Holidaying in the UK part II: A meandering drive home the long way round

UK geography has never been my strong point – probably because for the first half of life at MBS, almost all of our clients were fashion and luxury and therefore client visits were in London, Paris or Milan. Come 1998, and we won our first general merchandise retail client, Kingfisher. I made my first trip up the motorway from London for the opening of Big W (part of Woolworths), which was followed by many happy and successful years of going down to Southampton to visit B&Q, and Yeovil to see Screwfix.

MBS has broadened, grown and changed considerably since then. The MBS team has expanded, and the world – with increased travel and Zoom – seems so much smaller now. At the end of each year, in preparation for our annual offsite, we proudly count up the candidates and clients we have met all over the world. Today, it would be fair to say that we are a truly international consultancy.

And so, driving home from my holiday in Cornwall (which in the end took 12 hours), I decided not to use the motorways, but instead to work on my UK geographical bearings, and meander home across the countryside.

I first visited Hauser & Wirth art gallery in the late nineties. It was its first permanent space – the former Löwenbräu brewery building which became Hauser & Wirth Zürich in 1996. It had only just opened and it was in a fairly run down area of Zurich; not where the chic boutiques and galleries were but in an area which was to become home to an interesting, vibrant, edgy and exciting contemporary art scene in an otherwise fairly conservative city.

Since then, Iwan Wirth, Manuela Wirth and Ursula Hauser have taken the gallery and grown the proposition around the world to thirteen sites. Next week, they are closing the circle and opening a gallery on one of the most exclusive streets in the world: Bahnhoffstrasse in Zurich.

What they’ve done with all their spaces is develop and sensitively restore existing structures that respond to their environments, connecting international art with local culture through architecture. In 2003, for example, an Edward Lutyens-designed former bank on Piccadilly became Hauser & Wirth’s first London gallery. A decade later, in 2013, the legendary Roxy discotheque and skating rink became the gallery’s second New York space.

I remember being fairly bemused a few years ago when I read that the gallery was renovating Durslade Farm, which was a collection of dilapidated farm buildings in rural Somerset, and turning it into a world-class art centre, called Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Why, I wondered, would you put a contemporary art space in the middle of the countryside?

Purple flowers in a field in Somerset, with the exterior of a modern building.
The sculpture garden is world-class. Photo credit: Hauser & Wirth.

Of course, I should never have doubted. When we drove up to Durslade Farm, I was reminded of what Carole Bamford created at Daylesford Farmshop in the Cotwolds, except that Durslade Farm is completely different because of the art. All the buildings on the Durslade Farm are a mixture of new and converted farm buildings, the sculpture garden is world-class and the gallery space in a barn-like building has an excellent programme in line with Hauser & Wirth’s mainstream galleries in the major cities around the world.

Ewan Venters, who has recently been appointed as CEO, told me: “We are creating destinations for people to come together, experience art and be inspired. It is central to Hauser & Wirth’s ethos. In our sites such as Somerset and Los Angeles which have restaurants, these have become gathering places for the community.”

“We are creating destinations for people to come together, experience art and be inspired. It is central to Hauser & Wirth’s ethos.” – Ewan Venters, CEO at Hauser & Wirth 

Hauser & Wirth is bringing architecture, culture, art, food, hoteling and conservation together to create destinations to allow people to experience and share in the extraordinary power of art. Although they are making interesting spaces, art is at the heart of what they do.

But alongside a best-in-class art offering – an exhibition from Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida was on view when I visited – Durslade Farm has so much more to see and experience.

Bringing together their passion for art with their enthusiasm for hospitality and community, Iwan and Manuela Wirth founded an independent hospitality company in 2014. Called Art Farm, the business shares a similar ethos and some of the sites, but is a separate company to the Hauser & Wirth gallery, with its own dedicated team. In 2018, it opened The Fife Arms in Braemar, Scotland, a Victorian coaching inn situated within the Cairngorms National Park that underwent extensive restoration to return the building to its former glory. Other hospitality projects include Manuela restaurant in Los Angeles, and their first London project will be The Audley pub on Mayfair’s Mount Street.

At Durslade Farm, Art Farm has three sites: The Durslade Farm Shop, The Roth Bar & Grill and Durslade Farmhouse.

The Farm Shop is a large grocer/deli/butcher and fruit and veg shop. It is up there with the best of the best and all the produce is locally sourced.  I ordered coffee and cake and sat outside in a seating area which was very well done and designed.  Architecture is very important to them. Luis Laplace, alongside British firm Moxon Architects developed the farm shop as a “contemporary interpretation of a traditional agricultural building”. Most of the materials are locally sourced, recycled, found and used to match the existing buildings and to keep the vernacular; the owners are very conscious of sustainability and the environment.

Hauser & Wirth's gallery in somerset.
The gallery at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo credit: Hauser & Wirth.

Once again, just like at The Pig, we experienced real ‘leisure theatre’. The Roth & Bar Grill was getting ready for a party, and outside in a huge, hand-built, round brick pit, there was a fire going. There were barbeque spits strung up from the top on a pulley with chickens and a whole lamb being barbequed.  People were so enthralled by the sight, that they poured out of the art gallery and came to watch this spectacle. And then there is the Durslade Farmhouse, which can be rented out as a holiday home.

Discovery, retail theatre, contemporary art and my newly-discovered ‘hospitality theatre’ are all activities that I have always loved experiencing. To be doing it right here in the United Kingdom is especially satisfying, and I do wonder why I have wasted so many years getting on planes and travelling to far flung places when they have been right under my nose.

My meandering home was quite wonderful, and I arrived back laden with meat, cheese and packages for the pantry. But would you believe it, I am taking myself off to Bridport next weekend to stay at the Seaside Boarding House. Rule Brittania and see you there! | @MoiraBenigson | @TheMBSGroup