Week of contrasts

24 November 2019
Ben Pentreath

It’s been a week of contrasts.   I can’t really make the connections between the dots, except by a narrative of very separate events and moments.



On Wednesday, I had the good fortune to be asked to a small view of the Antony Gormley exhibition at the RA, just before it closes this coming week… and it was amazing, as you can expect, to see that beautiful and thought-provoking exhibition in empty rooms….

A dream world, of the mind, pushing boundaries.



Then, that very evening, a few hundred yards away, it was the opening of the wonderful townhouse that we have designed for J. P. Hackett at 14 Savile Row. It’s been an amazing building to work with, such beautiful interiors and such history (it was for many decades the home of Hardy Amies) – and such fun clients. Here is the emerald green gloss club room which we created out of a warren of dark and dingy offices at the back of the house. Pop in for yourselves any time now. It’s officially open!



But I had to tear myself away, and take the late train to Dorset, because on Thursday morning, in Devon, it was the funeral of my dear uncle Mike. Gosh, what a year it has been.  Michael died two days before my own father’s memorial service. But it was a quiet, gentle and beautiful service, just like him, and as much as in celebration as in sorrow….



That evening, I arrived back in London. On Friday, at crack of daybreak, I was heading to Prague for the day, visiting the apartment we are designing for lovely former clients from London.  It was so beautiful to be back there after such a long time – I visited Prague some 15 or more years ago now. Things felt like everything had changed, only to be expected…. and that nothing had changed too.  We walked around the city that evening before dinner, which our clients took us to – in one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in a very long time indeed.  Plain concrete floors, white walls, bare wood tables, gentle lighting, tables packed with locals and no choice at all as to what was on the menu that evening – just heavenly food, plate after plate.  My perfect sort of restaurant.  Especially the no choice bit. And before you ask, I don’t know the name!



But then, to Dorset, arriving in the gloom of dusk, late yesterday afternoon…. can  you imagine how good it was to walk in the woods and hills this morning? A soft, still, grey, murky autumnal air. The last of the beech leaves are glowing against the neutral greys, greens and browns of everything else. 

Our favourite hills.  The landscape wears its winter colours now.  Up here, my mind clears, the week makes sense of itself. 



And to finish, a final contrast.  Here are some photographs of a little boat, Bee, with a powerful history, that is being sold at auction by Sotheby’s in three weeks time – in fact, on the 12th December.  You might be a bit more excited by this boat than by the other thing happening that day (our general election, that is, for overseas readers).

Charlie and I have decided we’re not QUITE ready for a boat yet, in Scotland, although it’s on our dream wish list. But I have a feeling that you might be.

So, this is the out of the blue email I was sent last week, by someone from Sotheby’s, who I’ve never met, but which intrigued me greatly…

Dear Ben,
I have been following your Scottish adventures with huge affection and recognition.
Next month at Sotheby’s we are offering for sale a very special Scottish boat which I thought you might love hearing about. 
Her name is Bee. She was built in 1904 – possibly the last surviving Stroma Yole from Orkney. Originally commissioned by five crofters as an open boat to ferry food, equipment and livestock to and from the Mainland, across one of the most dangerous stretches of water in Europe, she was beached on the island after a bull stuck its foot through hull!  
Rescued and repaired in 1968, she is currently being cared for by the Berwickshire Maritime Trust under the careful stewardship of Johnny Johnston (a retired fisherman of 40 years). The Trust use her to teach traditional sailing skills but need to raise funds to repair their other boat, hence the sale of ‘Bee’. 
She is an extraordinary boat with a fascinating history. A boat built for work and tough seas but equally at home on calm inland waters.
If you would like a little sail in her next time you are up North please do let me know. Johnny would be delighted to take you out. 
I have attached a few images of Bee taken last month. Just in case you are tempted to take to the water!
With very best wishes
Lucy Brown


There. You see?  And I thought that would provide a calming start to the week, as well as teaching us a little bit about some of the themes of time and history and permanence that the last blog was touching on.

Who knows, is the next owner of this beautiful little boat reading the blog right now? I hope so.

15 comments on this post

Darlene Chandlersays:

Wonderful to hear about your busy schedule, so sorry to hear about your uncle. You have had quite the year. Lovely pictures of Dorset and loved hearing about your day trip to Prague. I shall venture to see the Green Room. as I am visiting London next week from Canada; and also will check out the last few days of that exhibit at the RA, if it is hopefully still on. I am also looking forward to the Christmas evening on Rugby Street and Lamb’s Conduit on my visit. We are heading for a bad bout of snow here tomorrow, so I am looking forward from a break from that in London and so lovely to see the green hills of Devon and the wonderful scenery I received in this blog.

