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|
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.
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 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.