Alice In Her Wonderland
Dorset has long been a source of inspiration for artists and writers. It was here that Thomas Hardy set many of his novels, where William Barnes wrote his poems, where Jane Austen, Enid Blyton, J.R.R Tolkien and Beatrix Potter spent their summer days. Today, Dorset is still a bubble of creativity, where artists come in search of the quiet life found among the green fields, empty beaches, and villages tucked away in the hills. It’s a place of calm — far away from the bustle of London.
Alice Blogg is one of these artists, who swapped her life in London for the fresh air of the countryside. She now runs a thriving artisan furniture business from a hilltop workshop above the village of Nettlecombe. She has been commissioned for Michelin-starred restaurants, displayed in London’s V&A, and showcases her exquisite pieces on The Garnered.
With every piece of furniture Alice makes, the Dorset countryside is at its core. She works sustainably, using wood from the trees around her. “It’s like with food,” she says. “We all want to know where it has come from, and that it was produced fairly. That’s how I feel about wood.” Alice works with two local tree surgeons, choosing trees that would otherwise be cut down and chipped or burnt. “I love trees standing, which is probably not what a furniture maker should say. But when I look up from my workshop and see these beautiful swaying branches, I feel truly connected to my work.”
Alice hasn’t always been a furniture maker. When she first moved back to her hometown in Dorset, her career began sweeping the floors of a joinery. “I thought if I started off sweeping and sawing wood, they might one day teach me the trade,” Alice says. Her approach paid off — it was at the joiners she got her first commission. After many nights building and polishing furniture in her kitchen, securing a workshop was the next step. The old metal forge she found on the hill was dusty and covered in hay, with broken windows and wildflowers, but Alice took it immediately. She didn’t have money to buy machines, so at first every commission was painstakingly completed by hand. Now her workshop is fully equipped, with big windows that let the light flood in. “I love looking up at that view,” Alice says. “I can’t think of a better place in the world to work.”
“It’s like with food, we all want to know where it has come from, and that it was produced fairly. That’s how I feel about wood.”
The green fields and fresh air around her barn must be contagious because Alice is surrounded by artists who feel the same. In fact, it was in the house behind her workshop where chef and food writer Gill Meller grew up. Gill, who is famed for his sustainable, Dorset-inspired cooking at River Cottage, now lives in the nearby fishing village of Lyme Regis. “I’m lucky to call Dorset my home,” says Gill. “The fields, the farmers, the fishermen — everything is inspiration to my cooking.” Gill’s new cookbook Gather, which showcases recipes using ingredients foraged from the local Dorset landscapes, has just won Best Debut Food Book at Fortnum and Mason’s Food and Drink Awards this May.
“I’m lucky to call Dorset my home. The fields, the farmers, the fishermen — everything is inspiration to my cooking.”
There’s also renowned florist and gardener Charlie McCormick, who collects cuttings for his arrangements less than 10 miles from where Alice collects her wood. Charlie’s passion for flowers began as a boy in New Zealand, but has developed into a successful career since moving here three years ago. Though he also has a house in London, he prefers his Dorset home, where he tends to his spectacular garden overflowing with colour. “When I’m there I feel alive,” he says. “From the hill forts, to the coast, to the wildflowers at the road sides — l just have to look up to feel inspired.”
“When I’m there I feel alive,” he says. “From the hill forts, to the coast, to the wildflowers at the road sides — I just have to look up to feel inspired.”
Then less than three miles from Alice’s barn is a house owned by artist Rosi de Ruig. Rosi handmakes intricate paper lampshades — a career which started because she could never find beautiful lampshades at an affordable price. She creates all kinds of bespoke designs, and loves the fact that something so simple can brighten a whole room. Though Rosi lives in London, she escapes to Dorset every weekend she can, trying to capture the countryside’s free spirit in her work. “Dorset is a magical place,” she says. “It’s no coincidence that so many artists choose to live here.
“Dorset is a magical place. It’s no coincidence that so many artists choose to live here."
Rosi de Ruig
That’s the beauty of Dorset — there’s so much natural wilderness, it’s hard not to get swept up in it all. It’s easy to see why the likes of Barnes and Hardy made it their home, and why designers like Alice choose to settle here instead of London. It’s somewhere artists or gardeners or chefs can nurture their creativity, tucked away in a place where inspiration hides among the wildflowers.