Visit This Antique House with a Curious History on Your Next Visit to London
August 27, 2017
On a cobblestone street in the East End of London near Spitalfields Market, lays a red brick terrace home with a black wooden door. The modern city that surrounds it has changed over the centuries, but Dennis Severs’ House on 18 Folgate Street remains untouched, becoming a time capsule to a lost era in London’s unknown, bohemian history.
Spittalfields had become a thriving community for artists and immigrants in the 1700s. At the height of the area’s creative renaissance, a curious art-curator named Dennis Severs, had moved to the area, and took residence in 18 Folgate Street. Aware of the house’s rich history (it had been a tenement house to artists for the last three centuries), Severs’ began his personal passion project: an interactive, still-life museum that captures the essence of a fictional family of silk weavers living in London from 1724 to the early dawn of the 20th century.
Continuously adding antiques and art pieces to the home, Severs’ had designed the house’s 10 rooms as if it were untouched by the modern world. Visitors could feel that the Jervis family is still in residence, through the continuous burning of candles, the sounds of horses walking on the cobblestone streets, and half eaten bread and glasses of wine still unfinished lying on the tables. Severs’ vision was to show the modern age a secret, undiscovered London through eyes of a normal family experiencing both wealth and poverty over the course of time.
“You visit the pass like a foreign country. Its art.” states curator David Milne, a close friend and successor to Severs, who had visited and known the house since boyhood. Almost every afternoon, Milne would make sure that every detail of the house was kept real and authentic. All of the original 18th century flooring and wall paint is still intact, giving the five story structure the smell of old oak, pine and aged paint. The dining room, which was originally an office, is now a cozy space lit only by candles and the burning fireplace.
The basement is a dark, functioning kitchen where David and the staff cook their meals when visiting. The second floor homes a smoking room, where an 18th century copy of an iconic Hogarth painting called “A Midnight Modern Conversation” watches over the dwellers playing cards and enjoying after-dinner brandy. The other rooms are designed with great Victorian influence: deep greens and romantic pinks cover the walls where velvet lined furniture match the hard oak floors and antique China left by the lady of the house.
Small details like real Turkish Delight are kept on trays for the Master’s comfort, while the scent of fresh fruit lies on almost every table, ready to be devoured after a hard day’s work. The little details add a lived-in mystique to the space, allowing the imagination to run wild – as if the Jervis family is just in the other room. Milne states, “We as human beings like to create magic and wonder. That’s why we lose ourselves in magic – cinema, books, (the) theater. The world swallows us up– but when people come in here, they like the silence, they love the feeling (and they) create the story in their head.”
Primarily known as an artistic haven, Spitalfields lies in the heart of London where various types of people engage in design, conversation, and history. Dennis Severs’ House is one of the buildings left untouched that promotes the artistic, bohemian lifestyle. Mindedly following tradition, the staff that works at the museum are all freelance artists who live and breathe the form. The house itself has also inspired artist from all around the world, allowing publications like Vogue and Lifestyle Asia to shoot editorials, the BBC to film historic shows and movies, and the novel “The Marvels” by Brian Selznick to find a setting and hero in a character based on Dennis Severs himself. Future plans include a Hollywood movie to be filmed soon.
As the future happens on a day to day basis, David Milne and his young team want to preserve the past through this special home of art and artists. Currently, they are fighting large corporations looking to cover the quaint row of historic terrace houses with large skyscrapers and condominiums. Now an initiative for the passionate bunch, they long to keep Dennis Severs’ legacy by preserving the area that inspired him to build a storybook home straight from his imagination that keeps the past intact, appreciated, and not too far from our memory.
For more information on the Dennis Severs House and to make bookings visit <www.dennissevershouse.co.uk>
Text by Chino R. Hernandez
Photography course of TIMEOUT.com
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