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Amy Merrick At Dennis Severs’ House

December 31, 2022
by the gentle author

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Behold the spirit of Christmas present! This is Amy Merrick, the sylph who waved her wand and conjured the magic of the festive season at Dennis Severs’ House. The decorations have always been applauded as among the best in London but this year Amy brought her own distinctive imaginative creativity to the task, as she explains below.

For those of you unable to get a ticket before Twelfth Night, Contributing Photographer Lucinda Douglas Menzies has recorded the magnificence for your enjoyment.


‘This was far and away the best project of my year – decorating the Dennis Severs’ House for Christmas was an utter delight. The plan was to breathe fresh life into Dennis’ original vision and strike a balance between tradition and something a bit more playful, in a homespun spirit that I hope he would have liked. I made garlands of fir and pine to festoon the hallway, and wove mossy evergreen wreaths with foraged holly, yew and bay leaves, attaching a few hidden snail shells from the innumerable vacant ones in my Whitechapel garden to amuse the observant visitor.

Paper chains bring such a wholesome, jovial charm to Christmas, so I made miles of them from pretty coloured art paper to hang from the windows and ceilings. It took most nights of a week to glue them all but with a glass of sherry to hand and a fire burning, it was a pleasure.

All of the new ornaments for the tree were made around my kitchen table – plaited corn dollies from wheat, woven hearts and pleated pinwheels from antique marble paper which also wrapped a mountain of presents to go under the tree. The Victorian dolls were restored, wigs sorted, limbs reattached and their dresses cleaned. I even replaced the beards on the nutcrackers. 

Remaking the eighteenth century sugar loaf – the original of which Dennis obtained from Tate & Lyle – was much easier once I had the brilliant new mould made by Dennis’ friend Jim Howett. Through trial and error, I worked out a recipe: two kilogrammes of granulated sugar, moistened with ten tablespoons of water, packed like a sandcastle, flipped upside down and left to dry.

From my girlhood, I remember the blue-wrapped cones in the general store of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and bookbinder Charles Gledhill, who supplied me with stacks of beautiful papers for the project, confirmed that in his trade they still refer to that style as ‘sugar paper’. He gave me samples of different handmade blues which I looked at under candlelight to choose the right shade.

I could not help but make handmade sugar mice to encircle the sugar loaf, shop bought just would not do. If anyone is struggling to find the spirit of Christmas, I strongly recommend spending a quiet evening making pomanders. There is almost nothing that scent alone cannot soothe.

Working to install everything in the house did propose unusual challenges, with the winter darkness creeping in around two in the afternoon and the lack of electric lighting. I had never worked by torchlight before but by the end of the project it felt more natural. It is one thing to make something beautiful in daylight, another thing entirely to set a scene by candlelight.

I found myself making crystallised grapes, then placing them close to votive candles to sparkle and hanging Dennis’ delicate paper-cut strings of dolls, expertly reproduced by Ai Murata, so their shadows would be cast long across the low-slung kitchen ceiling.

So much of the magic of the house is in the marriage of flame, shadow and fragrance. Working with all these elements to imbue the house with Christmas was a thrill.’

Amy Merrick


Photographs copyright © Lucinda Douglas Menzies

You may also like to read

Remembering Dennis Severs

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Billy permalink
    December 31, 2022

    Thank you, Amy Merrick. You are so clever! As are you, Gentle Author.

    Happy New Year to you both!

  2. Laura Williamson permalink
    December 31, 2022

    That is absolutely breathtaking, wonderful work Amy! The love you out into it is very obvious.

  3. December 31, 2022

    Stunning ….. you can almost hear the house sighing with pleasure.
    Well done Amy, you have captured the real feel of Christmas with your wonderful foliage displays and hand made paper chains . The little empty snail shells are a touch of genius.
    Thank you Gentle Author for taking us to such a delightful scene.

  4. Helen permalink
    December 31, 2022

    Wow! The decorations are stunning and sensitively done. I’m sure Dennis would have approved immensely. I know I do! Well done, Amy!

  5. Paul Phillips permalink
    December 31, 2022

    What lovely vintage atmosphere created in this beautiful residence.

  6. Hilda Kean permalink
    December 31, 2022

    I have the cat is still there – as s/he was one Xmas when I visited several years ago? A real snoozing cat that some visitors seemed to think was an object but rather a pleasant , resident cat.

  7. December 31, 2022

    Magical! Dennis Severs’ House is a transcendent place in October, which was when I saw it, but at Christmastide it apparently outdoes itself, thanks to Amy. If I am ever in London at this time of year, I’ll be sure to make my reservation in advance!

  8. Lizebeth permalink
    December 31, 2022

    Thank you for sharing the photos of the magical Christmas at Dennis Severs’. I saw the decorations this year, but was unable to photograph them (no photos allowed in the house), so now I can have them to keep! Well done, Amy, and GA for sharing.

  9. December 31, 2022

    How completely wonderful!? I love the dark richness of these photos — they allow us to peer into each tableau, but ALSO imagine what other delights might be lurking in the shadows. The already-atmospheric house is now dressed-for-success, or (more better!) Opening Night. I adore the theatricality of all the decorations. They enhance the vibe of the house, but do not detract or distract, or pull us into a different era. A masterful outcome! (and lovely photos………)

    More is more!

  10. Wendy permalink
    January 3, 2023

    I was lucky enough to nab tickets for the tour (amazing, fantastic, and our tour guide actor was just brilliant). I wanted to stay a few weeks in the house to take in all the decorations – a banquet for the eyes but obviously couldn’t and my memory is poor so these photographs are compensation. Everything about and in the house is magical. Thank you Amy and thank you everyone else involved. Stepping inside was a real ‘pinch me’ experience.

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