In the tiny village of Wrabness, nestled discreetly 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 there – a piece of public art in the form of a holiday cottage – 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 let 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 on 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, who granted final planning permission on Tuesday, received 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 resides by the path that leads to the build site, said that 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 around 150 houses and a population of 400, offers beautiful views of the Stour estuary, beneath the great sweeps of sky beloved of artists since Constable. The house will be built in the place of an unoccupied, dilapidated farmhouse that has not been occupied for 20 years.
Locals wonder whether Wrabness, only an 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."
However, not all residents are up in arms. Some have embraced Perry's vision and hope 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 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.
"Wrabness is a place that has remained pretty unchanged for many years and this house is, well, unusual," he said. Perry paid a personal visit to reassure residents, accompanied by Mark Robinson, from Living Architec-ture, 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 Mr Robinson. "Our mission is that people will go and stay 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 that the building will drive up interest in the village.
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