Grayson Perry on his Dream Essex House: “It’s a monument to thwarted female intelligence”

The Turner-prize winning artist on building his dream home in Essex, and the strange, fantastical story behind it...

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First it was pots. Then tapestries. Now Turner Prize-winning artist, cross-dresser and class analyst Grayson Perry has designed an entire house. To live in. Or, at least, to experience a weekend in. If it’s not Britain’s most eccentric holiday home, then it’s certainly its most decorative. 

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The impetus came from Living Architecture, a company that rents out – for hundreds of pounds a night – strikingly different holiday homes for adventurous renters. But the overall vision was Perry’s. The house is in Essex, of course. For Perry was born and bred in England’s most uncherished county, and he thinks it has had rather a rum deal. He wanted to create his perfect house there, but the first hurdle was to find a site.

“The moment I saw it, I knew it was perfect,” says Perry. “It’s in a little hamlet, the last property in the village of Wrabness, as you walk down a path to the River Stour. It was an old farm- house. We knocked it down, and started again.”

Anyone familiar with Perry’s highly decorative work knows how much he loves stories; they gambol ceaselessly around his pots, dresses and tapestries. So the idea was that Grayson’s house would tell a story, in this case a story about the myth of the Essex woman. Perry wrote a 3,000-word epic poem about an “ordinary (and fictional) Essex woman” called Julie Cope. Julie was born in 1953, was a hippy and a Greenham Common protester, who married and had two kids, got divorced, and married again. Julie led an entirely normal life, and sadly died in a tragic accident, aged 61.

The house would be called Julie and would tell her tale and, by extension, the tales of other unsung women of Essex. Julie is half gingerbread cottage, half Russian doll, with a gabled design of descending scale. Bright and pretty as a printed dress, it sits undisturbed in a meadow, looking very much as if it has dropped in from Planet Disney. Of course there were problems with knocking down an old farmhouse and building something so unorthodox in an Essex field, as Perry soon found out.

“We were refused planning permission. But rather than change the design, we just lobbied the locals. Eventually, they outnumbered the objectors.” What were they objecting to? “They complained that it was completely out of keeping with the area. Well, would you want something that is in keeping with the area? There is no proud architectural heritage in Wrabness, for goodness’ sake. 

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On the whole people are very pleased with it. It puts Wrabness on the map, a bit. It’s a landmark.” If you choose to stay in Julie you will enter a triple-height room that’s dominated by a statue of her. You can go to sleep and wake up facing a 13 foot-high double portrait of her and her husband. Your evenings will be illuminated by a chandelier designed like a moped (she was killed in a bike crash). Architect Charles Holland says, “There is a theatrical quality to the interior. It is hard to be there without thinking you are in a strange play.”