Deborah Louisesays:

I’ve loved Gormley ever since I saw the Angel of the North in the opening scenes of Vera, and my husband and I happened upon his show at the Uffizi last May.

Bee is gorgeous. I have a soft spot for small, useful boats with tanbark sails. Should thy purse allow, buy her, because if you don’t, you will probably regret it.



A few comments: fantastic gorgeous green; I’ve probably seen enough of Mr Gormley’s body casts around the country!; buy the boat; one family event often sparks off another, weirdly, in our experience. Thank you for some beautiful pictures. Best wishes, Nicola

G. Haydensays:

What an excellent post!

and I like the Green Room very much.


Wonderful, as always, thank you.

Teddee Gracesays:

What a week, indeed! Your photos of Dorset are so beautiful and, interestingly as I’ve noted before, the landscape reminds me of northwest Missouri where I grew up. I can see why you return here to refuel. Keep us posted on the Bee if you learn who buys her.


Hello Ben,
Your photos always make me wish I lived in the UK. I will be there in February and hope to visit some of your countryside and shop. I hate to say it but, Australia just doesn’t have that special feel you experience in the UK. Please keep your blogs coming as they are so relaxing the wonderful.
Kind regards,


Thank you for the moments of calm, the smell of the sea on a sweetly named boat, the brambles and a walk on green paddocks with Mavis in the distance. i appreciate the many good things you share with us when all is so unsettled.

Diane Keanesays:

Ben, as life continues to feel like a long, slow tumble down a rocky hill, it is so pleasing to read a post from you and instantly feel better. Your wood and meadow photos are soothing and seeing the seasons change through your eyes never fails to put things in perspective. I can’t thank you enough for being there!

RE the boat, a friend used to say, “It’s not the things you buy that you think of with regret, it’s the things you didn’t buy!”

Hugs from Diane

Debra Mooresays:

Thank you for a lovely blog l really enjoyed your photos of the woods.Your writing and pictures always bring a sense of calm ironic really as you have such a busy life.We are going up to the Lake District this weekend to visit Blackwell Art and Crafts House and Holker Hall decorated up for Christmas have you been to these houses? We are planning to visit Scotland next year for the first time too. Your bog really is inspiration and you write so well it really is a joy in life thank you Ben.


Dear Ben,
thank you so much again for sharing your ‘contrasts’ with us.
Love this project for J.P.Hackett with its amazing colours !
All your wonderful autumnal photos are very beautiful and then this lovely boat ‘Bee ‘ with its also lovely sailor ! Hope it gets a nice new home in its home sea !
Have a wonderful pre first Advent week, the wonderful time of the year is coming …..
All best, Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂

Jane Goldingsays:

You should definitely get a boat; it adds a whole new dimension to living by the sea. We used to have a 1950s wooden fishing boat, similar to Bee, but motor powered, which I really miss. You can swim from a boat, have picnics on it, even fish from it if you feel so inclined, and have a wonderful time even if you don’t venture very far …

Laura Harrisonsays:

As always Ben, you pictures are a “tonic”, except for the art installation –I agree with another writer–unsettling & to me, a bit “creepy”. But as they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I really am amazed at how much you are able to accomplish and all the places you get to in any given week!! You do live a FULL and vibrant life! Glad you & Charlie, will now have the place in Scotland to help “recharge those batteries!”.


What a week you’ve had! I found the art exhibition to be unsettling… not sure why exactly but it’s off putting.
I hope “Bee” is able to stay in bonny Scotland,it only seems right. Lastly,condolences on the passing of your Uncle Mike;these things seem to happen in bunches.

Barbara Tollensays:

My gosh, I am always moved by your photographs, and astounded by the things you get up to! I check your blog every Sunday night (here in the US) in the hope that you have posted another chapter of your very interesting adventures. And I love visiting your shop whenever I am in London (next up, January). Thank you for taking the time to show your readers your part of the world. After many trips to the UK, I hope to visit Dorset and the surrounding area next fall – we usually head north, and have neglected the south. I plan to use your blog as a guide to rough out our itinerary. You are a gem, and an inspiration. All the best to you and Charlie.

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