Even though I researched Dennis Severs’ House before going to visit, it wasn’t quite what I expected. I must be one of the ones he referred to as “pigeonholed styles of intelligence” because I wanted a little more explanation about the rooms and perhaps a little more light (even if it was more candlelight) to see the rooms. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start over…
A group of us expats met at the house at noon. There are very limited hours and days when the house is open to the public. For more information go to the Dennis Severs House website here. No talking or photographs are allowed inside the house. I took a few photos outside but if you want to see additional indoor photos, click here for a photostream on Flickr.
Dennis Severs was an American artist from Escondido, California and he moved to London right after high school. He was especially enthralled with the Victorian age and, in 1979, purchased a home (circa 1724) in East London, just steps from Spitalfields Market. He lived in the house from 1979 to 1999 and refurbished each of the 10 rooms to reflect the time periods between 1724 and 1914. One room represents the Enlightenment Age, another the Romantic Age, and so on. He lived in the house without electricity to better experience what it was like back then. His vision was for a person to feel like they stepped through the canvas of a painting and back in time. The house is set-up as though the family living there just “popped out” for a minute. There are food items on the tables, dishes in the sink, laundry hanging, a tea-cup spilled on the floor, etc. Dennis Severs wanted those visiting to feel, smell, and hear the house. He was adamant that it wasn’t a museum, but a spiritual experience.
The idea is great and I was so looking forward to it, but the execution proved harder to achieve. Letting yourself get lost in the experience is difficult because the rooms are small and you’re trying to avoid stepping into and in front of the other people. A better experience would be to have the room to yourself, perhaps sit, and let yourself absorb the sights, sounds and smells. That would require much better scheduling of visitors on the part of the Spitalfields Trust who owns the property.
I also didn’t like the typed notes found around the rooms which stated “if you’re looking at individual items, you’re not doing it right”. It was jarring to say the least. Who wants to be judged when you’re trying to get into the experience. And who doesn’t look at individual items on display. When I visit a friend’s home, I always look at their items on the mantel, in the windows and on their walls. Why else would they have them out in the living room? The motto of the house is “Aut Visum Aut Non!” (You either see it or you don’t) ~ I get the feeling those running the visits don’t care one way or the other.
Would I recommend you go? I give a qualified yes. Don’t go with any expectations of learning about a certain time period but go for the experience of seeing a “preserved” house and participating in something different. I may return myself just to see if I get a different experience out of it, now that I know what to expect.