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House for Essex

A holiday home for Alain de Botton's Living Architecture designed in collaboration with artist Grayson Perry

A House for Essex is situated on the edge of a small village overlooking the Stour estuary at the north-eastern tip of Essex. It has views across the estuary towards Suffolk and towards the North Sea ports of Harwich and Felixstowe.

The site is important in relation to the idea of pilgrimage. It is at the end of the road, literally at the point that Black Boy Lane turns into a footpath that leads down to the river’s edge. The house lies at one end of a journey from Essex’s London fringe to its agricultural north.

The house celebrates a fictional Essex woman called Julie Cope. Her life acts as a way to explore the character of Essex through artworks that are displayed within the house and that form an integral part of its fabric. There is a symbiotic relationship between aspects of her life and the spatial layout of the house.

The form of the house draws on influences as diverse as Norwegian Stave churches, the wooden architecture of Russia, Hindu temples, and Tibetan shrines as well as a history of wayside and pilgrimage chapels. It has been conceived as a landmark, visible from the river and surrounding fields and terminating the view as you walk down the lane towards it.

It comprises four archetypal ‘house shapes’ that increase in scale as it descends the hill, like a Russian doll. It has two distinct entrances, one for the house and one for the ‘chapel’. From the south it appears relatively small and domestic in scale. From the north it appears grander and more formal. Internally the house grows in scale as you travel through it.

Mirrors, hidden doors and screens are employed to heighten the drama of the interior. The living room is a highly theatrical space, orientated around a complex, layered ‘rood screen’ that articulates the transition from house to ‘chapel’ and frames both a statue of Julie and a series of doors that open into it from the house, like the face of a cuckoo-clock.

Both internally and externally the house employs decoration, ornament and explicit figuration to tell its story and to give its spaces an intense emotional charge. It represents a fitting finale to FAT’s career-long re-examination of the communicative potential for architecture and our commitment to the relationship of art and architecture.

Professional Team

  • Architect: FAT
  • Client: Living Architecture
  • Artist: Grayson Perry
  • Structural engineer: Jane Wernick Associates
  • Environmental engineer: Atelier Ten
  • Cost consultant: KM Dimensions
  • CDM coordinator: Anglia Building Services
  • Main contractor: Rose Builders


  • Interior Joinery, roof sculptures and art installa: Millimetre
  • Standing seam roof: Full Metal jacket
  • Cladding: Szerelmey
  • Mechanical and Electrical subcontractor : SES
  • Internal Doors and Staircase: TD Joinery
  • Timber floors: Pica Flooring
  • Faience Tiles: Shaws of Darwen
  • Windows: Mumford and Wood
  • Ironmongery: A C Leigh