Going West – Tale of two homes

TheEye has been travelling – not far, admittedly. Going ‘West’ was not the Cowboy wild west but Somerset. Interesting in a rather different way.

Bruton is a small town which has for the last few years become something of a Mecca for designers, artists, and media people who call it their home (often second home), similar to parts of Cornwall or the Cotswolds where many have been living over the years of the pandemic and stayed on. Not all bona fide residents are pleased at the hipster invasion, even though the invaders have brought considerable additional income to the areas.

Driving to Bruton allowed TheEye to stop at HAUSER & WIRTH‘s Somerset outpost. She was keen to see the quilt exhibition from Boykin – formerly known as Gees Bend – an African-American community descended from enslaved people working on the cotton plantations of Joseph Gees. These quilts were originally used for functional purposes with pieces of discarded fabric to raise money for their community.



GIRL AT GEE’S BEND 1937 Courtesy Arthur Rothstein legacy project

The other exhibition that really struck a chord with TheEye was Canadian artist, photographer, and performance artist Rodney Graham. Ginormous light boxes with staged set ups, tableaux starring the artist in different roles: in one he is a sous-chef sitting against a tree having a quick cigarette.

Betula Pendula Fastigiata (Sous-Chef on Smoke Break), Rodney Graham, 2011

They are all unlikely poses. Mundane made unusual. Sadly Mr Graham died just a few weeks before he was due to open his exhibition and make a speech in the gallery.

TheEye doesn’t want to sound blasé but what a treat it is to discover a new artist you haven’t seen before and become so absorbed in their work.

Bruton High Street is where the action can be found, and TheEye was keen to visit the craft commissioning gallery MAKE, part of the Hauser & Wirth art empire.

An interesting exhibition, Rachel Scott‘s woven textiles in rather monastic shades of grey and brown, although more vibrant colours of clothes and throws were in an adjoining space. Unfortunately these were not for sale which seems odd since the gallery would have benefitted from the vitality.

A couple of doors down is Number One Bruton and you can’t miss it. A totally different vibe with a bright yellow front door which almost waves hello to passers by.
No 1 is a small beautifully designed hotel set around a secret courtyard.

Claudia Waddams and her husband Aled Rees bought and renovated the building which had a rather romantic chequered history. Way back in time it was part of a large coaching inn called The White Hart. Claudia and Aled renovated the building over a period of four years with a clear focus on showcasing Somerset’s architectural heritage and the artists and designers who live in the area including legendary photographer Sir Don McCullin. No. 1 blissfuly combines authenticity with luxurious cosiness: a mixture of antiques, family heirlooms and contemporary design.

There are numerous surprises, such as the hand painted apple blossom mural winding up a spiral staircase behind the reception desk painted by textile supremo, Kaffe Fasett. Artist and designer, Candace Bahouth, who TheEye has known for many years and who exhibited her skilful and very witty ceramic mirrors and other work including mosaic high heels (remember the song These shoes aren’t made for walking? They most certainly weren’t.) Many years ago she featured in shows at Sotheby’s curated by TheEye. Candace lives locally and is reputed to make fantastic chocolate brownies which she serves at her annual Summer garden party.

In the main bedroom hanging behind the large double bed is a masterpiece of Bahouth kitsch. A King Charles coronation tribute with no member of the family left out.

It features the new Monarch, with the future Queen, the late Princess Diana and you have to not blink or you might miss something. Don’t worry, the Sussex’s are included. It’s quite wonderful. OSIPS, the restaurant owned by Merlin Labron-Johnson, adjoins the hotel but is run independently. It specialises in local ingredients and recently won a Michelin Star.

TheEye had a pleasant mooch along the High Street, her eyes on the lookout for places of interest. Having recently read about Philo&Philo -the retail partnership of Celia Philo and her mother- she was curious to discover what they were actually offering. It’s a combination of vintage and contemporary furnishings as well as ceramics and glass and TheEye loved their novel extension leads in brilliant colours.

Source: The Times

The day TheEye came in, they were setting up for a photoshoot and not prepared for visitors. But you could see it was already an interesting addition to the High Street. As a matter of interest, Phoebe Philo is another sibling – who was the head designer for Chloé. She still lives locally, as does jewellery designer Solange Azagury-Partridge.

Whilst Bruton might one day tell us about affluent middle class life in this century, the Villa Ventorum in the grounds of The Newt Hotel in rural Bruton gives the most extraordinary glimpse of a wealthy family’s home and their lifestyle in Roman times.

An extraordinary story in itself, The Newt -for those who don’t know- is a very special hotel with wonderful, award-winning gardens. It is twinned with Babylonestoren in South Africa which also boasts magnificent gardens and obsessional attention to detail. Friends that have stayed there describe it as paradise. The owners Koos Bekker and Karen Roos, his elegant wife, are completely hands on and that is probably the secret of its success. The NEWT discovered the foundations of a roman estate on their property and with a team of experts travelled to Germany, Austria, Pompeii and Herculaneum, scouring museums once part of the Roman empire, and probing most major Roman digs. You could say, no stone was left unturned.

The interior of the villa looks surprisingly modern with both furnishings and fabrics.
The most thrilling part of the experience is the sophisticated audio-visual system. Wearing headphones, the ‘housekeeper’ shows you around each room in a very gossipy manner.
You see her master’s study littered with papers and she moans about how messy he is. The kitchen which hasn’t been cleaned complaining about the bad behaviour of the servants and mice everywhere.

The mistress of the house is going to a party and there is a discussion about her clothes, her hair and makeup. You meet the children and the mischievous servant boy.
The reimagined villa’s interior shows us the home of a family who have gone up in the world and who display their status in the public rooms of the house.

Reimagining the Roman villa on the Newt estate is the largest such project ever attempted in Britain with no public funding. This was a totally independent project.

In its scale and authenticity the villa has set an extraordinarily high standard and certainly for TheEye made her both curious about the life of people in an outlying province of Britannia during the last decades of the Roman Empire. The Newt welcomes local school groups to appreciate this outstanding phenomenon which will certainly bring history to life for them.

So back to the beginning – No 1 Bruton and Villa Ventorum – stylish lives in the past and present. A memorable day out in a time capsule.


  1. What a wonderful time you had!! I need to go Bruton again to update!!

  2. Thanks Jan, that was great and definately need to go back and maybe stay – that would be a treat.

  3. Thank you for my digital weekend away in rural Notting Hill. Now I need to go!

  4. Very interesting, will add Bruton to my “must see” list!

  5. Felicity Osborne March 4, 2023 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks for shining a light on uber sophisticated Bruton – countryside’s Notting Hill. It’s indeed worth encouraging people to visit, especially Hauser & Worth with its Piet Oudolf garden – as well as the emerging expansive Newt gardens, such a bold venture! Very foodie too, ‘At The Chapel’ bakery offers the best ever croissants. See you there Jan X

  6. Tremendous -as always!! I have been to Bruton – we have to I guess – but got no further than Hauser & Wirth.

  7. Tremendous -as always!!

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