April 15 2010
From Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, the bay window of Ben Pentreath’s tiny shop on Rugby Street is just visible, beckoning commuters onto this picturesque Bloomsbury lane to admire the ever-changing, ever-deft edit of little and big treasures for the home arranged within. But it wasn’t always the jewel box it is today. “I used to sit in my office and look out the window onto this sad, empty store front,” says Pentreath, who was, at the time – autumn 2008 – in need of more space to house staff for his growing architectural practice, Working Group, which designs large-scale urban developments.
This need prompted Pentreath to sign the lease – and Camden Council’s policy on using retail space strictly for retail spurred him to move the draughtsman’s tables to the back and turn the front room, all 3m x 3m of it, into a collection of “things we [Pentreath and store manager Bridie Hall] simply like. That is still our only criterion for making choices about what we sell.”
Hence Pentreath and Hall indulge their fancies to curate a collection comprising tableware and textiles, furniture and lighting, as well as a revolving assortment of cabinet-of-curiosities delights. Elegant but utilitarian cream Leeds pottery from Hunslet (from £10), of which Ben Pentreath is the only London retailer, flanks the mantel. The wall opposite is hung with limited-edition prints by mid-century British artists, among them Eric Ravilious (watercolours, from £220), Glynn Boyd Harte (from £250) and Edward Bawden (Six London Markets lithographs, £145 each, unframed). Stacked on a rack are prints celebrating typography from Hand & Eye letterpress (£50), and charcoal animal drawings by Suffolk-based Jason Gathorne-Hardy (from £195).
Hall’s own beautifully wrought découpage designs (from £32) feature whimsical prints of animals, brilliant snakeskins and verdant botanicals, and contrast strikingly with austere white plasterwork by Peter Hone (from £85 for a Dresden plaque). Richly hued resin table lamps by Marianna Kennedy (£400) are bestsellers, while the latest hits are chaffeuse chairs from Belgian furniture producer Du Long et du Lé (from £750), covered in monochrome Belgian linen or one of a selection of opulent kilim weaves. Pentreath recently added a selection of turned-wood candlesticks (£125) and will soon sell slipper chairs (£975), both of his own design.
The beauty of this extravagantly varied shop is the deeply discerning aesthetic of the team behind it; you can spend a mere £6.60 (for six Bougies la Française dinner candles) and feel you’ve found something special. This summer, Pentreath will stock cut flowers and vegetables from the Bride Valley in Dorset, where he has restored an early-19th-century parsonage. And he’s just become the exclusive London retailer of cult-favourite bed linen and textiles from US-based Les Indiennes (from £50 for a pillowcase).