Wandering round Dennis Severs House is a very grounding experience. We’re brought into the present moment through our senses. At the same time it has an other worldly feel, transporting us back to centuries past.
This is no ordinary museum. It’s a snapshot of a life of Huguenot weavers, the ‘family and servants who will save you from period decoration, antiques and cold facts’ being an ‘animated, generous and fun loving family of master silk weavers named Jervis.’
In this house ‘every object in the house should be seen as part of an arrangement. Each array tells a story.’ What you hear and smell is as much a part of the whole picture as anything you see.
And what a potent array of things to see, hear, and smell. Screwed napkins and half drunk glasses of wine, Turkish delight left teasingly in tongs, music scattered on the sideboard, a part built house of cards, a crumpled up bed, as though the house was hurriedly left in the wake of changing times.
Lit by candlelight alone, the rooms glistens with the light of candles that have wilted with centuries of melting. You see scattered reminders that this is a ‘still life drama’ and ‘you are here – ish.’ You feel a shiver of the ghosts of time past and hear echoes of the owners’ life. The senses are stimulated and you become more acutely aware. Does the five of diamonds mean something? Is the ringing of the bells symbolic? Why are there three oyster shells on the plate?
Through the basement, drawing rooms and bedrooms of this many storied house (many storeys and stories) you wander through years of tales. There’s a sense of life in all the rooms, made animate through the careful display of inanimate objects.
This house is not about what you see, but the spaces between objects and the lives you imagine to have been there – and still being there. It’s a house of the senses. It’s an eerie delight.