When contemporary gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth fell in love with an 18th-century farm in rural Somerset and decided to transform its dilapidated buildings and abandoned ruins into a global arts destination, it had somewhat of a transformative effect on the quiet, historic town of Bruton. An incredibly personal story, built around the key pillars of community, history and landscape, Hauser & Wirth Somerset invite visitors to join them in continuing to build its narrative, which might explain its enduring wide-spread appeal. Garden fanatics, art appreciators, interiors aficionados, aesthetes, foodies, lovers and friends will all be in their element.
One of our favourite, less-explored parts of the farm, which would make the ideal holiday home, party house, or weekend bolthole, is Durslade Farmhouse.
The building has been sensitively restored with the help of Paris-based architect Luis Laplace. It’s full of character and history, many of original fittings remain, while vintage furniture, sourced from local shops and salvage yards, adorn the rooms. Inspired by the colours in the stripped back walls, bedrooms are painted in complementary colours and dotted with flea market finds and fragments of old wallpaper. Each has a loose theme, from the Pipilotti Rist bedroom – a vision in pink, and named after the first artist in residence here – to the brass bedroom with its distinctive chintzy wallpaper and extraordinary brass bed, and Niki and Jackie’s bedroom at the top of the house, so called after two sisters who used to live here with their family. The latter is by far the most serene space in the house, which is probably what makes it especially popular with bridal parties.
Durslade Farmhouse is lived in and luxurious, reassuringly nostalgic and every room tells a story. In the Paul McCarthy bedroom, the artist’s vibrant turquoise wallpaper features chocolate Santas, which appear to be carrying Christmas trees, until you look closely and see that these Santas are quite a lot more suggestive than that.
The abundance of contemporary art is similarly in evidence downstairs. Pipilotti Rist spent a year in Bruton during her residency here, and in that time she created a site-specific projection for a wall in the living room. It runs along the visible line of the original staircase, over a hanging sculptural installation made from gathered fragments of glass and china acquired from the Victorian dump just over the hill, which she retrieved with the help of Iwan and Manuela’s children. It’s these artistic touches that captivate you for hours, making the need for more modern distractions, such as TV, entirely redundant.
The dining room too, painted by Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca is wonderfully dramatic. He spent weeks painting directly onto the walls, the results of which change with the light throughout the day. Even the palettes that he used for painting are mounted on the walls, providing an extra visual link to the narrative.
There’s an all-black and mustard bathroom (among others) and no shortage of kitsch fixtures and quirky oddities throughout, but the traditional farmhouse kitchen at the heart of Durslade Farmhouse is where everyone naturally gathers. Popular with the down-from-London crowd, or locals looking for a special place to celebrate, part of the brilliance of this holiday pad is that you’re right in the middle of the Hauser & Wirth site.
Field of dreams
One of the best parts of any visit to Hauser & Wirth Somerset, whatever the season, is wandering through Oudolf Field and admiring its seamless sense of place within the farmland and the English countryside as a whole. World-renowned Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf’s brief from Iwan was ‘absolute freedom, with no compromise,’ – something that also rings true with the gallery artists – and it was his intention to create a garden that was secret from the outside world, only revealing itself once you’ve entered the gallery. For us, it’s almost as enjoyable to take in the vista while sitting under the modernist colonnade with a coffee, but that would be to miss out on the feeling of walking through a real wild meadow and touching the grasses with your fingertips.
Wide paths lead you past a pond area, cleverly hidden from view until you’re in the garden itself, before opening out into drifts of colour. It’s perhaps most admired under the glow of the late Summer sun, but it’s also magical when the bare stems and seed heads cast their shadows against a frosty winter backdrop. Walking through the field is made all the more pleasurable by the sight of Smiljan Radić’s pavilion at the top of the hill, perched on rocks like an alien spaceship. Seemingly built from a more durable version of papier-mâché, it’s actually used as a super-cool events space.