The £1m Dunmow dream home that was 25 years in the making
PUBLISHED: 08:00 10 October 2015
2014 Roger King
In Newton Green, Great Dunmow is an ordinary house with an extraordinary story. Each room takes you to a different place, including 1911 Scotland, 1929 New York and 1965 Cambodia. Owner and big-dreamer, John Trevillian, began the idea in 1990. On Tuesday (October 6) the project was finished exactly 25 years after it started. ABIGAIL WEAVING reports.
From the road, Talliston House looks no different from the other houses and I even struggled to find it.
No one knew about the project until last year. But this is what John wanted to achieve; a place where secrets lie within. “It’s not something you have to dream; you can actually do these things,” he tells me.
“This is the sort of house that I was destined to have; a three-bedroom semi in Essex. What the project is saying is that this is what life has given me, but I’m not going to accept that because I can’t be happy with it.”
True to his word, I step inside and I am immediately transported to 1992 Italy, otherwise dubbed ‘The Hall of Mirrors’.
Marble covers the floor and a majestic staircase modelled on an Italian mountain home lies ahead, framed with ornate mirrors.
It takes a moment for it all to sink in, not including the 1887 Victorian living room to my right and a futuristic Japanese teahouse to my left.
It is detail which makes the house a masterpiece. For starters, the smell and sounds of each room have been carefully crafted, from orange blossom, jasmine and basil in The Room of Dreams, to pine wood smoke and forest air spray in The Cabin.
Each piece of furniture has been handpicked. The conservatory, or The Starhouse, is inspired by a book cabinet from a Shinto Temple. John explains that each room is based on opposites.
“In here, everything changes. You were in that dark, Victorian stone living room, now you’re in a glass atrium. You go from the randomness and clutter into a Japanese teahouse.”
His passion for research has led him to 27 countries. “You learn a lot,” he tells me. “The phrase that came through was ‘wisdom is found through the feet’. You go to these places and experience all these things, then you come back and you think, ‘How can I make that feeling again?’”
Up a rope ladder to the attic is The Treehouse Sanctuary, inspired by Cambodian treetop homes. The roof supports were entirely replaced by tree trunks, just as in Cambodian homes.
John has spent £1million on the project, deciding from the beginning to use just one annual salary. Nothing would have been possible without the 138 volunteers, the Friends of Talliston, who helped.
Their commitment is remembered in the motifs in each room; a butterfly for creativity, a honeybee for industriousness and a ship for the journey. As with any journey, John has been tested. He nearly lost the house twice.
In 2014, an old gas sump was found under the conservatory and cost £6,500 to remove, new laws stopped John accessing his pension at 50, and he lost he job. He was five weeks away from losing the house and had to generate £2,500 a month to keep it going.
John’s campaign “Saving Talliston” succeeded, thanks to volunteer fundraising.
The idea started when he was a teenager with his dream of a personal study, now known as The Office.
“Growing up, I shared a room with my brother and I had no space, no privacy, and I was a writer. I dreamed of having a room like this and I love 1920s and 1930s noir fiction.”
Set in 1929, The Office in Talliston is home to a New York detective, and each room has its own fictional character.
“By having a time period and an occupant in each room, it really gives you a feel of what should be in the room, and as you look around, you can piece them together,” he says.
The obvious occupant though, is its creator, John. Although he hopes to place the property into trust one day, he is finally able to enjoy his finished home.
“It makes children of us all this house,” he says, “and that is just it. It lets you realise the power of the imagination and that, most importantly, we should grasp it.”
It seems particularly fitting then, that as we say goodbye, a butterfly flutters between us; a reminder that Talliston is brimming with magic, and with the message that creativity is everywhere.
We only have to use it.