IT’S like stepping into fairyland - just for a moment.

IN the distance, a gingerbread style house you might half expect Hansel and Gretel to step out of, but this is a chapel, a shrine to an everyday Essex woman called Julie Cope built by her imaginary husband as a kind of Essex Taj Mahal.

Situated just outside Wrabness, it was actually conceived by the county’s most famous living artist, Grayson Perry, along with architect, Charles Holland, as part of a project for Living Architecture, which was set up to change public perceptions of modern architecture.

Now a special exhibition is taking place at the Firstsite art gallery in Colchester made-up of some of the art works inside the House for Essex as well as models, plans and even a 3,000 word ballad, written by Grayson, which puts the building of the house into an artistic context.

Grayson says: “It’s a shrine and a holiday cottage – an art work you can stay in.

“I think some people have been frustrated that they cannot go in. A lot of people just see the outside and would love to go in and have a glimpse so this an opportunity for them to see the art works inside.

“Many years ago Alain de Botton, who is the creative director of Living Architecture, and I met at some party and we talked about whether I would like to design a church and I said I would quite like to do that. I suppose that’s where it all started and then the idea of me doing it just rumbled on as the years went by until one day, out of the blue, he asked whether the church idea could be completed as one of their houses. In the Firstsite show there is a model that I built of my design of a church which echoes the house.”

Also included are The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope on loan from the Crafts Council Collection. The two major tapestries illustrate the key events in Julie’s journey, from her birth on Canvey Island during the great flood of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on Colchester High Street. Overflowing with cultural and architectural detail, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that reflects Firstsite’s year-long focus on contemporary identity.

The first, A Perfect Match is centered upon Julie’s conventional early life and ultimately doomed relationship with her first husband Dave.

The second, In Its Familiarity, Golden depicts Julie’s ‘second act’, in which she takes control of her life and widens her horizons as she relocates to Maldon with her children and attends university in Colchester, where she meets her second husband Rob.

Grayson Perry: The Life of Julie Cope runs at the Firstsite art gallery from November 18 to February 18.

For more information on the exhibition go to