Along with everybody else, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are spending a lot of time on Zoom these days. And every time they jump on a call, royalists go into overdrive, poring over every single frame as if they were on CSI: Room Rater.
The man who actually knows the palace’s design secrets is the 49-year-old architectural designer Ben Pentreath, who has been on speed dial with the royal family since 2009, when Prince Charles first enlisted his services, and who has become especially well known for his work for Prince William and Kate Middleton on their Kensington Palace apartments and their country home in Norfolk, Anmer Hall.
The Windsors are not Pentreath’s only fans. “I have great respect for his mix of traditional architecture and eclectic decorating,” says the celebrated British designer Ashley Hicks, who compares Pentreath to Hicks’s father, the late, great David Nightingale Hicks, who famously decorated the Prince of Wales’s first apartment at Buckingham Palace. “Like many, Ben is a fan of my father, and like my father, he is a fan of William Morris.”
Hicks is referring to the founder of the august wallpaper and textile company Morris & Co., who was considered the prophet, if not the patriarch, of the British Arts and Crafts movement. It turns out that the company, still humming along after 159 years, is also smitten with Pentreath; this year it tapped him, as if by imperial decree, to create a new collection, the Queen Square, that reinvents some of its most remarkable heritage patterns, seen exclusively here in T&C. “Recoloring the Morris & Co. patterns has literally been magical,” Pentreath says. “It is everything I love: color, pattern, texture, architectural structure—and a huge sense of history.”
Pentreath, true to form, didn’t just take on the assignment the way many guest collaborators might; he made it his own—literally. The first home to be graced by the collection was his country estate in Dorset, a 19th-century Georgian rectory called the Old Parsonage, to which he escaped during London’s spring and summer lockdown.
“I lived with all the potential samples hanging on the walls, so I could see how each paper worked during different times of day and evening,” he says. “I was surrounded by nature—and it was one of the most beautiful springs, which I found invigorating.” As a result of this intimate creative process, Pentreath relates to each color personally. He named one of the Willow Bough iterations “tomato” (in the living room, opposite) after Heinz tomato soup. “It is an orange-red, not a red-red. It’s very warm and cozy,” he says.
Pentreath picked the wallpapers and fabrics with the richest tones for the common rooms (the Willow Bough pattern pops up again in olive and turquoise in the dining room) and the lighter colors for the bedrooms. Like any designer, though, he loves to break the rules, even his own, so he selected the lush Blackthorn pattern, known for its floral touches, for a guest bedroom. “A good room to sleep in for a few nights,” he says. “Maybe not forever.”
Not all the Morris & Co. changes will be permanent, but Pentreath says some of his favorites will be. “The decoration has evolved over the 15 years I’ve lived here. We’ve made changes incrementally, slowly, somewhat haphazardly,” Pentreath says. That’s in keeping with the charmingly cluttered “bits and pieces” approach he has brought to projects with everyone from European aristocrats to celebrities like Liv Tyler and Sarah Jessica Parker. He also brings a devotion that has endeared him to his peers. “We first met when Ben came to see my mother’s painted dining room panels by the great 1930s muralist Rex Whistler,” Hicks recalls. “He knelt, like a pilgrim, to get a better look.”
At the Old Parsonage, Pentreath was at first reluctant to change too much, but—there’s that anarchic spirit again—eventually he couldn’t help himself. “Suddenly, nearly every room in the house has been redecorated!” he says. “It’s wonderful. It feels fresh again.”
This story appears in the November 2020 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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