Sports car enthusiasts aren’t the only visitors frequenting Aston Martin’s new brand experience boutique at No. 8 Dover Street in London’s Mayfair. The venue is also a place where admirers of the brand and people who enjoy elegance and exclusivity can discover new trends in design and be inspired by the products on display. In fact, spending time at the elegant new facility could mean that you’re attending one of the brand’s design master classes or hosted art exhibitions.
While traditionalists will be surprised that the Aston Martin brand can now be defined as something more than creators of world-class automobiles, those that have a wider appreciation of the brand’s design ethos and future aspirations will appreciate that it makes perfect sense. The announcement of forthcoming Aston Martin-branded residences, interiors and powerboats suggest we’ve only witnessed a fraction of what’s to come.
As the expression of the marque’s Art of Living concept, the Dover Street boutique makes for an intriguing destination; you’ll find products from partners Hackett London, Marma London, Quintessence Yachts, Emilia Burano, Silver Cross and FPM alongside the new DB11 and a “Q by Aston Martin” personalisation suite. A starting point for a spirited, design-focused drive from Central London into the English countryside couldn’t come any better.
Before you type Bruton, Somerset — the final destination of this journey — into your satnav, take a few moments to investigate what is undoubtedly the west country town’s most valuable cultural asset, a sympathetically restored 18th-century site known as Durslade Farm. Here you’ll find a collection of buildings that make up a branch of the international contemporary art gallery, Hauser & Wirth. Attracting more than 300,000 visitors since it opened in July 2014, the gallery has drawn an impressive selection of international and award-winning artists, including Phyllida Barlow, Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed and Subodh Gupta. The celebrated photographer Don McCullin, who lives locally, has also adorned the gallery’s newly plastered walls.
There is also plenty to explore outside on a walk around the site. Top of the list is the Piet Oudolf-designed gardens and one-and-a-half acre meadow, which on a breezy spring or summer day is utterly mesmerising. The Radic Pavilion, transported from its original site alongside London’s Serpentine Gallery, is also a captivating venue in which to host live events and garden parties.
With your appetite for modern art installations and high design whetted, it’s time to quench a thirst for super unleaded and the thrill of the open road. So pack an overnight bag and fire up your Aston’s motor, pointing its nose west out of London towards Winchester, a fine journey along fast, open roads.
If you or any of your passengers are in need of a comfort break and perhaps a light bite, look no further than Rick Stein’s contemporary seafood restaurant on Winchester High Street, serving fresh fish, simply cooked. This branch of Stein’s brilliant seafood empire was the first to open outside of Cornwall and is well worth a visit.
After lunch, head for Stockbridge, one of the jewels of the Test Valley, with a high street lined with antiques shops and specialist suppliers. Then continue west towards Salisbury and Wilton, through Shaftesbury and Gillingham, which takes you all the way to Hauser & Wirth as you drop down into Bruton.
While wandering around the impressive farm buildings, contemporary spaces and outdoor sculptures, you may begin to ask yourself why such a world-renowned art gallery chose this remote, sleepy Somerset vale when its other branches boast addresses in Zurich, London, New York and Los Angeles. The reason is simple: Swiss art dealer Iwan Wirth and his wife Manuela (daughter of co-founder Ursula Hauser) own a home nearby, having fallen for the local area’s sleepy, pastoral vibe.
Successfully combining old and new, the founder’s original vision for the site included a children’s art and education centre, ensuring that the local community benefits from their investment. Indeed, the project has injected international appeal into this part of Somerset, an area that, for all its raw beauty, has rarely improved upon attracting music royalty via the Glastonbury music festival at Worthy Farm, just a few miles down the road. Alice Workman, Senior Director at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, sums up the project’s philosophy: “It is not another commercial outpost in the traditional sense, but an arts centre set within a rural community, sharing contemporary art with new audiences. The programming is very broad, encompassing gardening and architecture, as well as art, and is enhanced by diverse education, event and artist residency components.”
If you’re keen to spend the night onsite, you can do so in some style — the adjoining Grade II-listed Durslade Farmhouse won Art Hotel of the Year in 2016 at the Leading Cultural Destinations Awards and is unique and quirky (it was renovated by the celebrated Argentinian architect Luis Laplace). Six rooms are available, each respecting the house’s heritage, but with a colourful, modern twist. Another option is to check into one of the eight delightful rooms of At The Chapel in the centre of Bruton, which tripples up as a bar, bakery and wine shop.
Either way, you’ll need most of the day and ideally some of the evening to fully appreciate all the gallery has to offer, sampling the library, the gardens and the excellent Roth Bar & Grill. Babington House and its spa facilities, near Frome, are close by should the options in Bruton leave you high and dry. Your motoring theme can be continued at the nearby Haynes International Motor Museum, in Sparkford near Yeovil, which offers a brace of Astons alongside a host of other marques.
Chances are, you really won’t want to leave this part of the world, but when you do, you will take two things away with you: proof that inspiring contemporary art and design bring value and inspiration to even the most heritage-rich establishments is one; and the joy of discovering reimagined parts of England at the helm of your very own work of automotive art is undoubtedly another.