Step back in time at 18 Folgate Street

13 Sep

I find myself bristling a little when people describe something as unique. Like surreal and eccentric it’s one of those words that seems so carelessly overused that it’s almost lost its true meaning.

So imagine my discomfort when the best word I can find to describe my visit to Dennis Severs’ house is (horror) unique. What’s more, it’s eccentric too and perhaps even a little surreal to boot. Shudder.

{Alan Williams via Dennis Severs House}

Dennis Severs’ house is located at 18 Folgate Street in E1, yards away from Liverpool Street station but a world away from pretty much everything else. You could walk past it a hundred times without knowing there was anything special going on inside. There’s no sign, no list of admission prices, no queue of visitors. You book your arrival time in advance, curator David Milne meets you at the door, briefly outlines the plot and gravely instructs you that once inside you must stay completely silent as you explore the rooms.

{Richard Bryant via Somerset House Images}

Ours was a twilight visit and the house was lit only by candles. Each room forms part of an untold story, crowded with artifacts apparently abandoned by residents who fled moments before you stepped inside.

{via London Insight}

{via Jacqueline at Home}

Occasionally you hear a whisper of voices, a clattering of hooves or a whistle of wind in the chimney. Each room is filled with a myriad of scents – real fires burning in the grates, oranges, cloves, sickly-sweet wine and the remains of a half eaten breakfast. Somewhere between the silence, the heady fragrance and the darkness the atmosphere grows heavy and absorbing. When a black cat on a chair blinked at me, I nearly jumped out of my skin!


{via London Insight}

{via London Insight}

Stepping into each room is like opening a cabinet of curiosities, with objects painstakingly arranged to play their part in telling the story. From the fresh cream rose petals in the wash bowl to the dried cotton boll dusted with face powder, everything is arranged with a sense of accident that only comes with absolute precision. Any interiors stylist will tell you that making something placed look natural is an art in itself. It must take hours each day and years of practice to get everything just so.

{Alan Williams via Dennis Severs House}

The curator describes the experience of visiting the house like ‘stepping into a baroque painting’. Notes left on scraps of paper dotted around the house describe it as a ‘still life drama’. One note from Dennis Severs himself exclaims:

“What! You’re still looking at ‘things’ instead of what ‘things’ are doing?”

I was left wondering which objects in my home have something to say about me. And what stories they have to tell from before they became mine…

{Richard Bryant via Somerset House Images}

Reading this post back, I’ve done a pretty poor job of describing what it’s like to visit 18 Folgate Street. I can only hope that you’ll be intrigued enough by the inadequacy of my writing to go and experience it for yourself!

7 Responses to “Step back in time at 18 Folgate Street”

  1. carolgrantham January 11, 2014 at 13:52 #

    Yes, it’s a magical place. I took my daughters there just before Christmas a few years back – they particularly enjoyed the real canary singing away in its cage in the parlour, and the cat curled up in the kitchen by the fire – I loved all the decaying surfaces and the whispers of the ‘inhabitants’. As we left snow had begun to fall and we walked across the river via Tower Bridge feeling very festive indeed!

    • Bethan - Decorator's Notebook January 24, 2014 at 09:54 #

      That sounds magical – I didn’t go at Christmas but I’ve heard it’s extra special with all the decorations and candles.

  2. kingsheatharchitect January 10, 2014 at 19:04 #

    Reblogged this on kings heath architect and commented:
    Fascinating post from decorator’s notebook – almost a haunted house. Down in “the smoke” as it is known around here.

  3. Brook January 10, 2014 at 09:11 #

    Thanks Bethan. I LOVE these environments that are livable, breathable. They make you think in new ways. (And my Basha blanket is fabulous! It is an inspiration.)

  4. Mimi September 15, 2011 at 20:56 #

    Talk about curb appeal. That’s one of the most beautiful doors I’ve seen on a home. Thanks so much for sharing this unique abode!


  1. House tour: The secret Paris apartment of Madame de Florian | Decorator's Notebook blog - January 10, 2014

    […] – If this apartment captivates you too, you must visit Dennis Severs’ House in Folgate Street. It’s the closest you’ll get to the magic of an abandoned […]

  2. Black beauty « My friend's house - December 16, 2011

    […] For a full explanation of the house see Decorator’s Notebook’s post about her visit, here.    Richard Bryant via Somerset House […]

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