Grayson Perry's Dream House
Turner Prize-winning artist and BAFTA-award winning presenter Grayson Perry returns to Channel 4 with his most ambitious project to date.
Grayson Perry’s Dream House charts the creation of Grayson’s riskiest and most personal public artwork of his career: a loving tribute and celebration of his homeland of Essex inspired by his life and the people he grew up amongst. This is his tribute to Essex Women in all their glory and his powerful challenge to the reductive myth of the ‘Essex Girl.’
It is also Grayson’s biggest project to date, a creative collaboration with Charles Holland of FAT Architecture that also involves a team of engineers, builders and crafts people. It will take three years to build and involves hundreds of man-hours to bring this dream of an ornate terracotta-covered temple to life.
The house was commissioned by Living Architecture, an organisation which aims to promote contemporary art and design by creating modern houses for holiday rental.
On the site of a derelict farm house, Grayson’s long held dream begins to take shape. It is a dream to create a magical building that gives two fingers to the puritanical modernist architectural establishment but also tells a story of the Essex everywoman. To tell it, Grayson has invented a mythical woman called Julie Cope. Born in Essex in 1953, Julie died aged 61 in a freak accident with a curry delivery scooter. This is the story of her life, honoured by a chapel dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Essex.’
And the more Grayson gets absorbed in Julie’s life, the more he is forced to consider his own.
Julie’s story, moving through Basildon, South Woodham Ferrers, Colchester, Wrabness is the telling of the story of social mobility out from London to the towns and countryside beyond. It is the archetypal Essex story and the story of Grayson’s own childhood.
Grayson travels throughout the county, looking at the landscape, history and women of Essex, searching for inspiration. Speaking to Hollie who owns a hair and beauty salon in Colchester: ‘Essex women are…hard-working, glam, easy to get on with, fun….we have to overcome that stereotypical ‘type’ which makes us more determined….I don’t know babe, it’s in our blood, maybe it’s in our rollers.’
The house is built in Wrabness, a rural part of north-east Essex and one of the most conservative parts of Britain. The team's plans are met with resistance from the beginning, with some locals calling the design ‘totally bizarre.’ Grayson and Charles attend a meeting at the village hall with the local residents who have given the plans for Julie’s House a mixed response. After detailing the story and explaining their desire to challenge the stereotypical view of Essex, the project is met with applause and renewed enthusiasm.
The design for the house is a visual one-off and a remarkable collaboration between art and architecture. It has been handcrafted down to the finest detail in a rich, dense and extravagant style. Grayson himself has to design relief tiles depicting Julie, ornate roof sculptures, and four large tapestries celebrating her life. But translating a dream into a functioning building is not easy and Grayson’s first visit to the site brings home the challenge, pressure and scale of this project. The tiles alone, 1925 in total for the whole house, will cost several thousand pounds so the slightest mistake on Grayson’s part could prove to be a disaster. As Grayson says ‘I’ve never done anything where a moment of creativity has had such repercussions.’
The bespoke nature of the house, with the copper alloy roof, curved windows and the need to get it done before the winter draws in, makes it hugely complicated. As site manager Jason comments: ‘The stress of building 77 houses is nowhere near the stress of building this one house…it has been relentless.’ Architect Charles notes how the challenge of the collaboration between art and architecture has come together in such provocative and comprehensive way ‘I love it…it’s a fantastic thing that challenges preconceptions about what contemporary architecture is all about”.
Grayson takes a group of real-life Essex women, all called Julie, to visit the house that he has built in their honour. They do a tour of the key places in Julie’s life, which mirrors Grayson’s journey who himself started life in a council house in Chelmsford. The Essex women grill Grayson, asking why he wanted to do this project and ask the pertinent question: ‘Does Julie represent your mother?’
The story of Julie is in many ways, Grayson’s own story. ‘This is about ordinary lives and being aware of what matters, celebrating our relationships and our connections with people…who we come home to watch telly in the evening…who we love. This is a temple to that.’
Made by the BAFTA-award winning team behind Grayson Perry: Who Are You? and Grayson Perry: All In the Best Possible Taste.
Production Company Swan Films
Executive Producer Joe Evans
Producer Director Neil Crombie
Past TX Information