Deputy Production Editor Amy Adams finds Artist Residence Oxfordshire more than lives up to its name
As nice as it would be to have access to our own private art collections, sadly it isn’t always possible. Instead we must content ourselves with hushed museums, pausing briefly to absorb each work before wandering slowly and steadily to the next. However there is an alternative – a growing number of delightful places to stay that double as art galleries, where you can live, albeit fleetingly, surrounded by imaginatively curated collections. Leading the charge are Justin and Charlotte Salisbury, and their Artist Residence hotels. Their blossoming empire started in Brighton in 2008, renovating Justin’s mother’s B&B with the help of local artists, who designed a room each. Now, with outposts in London, Cornwall and, most recently, Oxfordshire – and another due to open in an old boot factory in Bristol next year – it seems there’s little stopping their brand of characterful,
Artist Residence Oxfordshire is a thatched-roofed 16th century country pub called Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms in South Leigh, a 20-minute drive from Oxford on the edge of the Cotswolds. Continuing the Salisburys’ tradition of supporting British artists, particularly those hailing from Brighton, the cosy pub area – low ceilings, flagstone-floor, giant hearth and William Morris wallpaper – features a huge cross studded with fairground lights by Andy Doig, Harland Miller’s vintage Penguin book covers and, possibly my favourite, a cabinet of retro products (from Werther’s Originals to Coleman’s Mustard) created entirely from felt by Lucy Sparrow. In the toilets you’ll be greeted by amusing redacted letters by The Connor Brothers.
But there’s no sense of tiptoeing round this hand-picked display, either in the pub or one of the five rooms tucked into the eaves of the building. In fact, we were allowed to bring our dog Brian – the two Farmhouse Loft rooms are pet-friendly. And very friendly too – supplying us with a dog bowl and Lily’s Kitchen treats. The two-legged of us were greeted with a plate of chocolate cookies, and a selection of Joe’s Tea Co teas, Cru Kafe coffee, proper mugs and a teapot (if this doesn’t suffice, there’s a generously stocked mini bar – a basket overflowing with Rococo chocolates, Mr Trotter’s pork crackling and Joe & Seph’s popcorn, and a fridge tucked in an upcycled dresser filled with Cotswold cider, lager and gin). Artistic flourishes continue in the rooms – a dog-themed print on the wall by Stephen Anthony Davids; Ceylon tea crates as bedside tables and a huge wire mesh lampshade hanging from the ceiling’s exposed beams. Slotted among this chic-meets-salvage-yard vibe is a Dyson fan, Nespresso machine and Roberts radio. In the bathroom, Bramley’s organic products and the odd succulent perch on a wooden ladder beside a rainfall shower and heavenly dark grey roll top bath (though slightly upstaged by the Farmhouse Suite’s copper number on the previous page).
From our window we could see the bijou herb and vegetable patch complete with scarecrow and a table tennis table on the lawn (there’s also table football at the front of the pub). A few rounds later and we were ready for a round of a different sort, namely a pre-dinner cocktail on the terrace – they will deliver them to your room after 5pm but while we were there the late summer sun was too hard to resist, as I imagine, the pub’s fireplace and battered leather armchairs will be now we are slipping into the colder months.
For dinner you have the choice of a pub menu in the bar or a more formal offering in Mr Hanbury’s Dining Room, we chose the latter, sitting among cabinets of curiosities and ‘bastardised engravings’ by artists The Connor Brothers (Mr Hanbury is their fictional creation). The food comes courtesy of head chef Leon Smith (who has previously worked with Tom Aikens) with an emphasis on local and foraged: smoked salmon on a bed of quinoa and homegrown kohlrabi; wild nettle gnocchi with tenderstem broccoli and a creamy sauce of oyster mushrooms and sweet, charred leeks; roast peaches with elderflower cream and a neat disc of puff pastry – a piece of art in itself.
Breakfast the next morning was a relaxed affair of homemade granola and Scotch pancakes with yoghurt and berries, before a ramble through sleepy South Leigh, past the church and into the wheat fields. While that’s about it for the immediate vicinity, there are plenty of attractions a short drive away, from Blenheim Palace – a country house and gardens impressive enough to become a Unesco World Heritage Site (blenheimpalace.com) – to Daylesford Farmshop with the blissful Bamford Haybarn Spa next door (daylesford.com).
Of course, with the Cotswolds on your doorstep, you can’t go far wrong. Burford, Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold are particularly how-the-other-half-live charming and, if you want to continue the artistic bent, filled with art and antiques dealers (especially Stow-on-the-Wold – browse the Red Rag and Fosse Gallery). We opted for the dreaming spires of Oxford and a walk along the River Cherwell before stopping for refreshments at the appealingly rustic Vaults & Garden café (thevaultsandgarden.com).
Without the dog we might have explored the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, but then after spending the night immersed in a veritable gallery, traipsing through hushed galleries just wouldn’t have been the same.
Double rooms at Artist Residence Oxfordshire start at £150; artistresidenceoxford.co.uk