Messums: a temple of handmade homewares in the English countryside

Contemporary sleekness, medieval gravitas and artist-made homewares ensure this gallery shop in the English countryside is an elegant cut above

Johnny Messum
Johnny Messum | Image: Jon Tonks

Standing 65m long and 10m high, the 13th-century tithe barn in the village of Tisbury cuts an impressive silhouette amid the green fields of the Wiltshire landscape. This medieval ecclesiastical storage space, where the Abbess of Shaftesbury once collected a percentage of locals’ earnings and farmers’ produce to ensure their safe passage to heaven, was commandeered by London art dealer Messums in 2014 and transformed, after a two-year restoration project, into a rural “temple to the handmade”. Its mission is to explore the “making process and a sense of connection to objects”, says gallerist Johnny Messum, who does so with grand-scale exhibitions, performances, workshops and a shop that is a quietly elegant cut above.

Ruth Dresman large ceramic fish plate, £2,340
Ruth Dresman large ceramic fish plate, £2,340 | Image: Jon Tonks

The home of the latter is a freestanding white geometric pod (“Rachel Whiteread-esque,” says Messum) at one end of the barn – a brilliant jolt of contemporary sleekness in the ancient structure. Inside the shop, objects for sale are inspired by the main gallery exhibitions. A ceramics show introduced sculptural “spear” pestles and flat-bottomed mortars in porcelain (from £114) and granite (£144), produced by local sculptor and designer Julian Sainsbury under the name John Julian, while a recent wood-themed exhibition – featuring works by edgy east London design studio Gareth Neal – prompted the shop to stock Wooden & Woven’s elegant cheeseboards (£90) in English cherry or black walnut, and chopping boards (£132) in curly cherry or sycamore maple – all handcarved in the Lancashire village of Rivington by former menswear designer Alexander Devol. There’s now also an array of beautifully shaped sycamore and walnut spoons (from £60) by London-based maker Luke Hope, who goes by the name Hope in the Woods.

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The gallery’s upcoming winter exhibition, Material: Light, sees the shop welcome vases and vials by local stained-glass makers. Ruth Dresman’s creations, for example, bring “a contemporary vivacity to a William Morris aesthetic” (large fish plate, £2,340; fish bowl, £1,140) and are stocked alongside colourful blown-glass tableware (tumblers, £24; jug, £102) by Emsie Sharp. Opening on December 2, Material: Light will explore the tension between kinetica and glass, and include London-based sculptor Ivan Black’s meticulously engineered moving forms alongside the vibrant multimedia works of Dianne Harris. 

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Messums is also the only supplier outside London of Chelsea’s Green & Stone artist materials, and its offering includes a specially created travelling watercolour set (£99.60); featuring dabs of colour on postcards, it was recently bought by a rock star. “It conjured a wonderful image for me of him on tour,” says Messum. A final quirk sees patrons able to step atop the shop to a gallery viewing platform, where the handmade oak seating includes the Shaker-meets-Scandi-chic Hardy chair (£595) by British designer David Irwin for craft furniture brand Another Country. “All the objects have their own stories,” says Messum. Far from your average furniture and utensils, these are creations of tactile beauty, objects to hold dear.

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