Dennis Severs’ magical house is one of the Londonphile’s top London picks and one of London’s most evocative little gems. American artist Dennis Severs created a mini time capsule in this listed Georgian terrace house, located near Spitalfields Market.
The ten rooms range in time periods from 1724 to 1914 and follow the varying fortunes of a family of Huguenot weavers who mysteriously appear to have always just left the room when you enter. The experience is a sensory overload, and your sense of smell will be particularly active throughout your visit as you experience the traditional smells associated with the various time periods. As Severs himself noted, “your senses are your guide” in this house.
In keeping with the eras portrayed, there is no electricity in the house and you are asked to remain silent throughout your visit, so as to help fully soak up the atmospherics (and to appreciate the creaking of authentic floorboards). Amazingly, Severs himself actually lived in the house from 1979-1999 – on his death it was opened to the public. This is truly something you have to experience for yourself, so I will keep the description to a minimum!
Check the house’s website below for details of the regular opening hours as well as the Silent Night evening visits. This year’s Christmas installation of period Christmas decorations is currently up (until 6th January 2012) and is well worth a visit even if you have already seen the house. Exclusive Silent Nights are also run in which participants can have a drink by the fire and meet the curatorial team – this is on the Londonphile’s wish list!
A good place to start this blog is with one of my favourite architectural sites in London: 2 Willow Road. London is not known for its modernist architecture, and there’s even less of it than you can actually enter (especially outside the confines of the Open House weekend), but Willow Road is a happy exception to this rule.
Located in leafy Hampstead, Willow Road was designed by Erno Goldfinger (of Trellick Tower fame) and completed in 1939. It has the strong, clean lines, concrete supporting columns and window walls we would expect of a modernist house of this era, although the brickwork was a concession to not straying too far out synch with the neighbours. Goldfinger had originally designed a block of flats for the site, but after this failed to receive planning permission, he scaled the design back to this group of three ‘terrace’ houses – the Goldfingers moved into number 2 (in the centre) with separate tenants to either side in 1 and 3.
Much of the built-in furniture and door furniture was designed by Goldfinger himself. A strong feature of the house is the use of movable partitions between rooms, allowing space to be opened up or closed down when required. But life at number 2 wasn’t obsessively modern – when Goldfinger’s mother moved into the house later in her life she filled up her room with her ornate Austro-Hungarian furniture! The house was clearly designed as a place to live – it housed four generations of the family at one point – and also to work, featuring a studio (originally for Goldfinger’s wife) and study.
2 Willow Road is now run by the National Trust and open to visitors from March to November each year (in 2012 it will open from 3 March to 4 November, Wednesday to Sunday from 11am-5pm, with entry by guided tour on the hour between 11-2 and self-guided viewing from 3-5). You can also pick up a copy of a good self-guided walking tour of Hampstead’s modernist architecture on site. And keep an eye on the National Trust’s website as they also run excellent guided walking tours on this theme. I did one earlier this year and can highly recommend it – but that’s another post…