Dennis Severs’ House: Silent Night

Described by it’s American creator as a ‘still-life drama’, each of the 10 rooms in this four-storey Georgian terrace act as a time capsule in the life of a fictional family. A recreation of a incidental moments throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

A short introduction at the front door set the scene for our experience. We were encouraged to immerse ourselves in the candle-lit surroundings – above all, taking the tour in complete silence. Folgate Street isn’t somewhere for a casual browse – after all, the motto of the house ‘Aut Visum Aut Non!’ translates as ‘You either see it or you don’t!’, and it really is up to the visitor to make the leap from 21st-century London on the outside, back through the ages.

An alternative take on the museum experience, it really stands-out in a city where so much is already on offer.

ross@cogdesign.com

All the signs are there, if you are willing to look, listen (and smell). In each room, the focal point of a meal in progress – complete with crumbs, discarded apple-cores and half-empty wine glasses – is supported by crackling fires, subtle sound effects, and a multitude of props and nick-knacks that add a distinct sense of character. A different scent in each part of the house completes the experience.

You actually don’t learn a great deal of facts about the ‘inhabitants’ but it’s surprising how clear a picture you get of them simply from a glimpse in to the room where they spend most of their time. My favorite room was probably the one styled as the most recent, full of late Victorian clutter. Close enough to my lifetime to feel familiar, but still very much from a different time.

The, slightly creepy, plain clothed staff were a little distracting at times – it wasn’t clear that their intense staring was part of their job at all until a loud ‘SHHH!’ gave them way. This did seem to keep visitors who insisted on talking (there are always some) more or less in-line though, so their presence was justified.

I really enjoyed the hour or so that I was in the house, it would’ve been longer if it weren’t for the flooding that had unfortunately forced the basement kitchen to close. I was surprised that (albeit with a little imagination) I could find a building that offered such little context so fascinating. An alternative take on the museum experience, it really stands-out in a city where so much is already on offer.

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