AN ENGLISH IDYLL
AN ENGLISH IDYLL
THE SEARCH FOR BEN PENTREATH’S CORNUBIA COLLECTION FOR MORRIS & CO.
Ruth Guilding is an art historian and writer. As a long-time contributor at World of Interiors, Ruth’s penchant for lived-in and loved homes around the UK takes her far and wide in search of the unearthed and undiscovered, pulling at threads of heritage until original craft re-emerges, natural, sometimes dishevelled, but always compelling and awe-inspiring.
Her lauded blog, Bible of British Taste, has earned her a following of those who appreciate the beauty and nostalgia of British craft and hunger for inspiration that serves to highlight it and imbue creativity in them.
With the lyricism of an Ian McEwan novel, Ruth shares with us the most astounding discovery of a breath-taking aged beauty, where time appears to have stood still in West Penwith, Cornwall, and the coming together of tastemakers and talent, who brought this once-neglected Arts & Crafts home, into the present, harnessing its heritage and natural beauty, as well as the unwavering eye of Ben Pentreath, to create harmony in this home, once more.
"I’d thought I knew all the landscape around my house in West Penwith but somehow, I’d missed this particular cove. Then a few years ago I met a painter who’d spent almost all her life married to this place and the farmer who owned it. Slowly I found its houses of different styles and ages set amongst fields and headlands, a tall grandstand of a house built for a Victorian archdeacon, the shaggy thatched cottage of a long-ago smuggler, a row of flat-faced coastguard’s cottages. Aside from the constant presence of the sea, what struck me was the left-behind beauty of this place and how little it had been changed by time, money or improvement."
For this place was founded in the Arts and Crafts movement begun by William Morris. The ‘big’ house here was built by a young disciple of his, working with the two brothers who were his patrons and clients. What he eventually created was a rugged Cornish manor house of locally quarried granite blocks that runs up to and almost over the edge of its cliffside site. It was furnished with romantic, antiquarian and neo-medieval pieces - a wash-stand set with coloured tiles illustrating Arthurian legends, door handles wrought with dragons and sea serpents. But there was one vital thing missing. Bouncing off the blue green sea swell below its windows, the sun’s long rays had shattered and faded its curtains and fabrics and patterned stuffs to oblivion many decades ago.
"My dear friend and creative genius Ben Pentreath was just then developing his second collection of archive patterns for Morris and Company, I already knew and loved his vivid, robust, Queens Square Collection. Ben and I talked, I talked to the owners of this beautiful place, we walked about its headlands, bridleways and inlets with them looking at everything. We quickly decided that this place, its houses and William Morris’s rich, vivid wallpapers and textiles were made for one another. Ben took our plan to the team at Morris and Co. - and they said - Yes! We plotted and pored over samples. The long-ago Archdeacon’s tall, plain light-filled house and the much more richly decorated sitting and sleeping rooms in the ‘big house’ were to be completely revived and redressed in Morris’s close-twined verdures and Ben’s scintillating spring colours, there would be wallpapers, curtains, lampshades, cushions and quilts galore. Ben’s new papers and fabrics would be called the Cornubia Collection in honour of the county where they would have their debut."
"The year was already turning when we assembled there, but bright sun glanced off the wide sea below us and James Cock, the flower farmer at Clowance, sold us buckets of strongly scented early narcissus and colour-splotched anemones. Everyone on the estate lent a hand – heaving sofas out thorough windows and back in again, hunting down pictures, china and candlesticks, and a scarlet geranium that was miraculously still in flower, arranging fat bunches in jugs and mugs. Adam Halliday and his son expertly hung yards and yards of wallpaper, Leo from Ben’s office managed everything, Hannah made lampshades, ace interiors photographer Anthony Crolla arrived from St Ives and set up his tripod. An austere Victorian kitchen and dining room flowered into light and pattern, Arts and Crafts era bedsteads and tables made friends again with Morris’s neo- medieval leaf and flower patterns - transformed, now, in Ben’s softer pinks, blues, greens, tangerines and primroses. Lunch like a delicious miracle from the café-kitchen at C.A.S.T. in Helston punctuated long working days. Ben was jubilant, anxieties dissolved, Leo was unflappable. When the cold and dark descended, we withdrew to the pub or a generous supper at our host’s long scrubbed kitchen table."
"We slept on ancient Heals bedsteads and washed shudderingly in chilly porcelain tubs and granite-lined bathrooms with their wrap-around windows over the wild sea. On Friday, our final day, we finished with the Tower bedroom, simplest and prettiest of all with its charming Ercol bed under a new quilted Willow pattern eiderdown. Papered in Ben’s greeny-yellowy Woodland Weeds, this pale attic chamber flushed into spring. A gay little painting of St Michael’s Mount by our host’s late mother is propped beside the bedhead. After a farewell tea with special cake we took our leave of them and of each other, tired, dishevelled, contented, each with a fat bunch of narcissus perfuming our luggage."
posted on 01 Mar 2022 in Featured