Bible of British Taste
  • Houses
  • October14th

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    As some of you will know, architect and designer Ben Pentreath and plantsman, florist and collector Charlie McCormick live for most of the time in a small hamlet in West Dorset, although they have a London life as well. The dogs and their cat Henry live here too, and there has been talk of chickens. The two previous photos show Charlie’s flower room, in what was once Ben’s sort of drawing office, when it was hung with framed architectural designs and cast plaster plaques by Peter Hone. He’d been doing the party flowers for our friend Bridie’s Hall’s birthday in there, before shipping them up to London, mostly dahlias, but with a twist. The house has been photographed quite a few times before, but soon it will be in metamorphosis. Charlie and Ben will be sending stuff up to their new place on the western seaboard of Scotland, so this was a last chance to make a record of its full-up, glorious profusion, ‘as found’ and not tidied.

    When I arrived at the Old Parsonage there was a sort of harvest festival cornucopia going on at the front door.

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    The whopper  – or possibly its older brother – had been the toast of Dorset, having won Charlie more than one first prize at the local agricultural and flower shows in which he competes vigorously and joyfully each summer.

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    Sibyl and Mavis dashed round to join in, Sibyl always getting there first.

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    There was one fox glove hanging on. Behind is the little Victorian church where their marriage was blessed.

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    The garden was going into its green September plumage (except for the dahlia beds)

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    So we had a cup of tea and I began to take pictures ( this one is from my last visit in June or August)

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    Charlie was stewing and bottling the apple crop, Ben was absent, working, in London, alas

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    I like this gloss yellow that went up in the kitchen at least a year ago. The walls used to be off white, then Farrow and Ball’s Wet Sand. This is better.

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    ‘Three Classicists,‘ the architectural exhibition put on at the RIBA by Ben, George Saumarez Smith and Francis Terry ( HRH the Prince of Wales wrote the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, I wrote the introduction, it was fun). And the letterpress poster cum invitation for their wedding celebrations, a harvest-home summer feast held in a marquee on the cricket ground a few years back in 2015, followed by the glorious disco. Table flowers were brought by Charlie’s friends Bridget Elworthy and Henrietta Courtauld, aka the Land Gardeners , Live Camels! laid on by Ben

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    The china cupboard is groaning

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    with a growing hoard

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    This lovely horsehair sofa was in Ben’s mum and dad’s house on the Isle of Wight. It transforms the kitchen. But its needed up in their new smallholding in Scotland one day soon.

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    Charlie had put his winning certificates up edge to edge and they almost covered the dresser that Ben bought on ebay

    P1200854

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    Aga plus washing

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    Ben’s baby photo hangs by the door, unmistakable

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    next door, the dining room. As Ben describes, when he moved in, the builders stripped buckets of glue from the floorboards. Later the room had a brief moment of being painted an intense 60s purple, Victoria Plum, which divided opinion strongly. Charlie hated it ‘quite rightly,’ so they repainted in this eye-popping Cornflower blue.

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    Once a sober temple to the pleasures of the knife and fork, now a marvelous smorgasbord of ceramics bought at auction and from the stalls at Bridport market

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    seed harvested from the garden

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    Wedgwood and generic candlesticks, a contemporary Ionic column creamware version was reproduced for sale with Pentreath and Hall

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    In the stone flagged hall, Mavis was patiently waiting…

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    at the bottom of the stairs. Charlie was up there somewhere. The wallpaper is Malahide by David Skinner, based on a C19th original.

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    Sibyl was hanging about too

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    coyly posing for the camera with her smoochy, kohl-rimmed, young Princess Margaret look

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    Together we withdrew to the drawing room where she chewed a stick to matchwood and I carried on

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    Yellow sofa from Max Rollitt

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    Charlie’s botanical prints, huge vintage kelim cushions. The walls are Parsonage Pink, mixed by that brilliant ex-guardsman Patrick Baty.

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    The ottoman loaded with books, Jasper Conran’s iconic Country, Haute Bohemians, Pleasure Garden magazine (Charlie writes for it), The Private Gardens of England and Ben’s excellent second book, English Houses.

