Ducking down a side road in Spitalfields, there is little to draw your attention to Dennis Severs’ House, except, perhaps, for the climbing runner beans that arch their way over the front door – not a common sight in the heart of London.
Once inside this hidden gem, visitors are left to explore each of its 10 rooms which have been set up to create the feel of stepping back in time into an 18th and 19th-century abode. During a house tour, visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the drama of the property by tiptoeing their way silently through each of the rooms while imagining that the fictitious silk merchant residents are still at home, but just out of sight.
Each room is set up as though someone has left the scene only moments before, with washing up left in the sink in the kitchen and a glass of port resting on the sideboard in the lounge. Meanwhile, the tantalising smell of food wafts through the dining room and the sound of distant voices, creaking floorboards and scraping chairs is faintly audible. The whole concept of the house has been created to transport visitors to another time without the formality of a museum or stately home. Instead, period furniture, porcelain and curiosities fill each room, arranged in the ad hoc manner of a private residence rather than held within the confines of glass cases or sectioned off behind velvet ropes.
As the property name suggests, this theatrical experience was the brainchild of Dennis Severs, an artist who lived in the Grade II-listed terraced house from 1979 until his death in 1999. It was Severs who restored the property and he lived in it much as its original Georgian inhabitants would have done, with period furnishing and decorations and without modern comforts, such as electricity. Visitors today see the property as it was left, exploring each beautifully decaying room by little more than candlelight and the glowing coals in the fireplaces.
Dennis Severs’ House, 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London EI 6BX.