Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Review + GIveaway - Ben Pentreath's English Houses + A Story

I am so excited to share with you all today a fabulous new book called English Houses: Inspirational Interiors from City Apartments to Country Manor Houses. It is written by Ben Pentreath. The photographs are by Jan Baldwin and it is published in the US by Ryland Peters and Small. 

Ben is an architect in London and co-owns the store Pentreath and Hall. Ben is also the author of a popular blog which I look forward to every week. Gorgeous photos of the UK. Sign up for it if you don't get it already. I think you will love it. You can also see more photos of several of his interior and architecture projects on his website here.  

Ben's first book was called English Decoration and it was published in 2012. I have spent many hours with that book - looking for bits of inspiration for decorating and design projects. When I heard Ben was writing a second book, I couldn't wait for it to be published. I received my copy English Houses which I had on order when it was first published in October. As when I receive any book in the mail, it is a good day. I cracked open the book and started slowly paging through the photos. 

There are 12 houses featured. The photos, by Jan Baldwin, are fantastic. There are overall room views and small vignettes so that you get the feeling of each space. Ben has divided the book into 3 chapters - London, Country, and Country Houses.

Each house is introduced by Ben with two pages of prose which really gave me the feeling of each home. He includes the history of many of the houses and also some stories about the owners who are living in them now. Each home is shown on 14 to 18 pages. There is no copy on each page to describe the photo. At the end of each house tour, there is a two page spread which shows a small thumbnail of all the photos and highlights the features of each room. There are little stories about the house, its objects or its inhabitants in each of these captions. This is a nice feature because the large photos are not compromised with blocks of type that cover pretty details as often happens in books. You know how book designers sometimes do that - they plaster some kind of colored box on top of just the thing you wanted to see and fill it with type. 

Here are some favorite spreads from English Houses. My photos do not do it justice. 

A giant cow head above a counter is from a butcher's shop

Gorgeous yellow walls

A handmade crochet afghan on the bed at top left; gorgeous kitchen

What a bathroom! And gorgeous chinoiserie wallpaper

In the past, I have traveled to the UK many times. In my current life, I can't do that so I rely on books and the internet to get my Anglophile fix. This book did just that. I can tell I will spend many hours with English Houses - re-looking at all the details of the fabrics, the colors, the architecture, the textures..... re-reading the stories and dreaming about what happens in each home. Each house is so different from the next but they all have that irresistible English vibe. Reading a book like this is such a pleasure and so different than looking at Pinterest or a web page. I can savor every small detail in the photos and really look instead of glancing and rushing into the next clicked rabbit hole. Holding a book in my hands is satisfying and feels like an indulgence. Everyone can use a little indulgence once in a while. 

As I was paging through English Houses - savoring each page, I got to a photo that looked strangely familiar to me. I wasn't sure where I had seen the chair before. The fireplace looked familiar too.  

Perhaps it had been in a magazine feature. I turned the page and I thought to myself - I think I have been there? How could that be? I could not have been to a house that is featured in one of Ben's books. 

And then I got to this photo spread of a kitchen. 

That sealed it - I had been there. I read on...... I discovered that the house that was featured was a house that I stayed in in the 90's when I worked for the yarn company. It was in Northumberland (far northern England on the east coast) and was owned by a woman named April. We had rented the house for a photo shoot location. In order to keep the house going and to cover the expenses, April had a location business and rented her home to folks who were looking for an English aesthetic for their projects. 

That house - in Northumberland - was a huge inspiration for me when I was working on the interior design of our own farmhouse in the early 2000's. It was very old and built of stone. 

The rooms were filled with old things - things that looked like they had been there and used for more than 100 years. The curtains on the windows were old and were fraying - but they looked perfect to me. That is where I learned that not everything has to be brand spanking new and in perfect condition. I learned that things look better if they have a little age and patina. 

While we were staying at the home, we were allowed to use anything in the house as props. Each room was a perfect back-drop for any product we had. The house was packed to the brim with interesting, weird British things - like wooden hands that were perfect as a prop for handknit gloves. There was a gorgeous fireplace where we did a sock shoot - with legs and socks resting on a fireplace bench. 

There were antique children's toys - I was sure the children who played with them had passed on many years before. The garden was gorgeous - carefully tended by the April's 80 plus year old mother. I think her name was Juliet. She gardened in Wellies, slacks, cardigan sweater and pearls. I will never forget her. 

And the kitchen - that kitchen - it was so welcoming and homey with a huge wooden rustic kitchen table, large white farmhouse sink (that is where I fell in love with those sinks), un-fitted cabinets, an Aga stove. Each morning, April would have breakfast for all of us staying there. And there were a lot of us - including models, hair and makeup person, photographer, photographer's assistant, stylist, and Pat Chew and I as representatives of the yarn company. Each evening, April would cook us all a fantastic dinner as if no effort went into it at all. She was so generous and kind and hard-working. In the evenings, I got to hang out in front of the fireplace sitting on down filled cushions on ancient chairs and finish projects for the next day's shoot. 

