A few years ago, the sleepy Essex village of Wrabness may have not stood out for its eye-catching contemporary architecture. That was before the launch of House for Essex, the new project by playful architecture practice FAT and Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry for holiday home rental company Living Architecture.
Clad in colourful relief tiles - produced by Shaws of Darwen, cast from originals created by Perry - and featuring three spires and a chequered chimney on its glistening golden roof, the house is a daring departure from small community’s existing building stock. Welcome to the world of Julie Cope.
An extraordinary collaboration of architecture and art, House for Essex was conceived as a shrine, dedicated to the fictional character of Julie Cope. So, explains the team, it was designed as a wayside and pilgrimage chapel, devoted to this secular ‘saint’. 'I have always been influenced by religious architecture,' says Perry. The living room’s banquette seating, for example, is a nod to the one in the Chartres cathedral.
Despite its eccentric external appearance, the interior is spread across two floors in a fairly traditional layout. The ground floor contains common areas, such as living room and kitchen, while bedrooms and main bathroom are placed upstairs.
Slightly less conventional is the house’s internal horizontal division. A street-facing entrance opens to a more domestic arrangement – both in terms of scale and use. A second door on the opposite end leads into the house’s double-height, formal, dramatic living room (the ‘chapel’). It is richly decorated with Perry’s tapestries, drawings, ceramics and sculpture, a complex and ornamental interior telling the story of Julie Cope’s life and death. 'We talked about the relationship of [the living room] and the rest of the house,' says FAT architect Charles Holland. 'You can almost inhabit them independently.'
Two small internal balconies jut out from the bedroom walls, looking into this central space. A stage-set easily comes to mind. A motorbike – Julie Cope, explains Perry, met an untimely death under the wheels of one – hangs theatrically from the ceiling. 'It is like being in a play,' says the artist.
House for Essex, which is also FAT’s last project (the firm announced its break-up in 2013), is now available for short-term letting via Living Architecture.
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Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).
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