As you know, we are nosey birds here at TWR and there’s nothing we like more than looking around someone’s house. Here are two gems for you to consider.
If you are needing a little interior inspiration, or just want to soak up a bit of atmospherically presented history, then Dennis Severs time capsule of a house in Spitalfields is worth a visit. Presented in the style of an Old Master’s painting, the rooms are viewed in strict silence (no phones cameras or conversation) so as to better absorb the atmosphere. And very inspiring it is too, lit only by candlelight and small fires, the house is infused with the smells of 18th and early 19th century as well as ‘off-set’ noises of a family that might have just vacated the room you are in.
Dennis Severs, an artist who died in 1999, spent his life turning the house into this ‘still life drama’, which loosely demonstrates the lifestyle of a family of Huguenot silk merchants who live on three floors who have taken in a family of poor silk weavers who inhabit the authentically grubby attic. The place is stuffed full of original drapes, furniture, ornaments and clothes, giving it a really intimate feel and you are encouraged to just stand and absorb the atmosphere rather than read from guides or signs (there are none, anyway). Jane has been at Christmas when it is even more enchanting apparently.
Middleagedad and I did the evening tour (booking essential) and loved it, Before you visit you might like to read up on the period and try The Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot by historian and novelist Hallie Rubenhold, who has based some of her novel in the house. House manager Mick Pedroli told us that Henrietta will soon be blogging about her adventures too, so we’ll let you know when she’s got the hang of 21st century technology. There’s a nice feature on the house here too from the wonderful Spitalfield’s Life, it’s a must for historians and designers alike.
Every surface of Dennis Severs House is crammed with authentic paraphernalia, giving the house a real lived in feel. He was clearly not a minimalist (a boy after our own hearts).
Dennis Severs House is at 18 Folgate Street, E16BX London. To visit, check the website here
And then there’s Emery Walker’s House at 7 Hammersmith Terrace, the opposite end of London, very close to the Chiswick Mall houses we wrote about recently. Emery Walker was an Arts and Crafts boy; a typographer, he set up the Doves Press and helped William Morris (who lived down the road, his museum is walking distance from the house) set up the Kelmscott Press and his house is one of the few remaining authentic Arts & Craft movement interiors in the UK. The delightfully knowledgable Penny escorts you around the three floors open to the public which again, are crammed full of wall hangings, pottery, pictures and furniture all relating to the movement, many of which were either made or given directly to Emery and his wife by the Morris family (and others). There is a beautiful quilt coverlet hand embroidered by May Morris (daughter of William) that is spectacular to see, if you like that sort of thing.
Walker’s house has an uncertain future, due to dwindling funds and a lack of grant funding (if there are any Russian Oligarchs reading with spare change, I’m sure they’d be very grateful) and it’s a worry how many of these small, historic houses will disappear when the funding cuts really start to bite. These two houses are wonderful little slices of London history and as they were originally people’s homes, they are really easy to understand and somehow I retain so much more of history when I can relate it to a kitchen or garden. Speaking of which, the Walker garden is a joy, although overgrown it backs onto the Thames and has a wisteria you’d sell your granny for.
The conservatory (above and below) at Emery Walker’s house, with it’s ancient grape vine growing inside. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the insides, but just think Arts&Crafts, you can see a glimpse of the tiling in the conservatory here… Once again, booking is a must, both houses only open a few days a month, so do your research before visiting.
The garden, below, backs right onto the Thames, if I lived here I’d do nothing but stare out of the window at passing boats….Emery Walker”s House 7 Hammersmith Terrace, W6 9TS London website for booking here