Dennis Severs’ House Review

Here is a sensation I would like to bottle as a sal volatile for monotone days: that of emerging from a darkened movie theatre into the light. ‘Going to the cinema is like going to bed and going to sleep,’ someone recently told me. ‘You close your eyes but then you’re opened up to these dreams you see before you.’ To wake up is to be disoriented, your mind lagging behind your body for a moment until the fictive retreats in the daylight. This is the feeling of allowing yourself to playfully doubt who and where you are. It’s the ‘pop!’ of recentering yourself and the release from the mesmerising focus provided by alternative spaces.

When it comes to liminal zones, I would not typically relate the house to the instability and betwixt-and-betweenness of the cinema, the church or the museum. But Dennis Severs’ House is not a typical house, evoking impressions of all three. It is a furnished timeline and a ‘still-life drama’, a superlative of a house just off Spitalfields Market ( Dennis Severs claimed the ruins of the Georgian terraced house in 1979. Fragmenting the traditional artistic house-museum, he decked his halls in eighteenth- to nineteenth-century styles, attributed the historical bric-à-brac to an imagined Huguenot family of silk weavers and lived there himself as he thought they would have before bequeathing the story to the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust.

Dennis Severs' House. Photo: Roelof Bakker, 2011