I don't think it is any surprise to readers of Tat that I am a fan of both Ben Pentreath & Bridie Hall. Their shop in Rugby Street is, of course, a Top Shop. When I first went there in my early 20s, I remember feeling hugely excited by everything around me. The colour, antiques, the teatowels - it was everything I was interested but didn't know how to access. Thankfully, Pentreath & Hall made that very easy for me, and I adore making my pilgrimages there, usually followed by either a drink at Noble Rot or supper at Ciao Bella - or both. These two have managed to keep the look and feel of the shop fresh and exciting, which is not too surprising as both Bridie and Ben are well-known masters of colour & design.
Bridie very kindly answered my questions & showed me around their beautiful shop.
Do you have a favourite piece in the shop at the moment?
My latest collections of ‘Grand Tour Intaglio Cases’; I’ve spent the best part of this year prototyping and figuring out a technique to cast intaglios in two colours so that they look like Wedgwood jasperware and coming up with a new colour palette inspired by the historical Wedgwood colours too. It’s been a hell of a lot of work and I’m so happy with how they have turned out.
What do you think is so special about having a shop rather than just online?
We opened the shop before there was a culture for online-only businesses, so there was never really the option of deciding to have one instead of the other. Ben and I would agree that there is so much going for keeping a ‘bricks and mortar shop’. We’ve treated it as our literal shop window to the world and can attribute a lot of our independent careers’ success to being able to physically showcase and try out ideas and products through the shop. Anyone interested in what we are doing can come and check out a slice of it for real.
What is the biggest joy of being a shopkeeper?
It’s really hard work but the payoff is so rewarding. Any shopkeeping importantly contributes vital life to the street and its local community. Our Lamb’s Conduit and Rugby Street neighbourhood of shops has such interesting and vibrant energy.
My first thoughts to answering this question was to think about how every Christmas, we light our entire building up with fairy lights and make fun window displays. It’s so heart-warming, hearing from neighbours and customers who stop by to tell us we’ve got them in the mood for Christmas. And the time we had a big summer street party and held a dog show, it was just so funny and wild and so much fun and had nothing to do with selling anything but all about contributing to community spirit and people’s memories.
How would you describe the P&H style?
The Pentreath & Hall strapline has always been ‘Good Things For The Home’. We’ve sold a lot of different things over the years, from feather dusters and Kilner jars to crocodile skulls and giant sea sponges; at times attempting to be every shop to every customer, but always selling things that we loved and would happily live with ourselves (that is so vitally important to shopkeeping) I would say over the last couple of years, we’ve really begun to focus in on our own very unique collections of classically-based homewares that we’ve added our own colour palette to, or sympathetically reinterpreted without going too naff. We’ve never worked harder than we are now on designing and producing new collections for Pentreath & Hall and that will be completely defining how we continue forward.
What made you and Ben choose Rugby Street?
We didn’t have a choice; Ben had already set up his architectural design practice across the road and the empty unit was in his direct line of sight from his desk. His practice was growing, he had resolved that he would remain based in Bloomsbury. Needing more desk space for more architects, Ben came up with the clever plan to take the Rugby Street shop lease and use the front half as a shop and the back half as an office. As these plans were quietly moving in to place I bumped into Ben on the street, up until then I had been a specialist painter and was working on the street, we fantasied about my coming to run it and I walked home and thought it was just about the nicest walk to and from work anyone could have, so I immediately chased the fantasy chat up with a ‘can we make this idea real?’ email. We opened in November and by March, we’d sent everyone back to Ben’s office making them sit closer together and took over the whole shop space, we haven’t looked back!