Galleries Magazine December 2015
On my regular visits to Dorset, I have a Saturday-morning ritual – I drive early to the bric-a-brac market in Bridport, then take a lovely riverside stroll to West Bay, just over a mile away, where, before heading for the beach and its bracing winds, I stop off at Sladers Yard gallery.
Walking around on the rough, stripped-back floorboards of this converted 18th-century maritime warehouse, I run my hands over the curved lines of the handmade furniture, oiled to a rich sheen, and fantasise about throwing out the tired-looking mismatched pieces that clutter up my London home and replacing them with the deceptively simple yet utterly sophisticated tables (from £2,400), chairs (from £775; oak Fireside Chair pictured, £4,750), sideboards (from £15,000) and lamp stands (from £250) scattered about this lovely exhibition space.
The objects of my desire are made by the furniture designer Petter Southall, who opened Sladers Yard with his wife, Anna Powell, in 2006 as a showroom for his work and also a space to exhibit and sell the output of other local artists and craftspeople.
The result is an atmospheric gallery where paintings are shown alongside artisan jewellery by Jocelyn Pardoe (from £110), domestic ware by Peter Swanson (from £10; his one-off studio pieces start at £165) and Akiko Hirai (from £40), carefully chosen accessories – silk and linen woven scarves by Wallace Sewell (£95), wallets (from £45) – lampshades (from £65), wood sculpture (£395), limited-edition prints (from £135) and, of course, the furniture.
On the day of my latest visit there was an exhibition of the paintings of Julian Bailey, a local artist whose oils of the Dorset coast and countryside (from £465) glow with the rich layers of paint that, in broad, thick strokes, artfully recreate an almost-abstract but utterly recognisable landscape, including the wonderful views across the county from Eggardon hill fort, as well as light-filled seascapes.
But for me the star of the show was a sideboard (£15,000, second picture), made by Southall with all the skills he learned first as a boatbuilder in his native Norway and later developed with cabinetmaker James Krenov in northern California and John Makepeace in Dorset. His specialty is steam bending – taking solid native timbers, such as oak, elm, ash and pear, and curving them into arcs, twists and spirals. One of his first commissions after graduating from Makepeace’s Hooke Park College was a dining room set for the sculptor Dame Elisabeth Frink.
A cup of tea in the ground-floor café, which opens onto a tranquil courtyard with more tables and chairs, and sells delicious homemade cakes and scones, completes my morning. There are also tasty, if not quite as indulgent, salads – not part of my ritual, but could be of yours, should you visit this wonderful place.