Peo­ple who live in class houses

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Interiors -

Eleanor Doughty picks up dec­o­rat­ing tips from the Duchess of Cam­bridge’s de­signer

At first glance, the sunny kitchen in this flat in Queen Square, Blooms­bury, re­sem­bles any or­di­nary kitchen. Look down, how­ever, and you’ll find the floor is painted a pale, gloss pink. Or­ange Le Creuset pots lit­ter the shelves and ar­chi­tec­tural sketches adorn the dark green walls. This is clearly the home of some­one with good taste.

Its owner, Ben Pen­treath, is the master of clas­sic English in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion. A favourite of the aris­toc­racy, he has built up a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing among the own­ers of the na­tion’s smartest homes, and his new book, English Houses, the se­quel to 2012’s English Dec­o­ra­tion, af­fords us a glimpse into this pri­vate, rare­fied world.

For English Houses, Pen­treath per­suaded 10 of his friends to open their houses. He in­cludes his own homes: the flat in Lon­don, plus a Dorset par­son­age that he shares with his hus­band, gar­dener Char­lie McCormick. The book high­lights the art of “mak­ing things look as if they have been there forever”. His so­lu­tion to this is sim­ple: “Don’t worry about things match­ing and don’t tidy up too much.” Mu­sic to the ears of lazy dec­o­ra­tors ev­ery­where.

Pen­treath be­gan his ca­reer work­ing for Royal fam­ily-ap­proved ar­chi­tect Charles Mor­ris, and later opened his own ar­chi­tec­tural studio. He revamped Kens­ing­ton Palace and An­mer Hall in Nor­folk for the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge. In 2008 he opened a de­lec­ta­ble home­wares shop, Pen­treath & Hall, with a friend, the dec­o­ra­tive artist Bri­die Hall, in Lamb’s Con­duit Street, Blooms­bury.

Nat­u­rally drawn to English Clas­si­cism, cit­ing David Hicks and Christo­pher Wren as his in­spi­ra­tions, Pen­treath de­scribes his taste as eclec­tic. He re­jects the con­fines of a one-size-fits-all style. “I hate the idea that there is any sort of ‘pre­scribed’ good taste,” he says. “Too much good taste is bad taste. As Dorothy Draper said: ‘I al­ways put in some­thing wrong as a talk­ing point.’ ”

The pink kitchen floor was an act of spon­tane­ity: “I sud­denly thought I’d just paint it pink one day.”

As a na­tion, he says, we need en­cour­age­ment to use colour in our homes. In the book, Pen­treath praises the Cor­nish home of gar­den de­sign­ers Ju­lian and Is­abel Ban­ner­man, which is painted in “burnt or­ange, sky blue, lime green, daf­fodil yel­low and turquoise – rich, cheer­ful shades that have noth­ing to do with the sub­tle oh-so-taste­ful soft greys that have dom­i­nated English in­te­ri­ors for too long now”. These please no one, he says.

“Much of my time is spent coax­ing peo­ple into loving their own taste, which gen­er­ally, when one gets into it, is not for the soft pale grey colour that de­vel­op­ers choose so as to of­fend no one.”

Pen­treath’s vi­sion of the English home is not a prim show­room but a bit of a hotch­potch. In his book he ap­plauds the in­te­ri­ors of the Ja­cobean great cham­ber at Her­ringston, a manor house out­side Dorch­ester be­long­ing to Ray­mond and Pollyann Wil­liams, de­scrib­ing its bed­rooms as fea­tur­ing “that peculiar mix of un-done-up chintzy clut­ter that de­fies any dec­o­ra­tive style”.

He also in­cludes the north Dorset home of the em­i­nent an­tiques dealer Ed­ward Hurst and his wife, Jane. De­spite its owner’s oc­cu­pa­tion, this isn’t a mu­seum, says Pen­treath. In­stead, it is a “chaotic, ever-so-slightly ram­bling fam­ily home” where some rooms are done, oth­ers not yet be­gun. This hap­haz­ard, step-by-step process of dec­o­rat­ing needn’t cost the earth, Pen­treath in­sists. “The three most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ents in a room are books, pic­tures and plants, which you can grow your­self.” Fur­ni­ture shouldn’t be pri­ce­pro­hibitive. “A beaten-up Vic­to­rian chest of draw­ers has never been cheaper, often cheaper than new fur­ni­ture that has no value the minute it leaves the show­room.” To find such pieces, he ad­vo­cates trawl­ing lo­cal auc­tions – “the real pre­serve of cheap”. But it is worth in­vest­ing oc­ca­sion­ally. “So­fas are worth spend­ing money on, as you’re go­ing to sit on them for a long time.” There’s no rea­son, ei­ther, why you can’t achieve beau­ti­ful coloured walls on a bud­get, when “a can of Du­lux is £15”. As for what’s go­ing on the walls, “if you can’t af­ford framed pic­tures, buy old frames from a junk shop and stick pho­to­copies in there”.

For any­one start­ing a home from scratch, Pen­treath ad­vises bold colour. “It’s a great way to bring char­ac­ter where there isn’t any. Start build­ing it slowly, don’t rush. Re­mem­ber that lovely dec­o­ra­tion takes time.”

This is a phi­los­o­phy he abides by in his own home. “Char­lie and I are con­stantly chang­ing things, mov­ing a pic­ture from here to there or cram­ming in fur­ni­ture to make room for new stuff.” Flex­i­bil­ity is es­sen­tial when it comes to the home, he says. Af­ter all, a room wasn’t built in a day.

by Ben Pen­treath is pub­lished by Ry­land Peters & Small. It is avail­able to read­ers for £25 in­clud­ing p&p by tele­phon­ing Macmil­lan Di­rect on 01256 302 699 and quot­ing the ref­er­ence HU8 £19, by Le Creuset ( john­ £175, by Pen­treath & Hall (pen­

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