In the tiny village of Wrabness, nestled on the banks of the River Stour, they do not get many visitors and they certainly don't court attention. So when a cross-dressing, Turner prize-winning giant of the London arts scene decided to build his latest work, a piece of public art in the form of a holiday cottage, there naturally it caused quite a stir.
Grayson Perry, who was born in nearby Chelmsford, has chosen Wrabness for his first foray into architecture. This week he acquired planning permission for a two-bedroom holiday house overlooking the river. But typically the design includes one or two eye-catching features. A House for Essex will be a "shrine" to a conceptual everyday-Essex-woman called Julie, complete with a statue of her one the roof and tapestries telling her life story inside. Ceramic sculptures and green relief tiles will adorn the wall and visitors will enjoy their stay surrounded by examples of Perry's pottery, as well as a mosaic and chandelier dedicated to "Julie".
"The idea behind the project relates to buildings put up as memorials to loved ones, to follies, to eccentric home-built structures, to shrines, lighthouses and fairytales," Perry has said.
In Wrabness, many people are not impressed. Parish council chairman Harry Jones called it a "blot on the landscape" while Tendring District Council, which granted final planning permission on Tuesday, received a number of complaints from residents, one of whom said the house looked like it belonged in a Disney film. Val Thomas, who has lived in Wrabness for 41 years and lives on the path that leads to the build site, said the secluded spot was a "hidden gem" that might be spoilt. "We're certainly not happy with it down this lane," she said. "I've seen the design and it's certainly not in keeping with the rest of the village. It looks like something out of Cinderella."
Wrabness, which has about 150 houses and a population of 400, offers beautiful views of the Stour estuary, beneath the great sweeps of sky beloved of artists since the days of John Constable. The house will be built in the place of an unoccupied, dilapidated farmhouse that has not been occupied for 20 years in a spot popular with ramblers.
Locals wonder whether Wrabness, just one hour from London on the train, might become the focal point of a rural artistic commune. "We'll have a lot of interesting sorts coming down the lane to the house," mused Mrs Thomas. "We're not used to that."
Not all residents are up in arms however. Some have embraced Perry's vision and hope that the house could put their village on the map. Tony Elliston, a south London youth worker who retired to Wrabness five years ago, said that – after initial shock – many people were growing quite fond of the Perry's "gingerbread house". "There was some misunderstanding about what the building would be – people thought we would have an art gallery and lots of traffic going down a narrow lane," he added. "Wrabness is a place that has remained pretty unchanged for many years and this house is, well, unusual."
Perry paid a personal visit to reassure residents, accompanied by Mark Robinson, from Living Architecture, the development company managed by the philosopher Alain de Botton which will manage the site. "Grayson Perry came here," said Mr Elliston. "He met with us and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours. He's a nice chap, he explained the concept and he wasn't patronising. I think the house will be an asset to the area."
"I know there has been some negative comments about it but we've had a lot of positive things from the community as well," said Robinson. "Our mission is that people will go and stay and there. You can stay for £30 per night per person at some of our houses so there's no reason why it shouldn't be like that here."
Mr Elliston, who manages a holiday cottage in Wrabness, hopes the building could drive up interest in the village. He is also hoping that Perry, whose work sells for thousands, may even chip in to a local fundraiser to upgrade the village shop.