So not only is Ben's new book beautiful but for me, it now has re-kindled some special memories of a time when I had the good fortune to stay in a gorgeous bedroom in a giant old stone house in the north of England where -- when I looked out the window -- there were sheep and cows grazing outside and beauty was everywhere I looked. 

Thank you Ben for bringing all these beautiful homes into my life and for inspiring me to continue to tweak my home. And thank you to those homeowners who have kept those old homes up and shared them with the rest of us who never will have the chance to live in something so beautiful. It helps us to dream and continue to look for beauty. 

Here is another review of English Houses on the Architectural Digest blog - along with some better photos than mine and descriptions of the rooms. And here is a blog post about the recent US book launch of English Houses. What a party. Evidently Ben is Kate Middleton's favorite designer. I never knew. 

Here's what I have for one lucky winner - a copy of Ben's English Houses donated by the American publisher Ryland Peters and Small. 

Here's how you enter. Answer the following question in the comments section of this post: Tell me about a special memory or detail from a visit to a home or a place or things that is special in your home and conjures up memories.  

As always, please leave an easy way to get a hold of you - blog, email address or Ravelry id. US addresses only. 

Contest ends Monday evening November 21st at 11:59 p.m. Good luck everyone.

Contest is over - Elizabeth won who wrote: My paternal grandparents lived in the grand home that their grandparents built in 1864 with money gained during the gold rush out west. It had a beautiful cherry staircase, high ceilings and marble fireplaces but it was the bedroom I slept in when I stayed there that brings me peace to recall. The bed was my great grandmothers, with a towering head and footboard, floral carving and the most feminine of shape. A small writing desk was next to the window which overlooked Main Street so I could see the goings on at all hours. The fireplace would be lit on cold December nights during my Christmas stay and above it was a portrait of my great-great grandmother. I look like her and it would bring a smile to my face whenever I gazed up. Despite all of the romantic beauty of that room, it is the smell that I can recall the most. It was roses mixed with age and love that I can still conjure up when I close my eyes. I miss it. 


Betty in NC said...

I love love love old houses but especially rustic primitive houses. One memory I have was when my husband and I rented an 1800's log cabin for a weekend get away. Huge walk in fireplace, tiny bathroom, no tv, no wireless, but it did have a radio. We loved that little cabin and remember it with great fondness.

Karen said...

My special place/object is my dining room set. I have memories of hours I spent at that table when I was a child and it was in my grandmother's house. My grandparents got the table, chairs, and buffet when they got married in 1919--almost a century ago. The finish is worn off the corner of the buffet--grandma leaned on the furniture rather than using a cane or a walker in the house. I can still see her grasping that corner as she was heading past into the kitchen.

Frances said...

Kristin, I have been to that London shop and it is a gem, so I'm sure the new book will also be grand.

Somethings in my own tiny apartment that are very dear to me are boxes, and benches, and shelves that my late Father made for me using only hand tools and old recycled wood. Perhaps my favorite item is the framed mirror he gave me with the wooden framed cared with the inscription, Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?

xo to you and yours.

teal41 said...

I say anything to win this book.i want to say this this. A friend of mine has a house that some of her rooms look almost like this one. Only different in the color palet!

teal41 said...

I meant to say, I cannot say:

Anne said...

My grandparents were an architect and an interior designer, and their home was full of art, antiques, furniture, china, fabrics. A sensory delight of color and texture. One result is that I have never felt that I have to decorate according to current tastes. What I learned from them and from my mother is that if I have things around me that I consider beautiful, they will work together.

Anonymous said...

Love my old oak kitchen table.

Anonymous said...

We have lived in the same little ranch house for 46 years. Every room in this home holds memories of raising our family. Although the decor has changed over the years, our house is still our comfy loving home. It would be lovely to dream of beautiful rooms in others homes that hold their memories. Darrlaa on ravelry

Anna Conway said...

I visited a gorgeous home on an art studio tour just yesterday. The art-filled home was surrounded by an open air courtyard. The courtyard was used as an art studio for painting.

Molly said...

I love English houses! I would love this book! I'm inspired to clean and rearrange today just from looking at these pictures. One small detail that intrigued me when I was young and visiting my aunt is that she had a basket of walnuts by her fireplace near a comfy chair. You could sit at night and crack a few to snack on while watching the fire. Sounds small but the first thing I did when we finally got a house with a fireplace is put a basket of nuts nearby. Weird ... huh?

Goldie Stetten said...

