Or: How one man who couldn’t wire a plug went on a journey to build a fantastical house and gardens.
Here’s something different for you. (I often say that, don’t I? It’s because it’s true, I’ve just realised. I am a collector of Different. I love my shelves of curios…) Today’s guest post is by the man who created the enchanting house where my fellow Tallistonians meet, fellow writers at varying degrees of blissfully On the Edge: Talliston, a house unlike any you will ever see.
Here’s his story:
At midday on 6th October 1990 I stepped into a three-bedroomed, semi-detached, ex-council house in Essex and started a personal journey that has grown into a 25 year project: To take a standard English dwelling and transform it into a wonderland of inspirational locations, each set in a different time and place.
The photographs included here are the result.
The process is to deconstruct each room back to the brickwork and rebuild from scratch, so that upon completion not one square centimetre of the original house will remain (that’s inside and out). Using only those tradesmen essential to compliance with building regulations (structural, electric and gas), the rest of the skills (from carpentry, bricklaying and garden landscaping to the more esoteric like basket weaving, gold leafing and treehouse construction) have been learned during its lifecycle. During the project, we’ve also seen other craftspeople, artists, architects and volunteers get involved into what is now a veritable community.
It was quite a brave undertaking, but made more so because the person who started this quarter-century journey – ie. me – could at the start not even wire a household plug.
Using traditional techniques and authentic items sourced from around the globe, we have created something from nothing, or perhaps more accurately, something incredible from nothing special. It is Talliston’s outward normality that is its magic; it is truly somewhere extraordinary within the ordinary.
By walking from room to room, you find yourself leaving the present, and entering the past (and even at one point entering the future). So you can step from a Moorish bedchamber into a 1920s study, from a New Orleans kitchen into a Victorian tower – all just by opening the house’s many doors and seeing what lies behind them.
Yet the essence of the house is more than how it looks. It is also how it sounds, smells, tastes and feels. Every location has a story woven into it, and while images of the house are astonishing, Talliston is not designed to be a place viewed in photographs. It is not enough to just see the house – instead you must experience it.
Thematically the house illustrates that perhaps we should not strive for ‘one size fits all’ societies. It’s not a case of being S, M or L, but that each garment should be fashioned bespoke, each house, room and collection of objects should be unique. In the current marketplace, where global brands erode the uniqueness of countries and cultures, Talliston strives to explore the power of environment and also to tell a coherent story simply through its architecture and objects.
One question I get asked all the time is: “Why?” As if there is a reason to art. I mean, why did Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa?
But art does have a message, and here I can help a little. If the project says anything it is that the extraordinary lies within the ordinary. And perhaps also that while every man’s home is his castle, I wanted to show that it could also be his office, temple and wilderness retreat; a place to escape, reflect and share.
I wondered this myself and never really found a satisfactory answer. And then I was on a plane to New York and found myself watching Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil (a story of a doctor swapping aspidistras and velvet drapes for the cholera-infested backwaters in 1920s China). And in the opening, while Naomi was explaining how she dislikes being given cut flowers as why would anyone give her dead things), there was the same question: Why place so much effort into something that is going to die? Why put so much effort into something I am going to lose? So much time. So much money. And for what purpose? It is the question that I have asked myself many times, and know what I’m really asking is: “What is life?”
Everyone should ask themselves this question, and know that there are no wrong answers, that everyone will respond differently. What matters is not what the answer is but that the question is asked.
For me, Talliston asks: “Why cannot the whole world be like this?” What’s so strange about trying to create a life that is wonderful, that is magnificent and excellent, before the time comes when I must say my farewells. Why place so much effort? Why cut flowers, why scent each area, why travel hundreds of thousands of miles to fetch objects for the house…
Why? Why? WHY!
Here is the why. The what and the how.
Because that, to me, is life.
1. The Labyrinth | Front garden 1852 | England
2. The Hall Of Mirrors | Hall & stairs 1992 | Italy
3. The Watchtower | Living room 1887 | Wales
4. The Voodoo Kitchen | Kitchen 1954 | Louisiana
5. The Boathouse | Bathroom 1986 | Norway
6. The Fountain Courtyard | Back garden 1933 | Ireland
7. The Cabin | Garden shed 1948 | Saskatchewan
8. The Starhouse | Conservatory 2282 | Near-space
9. The Haunted Bedroom | Master bedroom 1911 | Scotland
10. The Room Of Dreams | Guest bedroom 1977 | Grenada, Spain
11. The Office|Box-room 1929 | Cornwall
12. The Treehouse Sanctuary | Attic 1965 | Cambodia
13. The Tipi | Tent 2002 | Arizona
Photographs: © GilesG Photography.
Photography note: To capture the look and feel of each room’s many lighting levels, five exposures were taken and composited together using a technique called HDR. You can find out more of this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-dynamic-range_imaging