How An 18th-Century Farmhouse And A Contemporary Art Gallery Are Transforming Somerset - Forbes
On the quick journey from Bruton station to Durslade Farmhouse in Bruton Somerset, the cabbie cocked his head and turned to me and said “The bar there is completely rubbish.” Taken aback, I pressed him, only to quickly learn this is without a doubt his favourite joke of the moment. Designed using artefacts and memorabilia found when renovating the 18th-century site, there is some truth to the cabbie’s jest, part of the clever decor at Roth Bar & Grill is propped up with unusual “rubbish” reclaimed and scavenged from the build site.
In 2013, Hauser and Wirth opened a cutting-edge contemporary gallery space, alongside a super slick restaurant and a renovated historic farmhouse. Owned and managed by Iwan and Manuela, a clever couple of art aficionados and entrepreneurs, they’ve created an epicentre for culture, food and hospitality in rural Somerset. An engaging historic town, cradled by local landmarks, the likes of Stonehenge, Stourhead house and gardens and King Alfred’s Tower, and while the surrounds have always had character, heritage and a vibrant art scene, it takes someone with vision and prescience to have seen the potential for precisely what Iwan and Manuela have created.
The farmhouse is a paean to the property, sleeping 12 guests, each room has its own charm and identity - from roll-top tubs to original fireplaces and cozy cow-hide rugs. When architect Luis Laplace started working on the estate in 2012 it hadn’t been touched for 50 years. The current furnishing style is eclectic but undeniably hangs together. Pulled together with antique materials and furnishings sourced from flea markets, antique stores and salvage yards around the world, paired with the highest-quality and priced linens, upholstery and appliances. Here you’ll find a state-of-the-art Smeg fridge, next to a £2 vase from a French flea market. Or original elements - like the intact Bakelite fixtures retained throughout. Taxidermy pieces nestle into walls and the colour-scheme is a jewel-toned rainbow that excites all senses. All of this amidst the original 18th-century setting of the building itself. And of course, the walls are dotted with the most fascinating art works from Hauser & Wirth’s top artists, such as a floor to ceiling mural by Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca, or the corner of another room which sees an avant-garde film made by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist projected against the wall.
Hauser & Wirth gallery formed its strong reputation for landmark contemporary shows thanks to its successful London location. There’s also a Zurich and Los Angeles gallery of the same name, the latter proves a clever move, adding their name and voice to the California scene, which is an ever-swelling and respected destination on the global art stage. In Somerset, as well as the impressive gallery and multi-purpose art space, with its high ceilings and elegant surrounds, there’s an impeccably landscaped garden and a neighbouring 1.5-acre perennial meadow. The stature of artists who show here are in line with the likes of what you would expect to see on the walls of Tate Modern or the Serpentine in London.
As for the rest of the offering, the food here enlivens all senses. What was once the old cowshed on the original Durslade farm, is now the award-winning Roth Bar & Grill. An open kitchen with a Robata grill and spit, the menu is simple but beautifully executed. And there are few country spots where one can eat a perfectly flamed steak underneath an original Henry Moore. Led by husband and wife team Steve and Jules Horrell, the concept is straightforward: honest British food, where the ingredients on the menu match what you see on the plate. You won’t find foams and gels or unrecognisable frothy mousses but instead field-to-fork gastronomy, much of which has been home-cured and dry-aged on site, or grown on the grounds in the kitchen garden. There’s a relatively new outdoor fire pit - and with this they host coveted outdoor dinners - roasting the likes of an entire suckling pig to perfection. And the ageing process is done via the in-venue salt room, lined with 500 hand-cut Himalayan salt blocks, which help lock in the beef’s flavour and maintain its tenderness. In line with the educational elements of the gallery, they have also launched a series of courses and events centred around food and all its related processes - such as the practices of farming, butchery and sustainable fishing.
This journey all began after Iwan and Manuela moved their own home and family to Somerset nearly a decade ago. Over the ensuing years, visiting friends and artists similarly fell in love with their bucolic paradise, and Iwan saw the opportunity to bring his urban idea to the countryside. Hauser & Wirth bought what was then a damaged and dilapidated farmhouse and turned it into an epicentre of art and experience. And they certainly haven’t looked back.