Hi Kristen! I have three houses. The first one being yours, I was fortunate to stay there many years ago, I was so blown away by your prolific artistic influence over every single aspect of your home. The second would be Sally Lee's cottage on swans Island in Maine. The third being a cottage in the Cotswolds that is a B&B. It was the first time I experienced and aga stove, the English style of the house was so cozy.

Anonymous said...

As a widow who can only travel vicariously and who has never been to England but who appreciates everything that has survived the ravages of time your description of April's home and the book in general is breathtaking!
My small country cottage is full of memories from my childhood and I still have (and wear) some of my mom's clothing that goes back 60, 70 years ago. They don't make things like they used to!This is a gorgeous book and I would love to own it. Thanks as always for your generous offers. Roxanne

Diana said...

What a lovely review! I liked it because it was so detailed and personal. The house in northern England sounds heavenly. RE: Duchess of Cambridge...word is that Pentreath was the lead architect for her Norfolk property. I was able to stop in his shop back in 2008 and had the opportunity to meet him. Nice guy. So many good things have happened to him and his career, which is so good to see. I have so many house memories--my dreams are filled with them--but my happiest is of my grandmother's farmhouse in Vermont, where I lived as a young child. She had the most wonderful pantry; I'm pretty sure it was constructed of pine, and it had a built-in worktable with several pull-out flour bins below ... shelves filled with baking supplies, and a drawer down near the floor where she kept toys for the young grandchildren to pull out and play on one of the large rag rugs on the floor. Forty-five years later I can close my eyes and see it all perfectly. Nice trip down memory lane, thank you! Diana or Mom2o at Ravelry

Joanne LaCour said...

I didn't relialize I love architecture and the results of nature until I looked at my photos while in Ireland...we are just pebble in the really big picture...I has an appreciation for the past and how I wrap myself in it for my time stamp...I am just apart of the history....thanks Kristen...Happy Holidays to you, Julie and "The Farmer" well..

Whiffletree Farm said...

My paternal grandparents lived in the grand home that their grandparents built in 1864 with money gained during the gold rush out west. It had a beautiful cherry staircase, high ceilings and marble fireplaces but it was the bedroom I slept in when I stayed there that brings me peace to recall. The bed was my great grandmothers, with a towering head and footboard, floral carving and the most feminine of shape. A small writing desk was next to the window which overlooked Main Street so I could see the goings on at all hours. The fireplace would be lit on cold December nights during my Christmas stay and above it was a portrait of my great-great grandmother. I look like her and it would bring a smile to my face whenever I gazed up. Despite all of the romantic beauty of that room, it is the smell that I can recall the most. It was roses mixed with age and love that I can still conjure up when I close my eyes. I miss it.

Elizabeth Tilton
Alstead, NH

purlgreyhound said...

In the 1960s, when I was little, my maternal grandparents' home was a small, snug, stone house in Philadelphia's Lower Merion Township. The indoors smelled of eucalyptus, furniture polish, and scratch cooking. The staircase creaked. The rugs were worn. The bedsheets were crisp and sweet from the backyard laundry line. My French-Welsh Nana had working-class roots and an 8th grade education. She also had excellent taste, a keen eye for bargain antiques, and a clever husband who knew his way around the tool bench. (I can be reached via Ravelry, where my name is purlgreyhound.)

Julie Davidson said...

We rented a cottage this summer in England and it was so comfortable. We too, looked out of the windows at the sheep in the walled in orchard. We finally figured out how to turn on the heat and it was very cozy. I love visiting England.

Marianne said...

I love English style homes and this book looks fabulous. We own a 100 yo charming Cape and lucky to have many wonderful pieces that belonged to my grandparents. Thank you Kristin.

M said...

I have such good memories of going back to Europe to visit my grandparents in France. One set of grandparents had a house built for them with a top level built in a way that was strong enough to hold shelves and shelves of their favorite books, with window seating all around. The other set of grandparents had an old villa with empty maids' quarters behind a hidden door built into a bookshelf. The first room behind the door was also converted to a library, and behind that was a small bedroom in which my parents often slept when we visited. A back staircase led to a tiny, often frigid unheated bathroom containing nothing but a sink (that only spurted out icy water) and atoilet.

Both houses were in the country, so sheep were a standard sight and our mornings were always greeted by the roosters' crows in neighboring homes.

A castle stood right around the corner. A castle... Sigh.

Both houses were razed when my grandparents passed away, but the memories (even 40 years later) are still standing strong in my heart.

Venessa said...

