Style | The Aesthete

Ben Pentreath talks personal style: Part Two

The architectural designer and shopkeeper puts the finishing touches to his portfolio of likes and loves.

November 04 2011
Maria Shollenbarger

My style icon is David Hicks. And Terence Conran. And last but not least, the Duke of Edinburgh. Hicks because I’ve realised that no one else has combined heartfelt passion for tradition with modernity in a more convincing way. Conran because he brought that same conviction to bear on a massive scale to things – everything he touches is somehow amazing. And the Duke of Edinburgh because when all is said and done, in terms of style, he deeply understands modernity and tradition – but doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about what he thinks.

The best gift I’ve received recently is a tie from Oliver Spencer. It’s olive corduroy, and was given to me by my great friend William. When I first tried it on, I wasn’t sure, because corduroy can be a little weird to untie. But I have subsequently realised that every time I want to feel completely in control nothing does it like my corduroy tie. 62 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1 (020-7269 6444; www.oliverspencer.co.uk)

The last meal that truly impressed me was at the Hive Beach Café, on the beach in Burton Bradstock, in Dorset. I had friends staying with a young daughter, we decided to go to the beach. We were there on a perfect balmy evening, sitting under the awnings, looking at the sea and eating some of the best food I’ve had in a long time – in generous portions, and really well-priced. I had Dorset steak, and they had loads of local fish. Beach Road, Burton Bradstock, Dorset DT6 4RF (01308-897 070; www.hivebeachcafe.co.uk).

If I didn’t live in London, the city I’d live in is New York. I moved there when I was 27 and I nearly didn’t move back. And although I love living in London, about once a month I wake up and wonder what my life would be like if I’d decided not to come home. I moved back from New York in 2003, so I’m a bit out of touch, but there is something eternal in my mind about those years in the Village. I know that I could be instantly at home there, and really happy. It’s not to do with specific places, which doubtless would have changed had I stayed. It was that every day you felt you were living in the coolest city in the world.

An indulgence I’d never forgo is travelling first class on the train. I’ve gotten used to it: quiet, empty. What you’re buying is peace – being alone when you want to be.

An artist whose work I would collect if I could? If it were remotely feasible, I might swap out my Ravilious mug for a Ravilious watercolour, one of geraniums growing in a greenhouse. It’s nothing to do with money, it’s to do with them all being unavailable, in private collections, or at Tate Modern or Tate Britain. Which, by the way: it would be lovely to actually have them on display every once in a while, Tate. www.ericravilious.co.uk.

The last music I bought was the soundtrack of Submarine, which Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys did. I saw the film and loved the music, bought it that same evening. Also Diamond Mine, the King Creosote/Jon Hopkins collaboration. I heard a second or two of him [Jon] being interviewed on the radio and sought out the album. And the Bach Sonatas for Violin and Piano by Mela Tenenbaum and Richard Kapp. I listen to this a lot when I’m working, particularly the sonatas in a minor key. I tend to listen to the same album perhaps 30 times over before moving on to something new. So I have a lot of albums in my iPod that I don’t listen to for a very, very long time.

An object I would never part with? The weird truth of the situation is that I can’t think of a single object. When I found out the other day that my flat had been burgled, I was almost completely unemotional about it. I sometimes think it’s a coldness. But then if anyone I knew was in any danger – any pain – I’d go to the ends of the earth, or directly into a fire, to help or save them. But stuff? I’m quite neutral about that.

My favourite room is the kitchen in my house in Dorset. It’s calm, it’s quiet, apart from the sound of the ticking clock. It’s where everyone who’s staying wants to be.

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, because it’s where I live. We’ve got The People’s Supermarket – though, thank goodness, there’s central London’s biggest Waitrose around the corner. If I need a shirt I can go to Oliver Spencer. And finally, when I die, there’s the undertakers, A. France & Sons. They buried Lord Nelson. So I know I’d be in good hands. A France & Sons, 45 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1 (020-7405 4901). Oliver Spencer, 62 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1 (020-7269 6444; www.oliverspencer.co.uk. The People’s Supermarket, 72-78 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1 (020-7430 1827; www.thepeoplessupermarket.org). www.waitrose.com.

The grooming staple I’m never without is Nivea Soft. My friend Valentina recommended it to me about a decade ago, and I’m not sure I’ve ever looked back. I use it for everything; it’s my hair gel, too. www.nivea.co.uk.

The site that inspires me? The places that really inspire me tend to be the quiet corners rather than the grand set-pieces. Thinking about it, the place where I get the most inspiration is in my vegetable garden in Dorset, just digging.

The best gift I’ve given recently is a cheque to my niece. Unaesthetic perhaps, but true. She loved it.

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a letterpress printer. That question could also be, what would I do after I’ve had my breakdown? There’s something about type and typography that’s fascinated me since I was really quite young. I’m obsessed with the quality of hot metal type, printed in proper ink, straight on to paper. I’m obsessed with 19th-century typefaces. And I can think of nothing more satisfying than spending my days slowly and quietly typesetting posters and short books. No telephone, no email, no furious clients, no travel to crazy job sites – an old-fashioned printing press being the thing that measures the pace at which one can move.