Bruton; a small farming town in Somerset has been on my visit list for some time. Typically we head for the city for culture, art and inspiration and pulling up to park on an unremarkable narrow winding highstreet made me wonder if my expectations were a little too high.
We booked in for brunch (or truthfully, as it turned out, a second breakfast) At The Chapel. It’s a converted Grade II listed 17thcentury former chapel. All painted white inside with a beautiful elliptical staircase and open kitchen – it’s a lovely welcoming space. Inside it’s split into little wings which include a bakery, a winestore and even luxury bedrooms to stay overnight! The menu didn’t disappoint either – much to our glee we spied “Green Eggs and Ham” (as Dr. Seuss fans this was immediately seized upon – Dad was bravest to go for it but the boys disclaimed with disappointment that they weren’t in fact actually green eggs. Perhaps I’ll need to feed that back…).
Suitably full with carbs we then walked down the highstreet to The FMLY Store. As a follower of Selfish Mother on Instagram her drive is impressive, not least the fact that her FMLY store will soon hit a cool £1m given to charity through a proportion of sales from her #GoodTees tops. Creating an ethical brand which gives back as much as it creates is inspirational and suggests a mould which can sit more comfortably with us all in an era of frankly often too much waste and fast-fashion.
We went along to a workshop led by The Makery (who we used to visit a lot when we lived in Bath). The boys enjoyed making their sparkly badges and little lady enjoyed hanging out in the café area. I didn’t get enough time to absorb the books and look through the tops but this is on my to-do list for when I go back – hopefully in October!
Lastly we just had enough time to go the Hauser & Wirth gallery. Again, when you go through the list of locations for their galleries it reads Hong Kong, LA, London, New York, Zurich and… Somerset. Don’t get me wrong, I love Somerset but it’s a little surprising until you understand that the owners have a house locally and fell in love with the site. It’s easy to see why. Situated on a working farm the gallery only opened 4 years ago prior to standing derelict for several decades.
Paris-based architects Laplace sensitively transformed these barns into exceptionally beautiful gallery spaces. On top of this the whole place has free admission to the public and is open six days per week throughout the year.
The agricultural buildings hold onto their rustic charms with bare walls, sliding barn doors and the original proportions of their spaces intact which is contrasted against smooth white surfaces within to show off the artwork (in this case Alexander Calder whose gigantic mobiles hung from the ceiling and stood with such angular presence).
The expansive glass provide connections between the spaces and it’s not immediately clear where to go which makes it feel like an intimate experience with large doorways opening out into internal courtyards which in turn open onto other spaces to explore such as a tiny shop or archive film projection rooms.
There is seating all over the site to entice you to stay a while, to soak it in and views connecting you to the landscape. The perennial meadow designed by Piet Oudolf is so successful in leading you meanderingly up to the Pavillion which sits almost like a spacecraft at the top of a gentle slope.
As you reach the top you discover the Pavilion designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic which was installed in situ in 2015 (initially it was unveiled as the Serpentine Gallery Pavillion for 2014). It’s as informal as it’s setting and you can walk into, around and underneath it allowing for an exciting feeling of exploration. The shell looks fragile at first, made from fibreglass, it is raised up off the ground almost giving it a floating quality but once you’re inside glimpses across the surrounding fields, ground underneath and sky above make it feel very much rooted in it’s location.
I drove back to Lyme Regis having soaked all this in – the beautiful attention to designing things well. At The Chapel where the simple but mighty Sourdough and eggs were definitely champions, the FMLY store who had created so much good from a simple idea executed generously and creatively and then the Hauser & Wirth – where the set up was done with sensitivity, understanding of materials and the surrounding landscape.
What had today had taught me? That the greatest limitations are usually those in your head and passion and drive can achieve remarkable things in (seemingly) unremarkable places!