I spent my early childhood in cottages in small villages in England. My dad was the one and only police officer and he raised the police dogs. When we moved to Canada I think I started right away trying to capture the small village feeling where ever we lived. We moved every two years during my childhood, and I have tried to resist that urge as an adult. I live in a small house in a beach side community now, and it serves as my fibre arts studio and home to a beautiful Bernese/Border Collie. I have pieces that I found in antique shops, second hand stores, and auctions since I was a teenager. Each piece has a story and is kept company by handmade textiles and fibre arts made by all members of our family. When my mum died many of her beautiful hand made pieces came my way, too. I truly feel that I am living with all my friends! I have followed you for years, knitting your patterns, and watching your house become so colourful! I love your kitchen table story the most. Your giveaway of English Houses book has stirred up my childhood memories and a life time of cozy cottage makings! Thank you so much for your inspiration, Kristin!

Lee said...

Thanks for sharing this! I immediately signed up for the blog posts. And what a coincidence that you had stayed in one of the houses. :)

katherine said...

This book looks marvelous. I have always loved houses since childhood when I drew them and when I visited my friends' and neighbors' houses. I still have memories of sights and smells from my grandparent's and my best friends' houses and that was many years ago. We live in an old farm house that is over 150 years old without much architectural detail but I love it most days and some days I try to love it. But it is full of so many memories and I decorate very similar to my Grandma Lucile without even thinking. Mostly with plants and old things. I just repainted an old wooden play kitchen set for my granddaughter that her Dad played with. Our house is full of unique old things,and modern things as well. I love your blog always and your creativity inspires me. I would love to come to an open house some day. We have 30 breed ewes that my children/husband raise so I admire your way of farm living. Take Care!

Mary Kate Witry said...

My husband and I went to the Shelburne Inn for breakfast years ago. My goal is to stay in that marvelous house on Lake Champlain at least once!
Mary Kate witry

Anonymous said...

My favorite house memories are from my childhood. Every summer we would drive from southern CA to Idaho to visit my aunt & uncle. Their house, in the cool Idaho weather, was always like an oasis for me. A respite from hot, smoggy CA. They had a small house, but it was always filled with warmth and laughter. They even had a basement, a novelty for me.

Thanks for all you share Kristin and your inspiration.


Diane said...

I am grateful to live in a 1,000 square foot cottage in a historic neighborhood in Tampa, my home was built in the 1920's. It is filled with collections from my husband and me. He is gone now, which makes his collections that much more precious (art books, American color photography from the 1960's, political figurines and buttons). Mine are not quite as valuable but still bring me joy, roosters, Steiff toys, silk scarves (well a couple of handknit scarves thrown in, too), and quite a yarn stash!!). I am also very grateful to have traveled to London and Canterbury once.

Anonymous said...

~ Years ago, my friend Pam & I visited the Mark Twain House in Hartford CT. The artistry & detail is so incredible.
"Livy had strong opinions about the design of her home; she drew sketches and sought the counsel of trusted friends on her ideas." Livy was the wife of Samuel Clemens. Its nice to know Livy had input on her beautiful home's design.

"Associated Artists were members of the Aesthetic movement‚ and were known for their exotic interiors. The first floor of the house is filled with design motifs from Morocco‚ India‚ Japan‚ China and Turkey." The woodwork is simply breathtaking. The tiles around all the small fireplaces are beautifully painted. I recall the children's Nursery Room to be particularly wonderful, as well as the Conservatory. The young Clemens girls called it "The Jungle." I highly recommend visiting if you can.

In my home, I enjoy my collections of handmade South American dolls, llama and alpaca toys created by artisans in Peru & Bolivia. At my computer desk lives an elephant from India with beautiful embroidery. I like pottery from Italy. Most people say that my house is whimsical. I decorate my goldfish bowls with a string of pearls, or have tiny hen, rooster and camel toys living in my plants, along with old marbles and glass gems. I've begun collecting Hmong embroideries, and enjoy textiles from many countries, esp India, South America and Sweden. I like vintage linens, with embroidery.

My home feels the most cozy to me b/c of all my nature treasures, books (vintage & current children's books & knitting books) and yarn !! I still have seashells collected from my 1st trip to the Maine ocean at age 13. My walls are painted yellows & oranges, with floral mixed fabrics and indigo or teal wood furniture. My furniture isn't anything antique at the moment, but its all recycled from other's castaways, so I like repainting it to give it new life. A unique old sewing table and an old secretary desk became wonderful items after painting.

Kristin, I LOVED reading all about the house you had stayed in. Some time ago when you mentioned Ben's blog, I read it for literally hours!!
... catching up on all the posts. I couldn't stop, it was just wonderful to see all the interiors, the gardens, and countryside. I always meant to write you and say how glad I was that you mentioned Ben's blog.

I know my comment is long, but I have to say I also just LOVE the image of the pinkish chair near the fireplace. It is so cozy & welcoming. That chair has character and personality and style. Right away, it feels like if that chair could talk, there would be hours of stories. It looks comfortable and loved.
Old items that have a story to tell are my favorite furnishings.

I would love Ben's new book. Its on my wish list!!
Thank you Kristin for always * always brightening my day with your posts.
Shell ~

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