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A House for Essex

The development of a twobedroom guesthouse on the site of an existing derelict farmhouse near the Stour Estuary in Essex. It was designed by the London-based FAT Architecture practice with Britain’s best-loved cross-dresser, Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, as a holiday rental for the Living Architecture company, the idea of Alain de Botton.

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© Jack Hobhouse

A House for Essex lies on the edge of the village of Wrabness in North Essex. It sits on the southern bank of the river Stour with views across the estuary to the neighbouring county of Suffolk. To the east, the river runs out into the North Sea between the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe. To the west it heads inland past Mistley and Manningtree. The house is close to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has a sense of remoteness despite its proximity to two major ports. It lies at the end of a single track road in the middle of Wrabness. After the site, the track becomes a footpath leading down to the foreshore.

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© Jack Hobhouse

  • This whimsical vacation house is styled as a secular chapel. The strange brief was requested by Living Architecture, a nonprofit that commissions notable architects and rents the buildings to the public.
  • The house is clad in almost 2000 faience tiles to several different designs. The house is part domicile, part art gallery and part homage to Essex, tracing the life of a fictitious Essex character, Julie. Deep green faience tiles featuring original Perry designs predominate on the exterior with further white and green tiles featuring different sculptural motifs interspersed and a faience chimney pot. Szerelmey provided support and advice from the early stages of the design through manufacture, dry lay, fixings and installation.
  • Every part of the house, including the roof, left, is intended by Grayson Perry, inset below, to tell the life story of an imaginary occupant named Julie. The house resembles a wooden Russian chapel, with gold-coloured roofs of copper alloy. Find a double-height living room behind the red doors.
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© Jack Hobhouse

The house has been designed in a highly expressive manner and incorporates a number of Grayson Perry ceramics that are both decorative and functional (where they form part of the cladding of the building). Alongside bedrooms, the building incorporates a gallery and formal reception area. The client is Living Architecture, Alain de Botton’s social enterprise, that make affordable holiday rental houses that provide an exceptional architectural experience.

In order to ensure the aesthetics of the building could be delivered, Atelier Ten worked closely with the design team. As the guesthouse will have many visitors, the services design has been developed to be robust and durable, while at the same time blending into the overall vision for the building. Key energy saving initiatives include heat recovery ventilation and ground source heat pumps.

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© Jack Hobhouse

Philosopher and author De Botton talked to Essex-born Perry about a house in Essex based on Essex, and then asked award-winning FAT, which has a record of unusual buildings, to work on it.

  • The house’s extraordinary appearance was collaborative from the start. “We all sat down,” explains Charles Holland of FAT, “and had the idea of a chapel you could live in, with references to wooden Russian architecture, too. Because of Grayson, we had the idea of a ‘pottery’ building, with the inside designed around artworks he is making for it. So Grayson went off and started on some tiles for the outside.” Perry wanted the house, which he likens to a jewel box, to tell a story, as if it belongs to an imaginary woman called Julie. The décor inside will relate to Julie’s life and include tapestries and ceramic tiles by him. Two thousand tiles were handmade for the outside of the house by Shaws of Darwen in Lancashire, which is known for making Butler sinks, while the aluminium roof sculptures were made by Millimetre, in Brighton.
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© Jack Hobhouse

  • In its isolated and beautiful setting the house also belongs to an ancient tradition of wayfaring chapels, which were designed to shelter and comfort exhausted travellers. Just unveiled, the result is fantastic. Its shimmering gold, steeply pitched copper-alloy roofs are graduated in size and make the house look as though, if you pushed it in at each end, it could collapse into itself like an accordian. Beneath the roofs, with their curved gable windows, the walls are clad in Perry’s glossy, greenand-white, equilateral-triangle ceramic tiles, all bearing moulded motifs. Topping everything off, the golden roofline flaunts four outsize finial-sculptures, including what appears to be a painted egg, a naked pregnant woman and a weather vane that looks like a ship’s compass, all in aluminium.
A-House-for-Essex-By-FAT-Architecture-and-Grayson-Perry-13-Jack-Hobhouse-759x506 A House for Essex / FAT Architecture and Grayson Perry

© Jack Hobhouse

FAT Architecture:

This house in the north Essex countryside is the latest to be commissioned by Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture company.

