Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, the remarkable time capsule of Georgian life, has become an unusual setting for a display of unusual chinaware.

Dennis Severs lived in the house which he part-converted, part-restored into an exceptional experience to visit between 1979 to 1999, and in 1983, was joined by his boyfriend, Simon Pettet who was an artist who specialised in ceramics.

Inspired by the interior of the house, Simon started creating modern versions of Delftware pottery but died young from HIV aged just 28. Now, forty years after he started, Simon’s modern twist on Deftware has gone on display in the house that so inspired him. This is also the first time his works have been seen in an exhibition.

So, in a house that’s mainly an experience to soak up the atmosphere, where you’re told to stand back and look at each room in the whole, rather than a display of antiques to be studied — now there’s a modern collection to be looked at closely.

Sitting within the antique rooms on bright yellow stands that bring a modern display into the space, sit antique-looking pieces of china — and yet they were all made between 1983-93.

You can look at the objects as individual pieces, yet, somehow, sitting on their yellow plinths, they work rather well within the Georgian rooms, and add a contemporary twist to the antique display you should stand back and soak in.

Something difficult to get a good look at is on the first floor, and is the relatively famous fireplace, lined with deftware tiles showing many of the local characters that were making Spitalfields their home in the 1980s.

It’s only difficult because the tiles line the inside of a deep fireplace. There are helpfully some modern torches next to the fireplace to get a closer look, and I found myself sitting on the floor for quite some time delighting in the artistry of the tiles and their playful designs.

Yes, there’s Gilbert and George here, other local artists such as Langlands and Bell shown as overalls on the washing line, a musician ignoring the nuclear explosion in the background (it was still the Cold War after all), a couple celebrating the birth of a child.

Is the reference to Morgan in the Dutch line of being for another day next to a smashed pot a jibe at William De Morgan?

Look closely for a representation of the Arnolfini Portrait in one of the tiles, and in a nice touch, the date is imposed into the space where there’s a famous mirror in the original painting — 11.8.85.

One tile shows a man using an early camera, made by Simon long before Spitalfields became flooded with people holding camera phones, and the local market putting up loads of signs telling people not to take photos.

Of course, Dennis Severs’ House also used to be a camera-free location, with a ban on taking photos of the interior, but they’re now relaxing the ban, to a degree. Photos that are taken respectfully without flash, and preferably with the camera shutter sound turned off are now permitted.

It’s one of those places that you never forget once you’ve been, and if you have been before, the exhibition is a good opportunity for a revisit.

As you leave, read the small notice pasted to the back of the door.

“The Late 20th Century may be a fascinating place to visit; but surely… nobody would ever want to live in it?” – Dennis Severs

Peer through the eyehole and see the modern world outside, and step back into the noise.

It’s a lovely exhibition in a remarkable space but tinged with a slight sense of melancholy as sadly, Simon died of AIDS aged just 28, and this display of his works reminds us of a talented life cut so cruelly short.

The exhibition, Making History: The Ceramic Work of Simon Pettet is at Dennis Severs’ House until 4th June 2023.

Entry to Dennis Severs’ House is £20 per person, and you need to book tickets in advance from here.

Exhibition Rating


Dennis Severs House
18 Folgate Street, London
E1 6BX


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  1. Robert Stockley says:

    Yes the Arnolfini tile represents my sister Beth Stockley and Paul Williams who lived in nearby Princelet Street. The date is of course the birthdate of their first child Tess

  2. Robert Willerton says:

    Just like to say that we visited Dennis Severs House some years back and we found it a wonderful experience. We toured the house, not uttering a word and the feel of the place was unforgetable! Alas no longer living in London but hope to return soon, and to catch the display of ceramics.

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