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    In the window bay the C19th Howard armchair that Ben bought at auction and reupholstered in a blue antique linen by Polly Lyster, with its deep bullion fringe

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    Looking towards the hall and kitchen

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    Staffordshire china spaniels sit on almost every chimney piece, friendly appealing household gods. The Regency marble chimneypiece is from Jamb.

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    More books on the grand piano including Charlie’s albums of pressed seaweed specimens

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    More books

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    I counted sixteen – sixteen! – units of seating in the drawing room, which seems nicely convivial. Only this one chair was broken, waiting for the menders

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    Charlie’s photo album of corgi pin-ups

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    My well-thumbed copies of Ben’s books, Three Classicists, English Decoration and English Houses, the latter two have become classics in the canon of ‘ English taste, and ‘how to get the look.’ The Old Parsonage features in both, but in English Houses Ben writes, ‘One of the things that has made me happiest of all is the way in which Charlie has made the Parsonage his own; both in the garden, where he is in the midst of creating an extraordinary work of art that is scented, multi-textured, richly coloured, and in the house, which has never felt so friendly and alive. The Parsonage has  been transformed by becoming a shared space… Charlie has turned the house into our home.’

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    Out of the drawing room door and straight into the garden

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    Sibyl hurried round and composed for her next shot

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    Back inside and upstairs where the oeil de boeuf window that Ben cleverly put in when he moved to the Parsonage looks out over trees, valley and the church. Charlie’s pelagoniums

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    and the second best spare bedroom

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    which has the beautiful atmosphere of one of the convalescent attic bedrooms painted by Eric Ravilious. This truly lovely  patchwork quilt bedspread was made by Ben’s mother.

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    and three little Ravilious china mugs to match

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    Master bedroom

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    Lots of books, seed catalogues tucked behind the bedhead on Charlie’s side

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    Cosmos, Wedgwood King George Coronation mug by Ravilious

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    This bull’s eye window on the bedroom passage looks up to the hillside in front of the house

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    Bathroom harvest mugs and a Roberts radio

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    holiday portrait in the lav

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    And then the corridor leading to Charlie’s flower room at the back of the house, hung by Ben with Peter Hone’s plaster casts

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    The Queen reigns here

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    Her Beswick china corgis glassily adore her

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    Ostrich eggs and huntsmen

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    The blue painted dresser holding a collection of unglazed Fulham pottery vases designed in homage to that great artist of flower design, Constance Spry

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    Bunting and stripes

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    Apothecary jars

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    DAHLIAS!

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    tools of the trade

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    And lining the corridor leading to the best guest bedroom (mine), Ben’s hundreds of copies of the World of Interiors. In Engish Decoration, Ben writes, ‘I love seagrass square which last really saw the light of day in the 1970s. Of all the things we have sourced in the shop, I am probably proudest of seagrass squares.’

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    Sweet peas, dahlias and moss green walls, a colour from Patrick Baty’s 1950s range

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    Above the chimney in my bedroom, the landscape by Ben’s Cornish ancestor Richard Thomas Pentreath (1806-1809), the son of a Mousehole schoolteacher

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    books at the foot of the bed

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    My bedroom dahlias, I badly wanted to take then home

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    Charlie’s glorious pelagonium growing in my bathroom

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    Seen from my bedroom window, Charlie working on the borders, Mavis waiting

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    low clouds were turning the verdure khaki colour

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    back down to the garden

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    Braces no belt

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    we went to see his shy marrow camouflaged in the vegetable garden

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    back in for another cup of tea and a walk up the valley with the dogs

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    Charlie took his boots off and I took this portrait a la Gertrude Jekyll

     

    Grateful thanks to Charlie McCormick and Ben Pentreath. Charlie writes for Luxe magazine, and sometimes for Pleasure Garden. Ben writes everywhere, fluently and cogently, there is his regular blog, Inspiration,  but his next publication will be with Bridie, to celebrate a decade of their glorious trading company and shop, Pentreath and Hall, coming out in a few weeks time…

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