It has been designed in collaboration with the artist Grayson Perry and contains a number of specially commissioned artworks. The programme is for a two-bedroom guest house that also contains a gallery and formal reception space.

The site is on the Stour estuary, a few miles inland from Harwich. It lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the house will enjoy spectacular views across the river.

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© Jack Hobhouse

The exterior will be clad in bottle-green ceramic tiles designed by Grayson Perry. The roof will be finished in brass sheet and feature a number of elaborate figurative sculptures, also designed by Perry. The sculptures, tiles and interior artworks explore the historical and contemporary character of Essex.

The design received planning approval in November this year and work is due to start on site in March 2013.

Interviewed about our collaboration with Grayson Perry, Alain de Botton said: “I think the work of both is being taken to new heights by what they bring each other”.

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© Jack Hobhouse

living architecture:

The building has been designed to evoke a tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels in the landscape. It is a singular building, appearing as a small, beautifully crafted object amongst the trees and fields.

The house does not attempt to mimic the appearance or materials of existing buildings in the local village of Wrabness. Instead, it offers a unique addition. Its materials and forms are sympathetic to the site and the area’s sense of remoteness. For example, hand-made tiles relate tonally to the landscape while the building’s simple pitched roof forms echo simple agricultural buildings and farmhouses.

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© Jack Hobhouse

The form of the house is solid and barn-like. A series of simple, house forms step up in scale from the entrance to the main living room space. Each of these spaces is expressed externally as a volume in its own right. The building gets higher as it steps down the hill with the tallest volume at the lowest point. It therefore presents two different faces, a modestly scaled entrance porch to the south and a taller more formal frontage to the north.

Visitors entering the house from the south pass through a series of spaces that become increasingly formal, culminating in a double-height living room lined with decorative timber panelling and Grayson Perry´s richly coloured tapestries. Upstairs there are two bedrooms which have views across the landscape to the east and west.

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© flickr-Asarum Images

The stepping up of the volumes creates a series of interlocking spaces on the inside where each pushes into the other. The first floor bedrooms, for instance, will also have balconies that look into the living room space and the bath offers an unusual location from which to observe visitors in the hallway.

The interior of the house contains a number of specially commissioned art works by Grayson Perry including beautiful tapestries, pots, decorative timberwork and mosaic floors, celebrating the history and psyche of Essex.

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© Jack Hobhouse

About: Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry is one of the UK’s leading contemporary artists. He won the Turner Prize in 2003 and has gone on to achieve enormous critical and popular acclaim. As well as making ceramic pots, tapestries and sculptures, Perry has curated a number of high-profile exhibitions. His 2006 exhibition The Charms of Lincolnshire mixed historical artefacts with his own works to reflect on the county’s culture. His recent exhibition The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum also used objects from the museum’s own collection mixed with specially commissioned new works. A recent Channel 4 television series, All In The Best Possible Taste, followed Perry as he produced a series of artworks based around the issue of contemporary taste, and helped secure his reputation as one of the UK’s best loved artists.

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© Jack Hobhouse

Project Data:

Project name: A House for Essex
Location: Black Boy Ln, Manningtree, Essex, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 51.941179, 1.173189

  • Type By Characteristic: Holiday House, Traditional House
  • Type By Site: Countryside / Suburb House
  • Type By Size: Large House – (more than 650 sqm)
  • Type By Materials: Concrete House

Project Area: approx 800 sqm
Project Period: 2011–2015
Status: Built
Cost: £1.5M
Completion Year: 2015


  • 2017 – Mies van der Rohe Awards – Program: Single house – Nominee

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Living Architecture

Artist: Grayson Perry
Structural Engineer: Jane Wernick Associates
Quantity Surveyor: KM Dimensions
Environmental Design Engineer: Atelier Ten
Landscape Design and Consultant: Deakinlock
Main Contractor: Rose Builders
Text Description: © Courtesy of FAT Architecture, Grayson Perry, Living Architecture, Homes&Property, Atelier Ten
Images: © FAT Architecture, Grayson Perry, Jack Hobhouse, flickr-Cy Evans, flickr-Asarum Images

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A House for Essex / FAT Architecture and Grayson Perry
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