THE STORY OF
HOUSE & GARDENS
At midday on 6th October 1990 John Tode stepped into a three-bedroomed, semi-detached, ex-council house in Essex and started a personal journey that grew into a twenty-five-year project: To take a the UK's most ordinary house and transform it into a wonderland of inspirational locations, each set in a different time and place.
The photographs, videos and information included on this website are the result.
The process was to deconstruct each room back to the brickwork and rebuild from scratch, so that upon completion not one square centimetre of the original house remains (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) were learned by ordinary people.
It was quite a brave undertaking, but made more so because the person who started this quarter-century journey could not even wire a household plug. As John Trevillian, he grew a team and his skills – then after finishing, as John Tarrow wrote the novel exploring the deeper mythology and magic of his creation.
“I realised quite early on that the house I wanted to live in and the one I could afford were very far apart”
Using traditional techniques and authentic items sourced from around the globe, John and his team 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.
“I wanted a house that was beautiful and functional, and allowed me to go on adventures without ever leaving home”
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 that gets asked all the time is: “Why?” As if there is a reason to art. As if you can ask why did Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa? But art does have a message, and if the project says anything it is that the secret to do extraordinary things lies within every ordinary person. If there is a single message, it is the one below. Talliston is a house just like any other house. Just like yours. At its heart it is a project about time – not about living in the past, but of taking the best of all that has come before and creating a better now. Of stopping clocks. And starting living.
For John, it was about creating his best and most magical places; an office that inspired novels, a kitchen for the perfect Sunday morning breakfast. For him, Talliston is not a house of fantasy, it is a house of reality. But of course, these thirteen rooms of dreams and nightmares are his magical places, so now it's time for you to make yours.
“Do not ask me why is Talliston like this.
Ask yourself instead, why isn't the whole world like Talliston?”
“One of the seven wonders of
the modern world”
“a mystical journey through
time and space”
“the most extraordinary
house in Britain”
1. TASK: To take an ordinary house (three-
bedroomed, semi-detached, ex-council house in Essex) and
transform it into an extraordinary labyrinth of locations from
different times and places, so that not a single square centimetre of the
original house remains, while:
- keeping the orientation and use of the original rooms
- only adding those elements that a typical council-bought house would
contain (conservatory, kitchen extension, garden shed, etc.)
- utilising only those tradesmen and craftspeople required by law or necessity,
with all other work accomplished by core team and volunteers.
2. TIME: Exactly twenty-five years, starting at midday on 6th October 1990
and finishing at midday on 6th October 2015.
3. COST: To do so without any outside funding over and above the time
and finances of ordinary people.
Ultimately to place the finished building into trust while also creating a
creative community, The Talliston Fellowship, a non-profit group
created to preserve and maintain the house, gardens and inventory.