by someone with a very keen eye. It is a beautiful city and best seen from the ground on foot. I really enjoyed your lovely photos.
Happy Monday! Have a great week!
Anne Guion
St. Martin’s Gallery
JAckson, Mississippi


Another lovely post. New York is one of a kind! The energy is amazing.

Pierre B.says:

Thank you for sharing “your” New York. Your trip seems to have been the success you deserve.
You look radiant on the AD photo.


suddenly i want to catch a plan here in chicago and head to NYC, now! your photos are brilliant.
i am recently home after an extended time in dorset and share your feelings, just in the opposite direction.
congratulations on your second book


Great shots, yet again, Ben – and I agree with you that it’s all about the little details in New York. Love the High Line, too. Maybe you should nip over to Brooklyn next time you’re over there. My brother lives off Prospect Park with his family and it’s a wonderful area. He introduced me to John Derian many years ago and I agree – one of the best shops anywhere!


Congrats on the second book, well done!
Your snapshots make Manhattan look amazing. Sorry to have missed you while you were on this side of the pond…

best to you (and C, and m).


Lovely account of what seems a wonderful time. As always to capture the essence beautifully.


Brilliant photos and makes me feel homesick for a place I’ve never lived and visited only once!


My husband and I both live in London and love it, but we also feel about New York the way you do. Before we had children we went at least twice a year and we have been back with 2 little tots too. Our 10th wedding anniversary is next month and we were debating a small trip in Europe or NYC. After reading about your trip, it’s going to have to be NYC. Thanks so much for sharing. Caroline

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