As I arrived at the Dennis Severs’ house in the Shoreditch neighbourhood of London, there was not much to distinguish it from the others in this Georgian Terrace, surrounded by modern office blocks. One of the guardians of the house was waiting just outside and gave us a few words of introduction, requesting that we walk around the candle-lit house in silence to soak up the atmosphere.
The house is a cross between a stage set for an 18th century costume drama and a living museum, where the ghosts of the past have just left the room. The house was created by Californian Denis Severs, who lived in the house, with no electricity or modern conveniences, until his death in 1999. For his own enjoyment he created the house as a sensory experience which would transport visitors away from the 20th century - the house’s motto is You either see it or you don’t.
The ghosts in question are Mr Jervis, a prosperous imaginary silk-weaver and his wife Mrs Jervis. We catch a glimpse of their daily domesticity, their treasured possessions and their disgarded orange peel. In every corner is a small tableaux of objects from their lives, artfully arranged to hint at their lifestyle and character.
In the front dining room, they’ve just finished their dinner, a pomegranate lying half eaten on the table. In the corner we overhear the sounds of the chatter and read Mrs Jervis’ list of daily tasks for her housemaid. She’s clearly a conscientious and efficient housewife, instructing her maid to dust the vertical surfaces first, then wait an hour before dusting the flat surfaces.
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