Grayson Perry’s Hansel and Gretel-style house in Essex is now available for holiday rentals
- Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry designed the house in collaboration with architect Charles Holland
- Kate Wickers checks in, declaring it a ‘glowing beacon for British eccentricity and craftsmanship’
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Could it be a gingerbread house? Or perhaps a Russian chapel or a Battenburg cake. In fact, it’s a fabulous holiday let in Essex.
This has to be one of the most eccentric places to stay in Britain and I’m spending a night here. It has a simple name, though: ‘A House For Essex’. And my abode comes with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, plus a lot of people staring as they walk by along the public footpath beside the River Stour separating Essex from Suffolk.
A House For Essex is the brainchild of the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, who was born in Chelmsford and grew up locally. It was completed in 2014, in collaboration with Charles Holland of FAT Architecture, as a work of art that people could live in too.
Until now, its enormous popularity among art lovers meant that it has been bookable by ballot only. But the holiday rental company that offers the bizarre accommodation, Living Architecture, which specialises in avant-garde designed properties, is reverting to a regular booking system, so it’s simpler for holidaymakers to plan stays.
If the outside is somewhat mindboggling, with its Hansel and Gretel appearance — the shape of the house ‘growing’ from the entrance to the garden in a series of four sections that seem to have been glued together — the inside does not let you down, as far as outlandishness is concerned. Step through the front door and the place pops with colour, from red and yellow doors and panelling of the otherwise functional kitchen to the triple-height living area with its huge vivid tapestries and mosaic floors.
Kate Wickers stays the night in ‘A House For Essex’, the brainchild of the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry
The house is available to book through Living Architecture, which specialises in bizarre accommodation
Then you start to learn about Julie. Grayson created a fictional character, Julie Cope, who he refers to as an ‘Everywoman of Essex’, to provide a backstory for the unusual house. The idea is that you are staying in a mausoleum to Julie’s life.
A bit ‘out there’, or even creepy, you might think. Well, it is certainly odd and, of course, it’s supposed to be. A series of ceramic pots painted by Perry (one of his signature art forms) depict the life and times of Julie. And the centrepiece of a chapel-like space near the back is a larger-than-life ceramic effigy of Julie standing goddess-like on a balcony.
It all takes a little getting used to at first, and the house has something of a reputation locally.
‘Even if you promise us a cookie, we’re not coming in,’ quips a passing teenager as I’m unloading my car. This seems to be a Hansel and Gretel joke. ‘Hello there!’ I hear from an elderly rambler while I’m enjoying a cuppa in the wildflower garden. ‘So you’re staying in Julie’s House? I’ve never been in.’
The two double bedrooms are upstairs, explains Kate, with walk-in wardrobes that lead to secret balconies with birds’ eye views of Perry’s artworks in the living area
‘Step through the front door and the place pops with colour,’ writes Kate, ‘from red and yellow doors and panelling of the otherwise functional kitchen to the triple-height living area with its huge vivid tapestries and mosaic floors’
A House For Essex stands at the end of an unassuming country lane in Wrabness, North Essex
Kate says of the abode: ‘It is certainly odd and, of course, it’s supposed to be’
‘A House For Essex is a spirit lifter that allows fiction to become a reality,’ declares Kate, adding that it’s a ‘glowing beacon for British eccentricity and craftsmanship’
Grayson Perry (right) designed the house in collaboration with architect Charles Holland (left) of FAT Architects
As one of Perry’s aims was to evoke the tradition of wayside chapels, it’s tempting to invite him to take a look. But because the house contains so many artworks, ad-hoc tours are discouraged by Living Architecture.
A House For Essex stands at the end of an unassuming country lane in Wrabness, North Essex, and another of Perry’s intentions was to create an antidote to the drabness of modern residential architecture. The two double bedrooms are upstairs with walk-in wardrobes that lead to secret balconies with birds’ eye views of Perry’s artworks in the living area. An understated though stylish bathroom with brass fixtures and fittings has a sunken avocado-tiled bath with rural views.
This is a house designed to stir nostalgia (for me, the green exterior tiles evoke unexpected memories of my grandmother’s Victorian miner’s cottage); invite reflection (with its very high windows, the living area feels like a sanctum); and provide dark humour. (It’s OK to laugh when you discover that the unusual motorbike chandelier that hangs high in the living room is the curry-delivery bike that killed Julie because, of course, it didn’t really end her life!)
Above all, A House For Essex is a spirit lifter that allows fiction to become a reality, glowing as a beacon for British eccentricity and craftsmanship with a touch of Essex bling.
From £395 a night with the promotion SMASH20 (for new bookings between now and November 13 (living-architecture.co.uk) to mark Grayson Perry’s Smash Hits exhibition at the National Galleries Scotland (nationalgalleries.org).
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