The British Turner prize-winning, cross-dressing artist, Grayson Perry, in partnership with FAT Architecture, has undertaken his most ambitious project to date. As part of the writer and philosopher Alain de Botton’s not-for-profit organisation, Living Architecture, Perry has designed a fairy-tale chapel, dedicated to the ordinary Essex woman. The house is located in Wrabness, a non-descript town in the county of Essex on the east coast of England. It is not an area known for anything notable and is not an area of particularly great beauty, which is what attracted the artist to it. A House for Essex is an extraordinary ode to the ordinary.
Like a miniature Kremlin rising up from the Essex countryside, the House for Essex is an iconoclastic building which tells the story of a made-up character, Julie, a typical Essex woman, and it follows her through her youth growing up in an English housing estate, her series of marriages, children, her upward mobility and varied career path, through to her death being run over by a delivery moped.
This building is many things and works on multiple levels. It is part place of worship, be it pagan or otherwise, part sculpture, part folk-art, and part exhibition space, as well as being a shelter and place for relaxation and contemplation.
Outside, the building is a riot of colour and pattern, like a glittering jewel box with curved gable windows. It is clad in glazed terracotta tiles, moulded in a goddess motif, designed by Perry. The gold, steeply pitched copper roofs, graduate in size, reminiscent of Russian dolls.
Inside, Perry has filled the space with tapestries and ceramic tiles, which relate episodes in the character Julie’s life.
A House for Essex might look make-believe, but it actually has a double-height living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom, and is available as a vacation rental house by the Living Architecture organisation. Living Architecture’s aim is to allow ordinary people to experience being inside a world-class building.