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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Inside the sitting room at 221B Baker Street


We all know what the famous sitting room at 221B Baker Street looks like. The only problem – if it is a problem – is that we all see it differently.

It’s not that we don’t know what’s there. We are as familiar with the cigars in the coal scuttle, the patriotic VR in bullet marks on the wall, the Persian slipper with tobacco in the toe, the bear-skin hearth rug, and the acid-stained deal table as we are our own rooms.

But exactly where in the room do they fit?

“Precisely where to place the chairs and tables, for example, the sofas and the shelves of books, and all the other impedimenta of the sitting-room, is somewhat of a problem,” Vincent Starrett writes in the “No. 221B  Baker Street” chapter of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

This is a problem with multiple solutions. My wife, Ann, and I have had the good fortune to visit reconstructions at the Sherlock Holmes Pub and the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London, the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Meiringen, Switzerland, and Denny Dobry’s home in Reading, PA. I’ve written about all of them on this blog. (Find those posts with the search engine at the far upper left.)

All the reconstructions are wonderful in their own way (although Denny’s impressed us the most), and all seem right even though they are different. Different still are the various floor plans enthusiasts have drawn, including a famous one by the legendary Julian Wolff for a 1946 Baker Street Journal.

Ann didn’t depend on any of these when she built her own miniature 221B sitting room for me last year as a Christmas present. Instead, she and our friend Carolyn Senter went to the Canon and figured out an arrangement that was consistent with the descriptions there.

The sitting room they constructed is in one-twelfth scale in amazing detail, down to the miniature Persian slipper. In fact, it began with the slipper. Ann saw that, bought it, and built the model-size sitting room around it over the course of many months. Pieces came from all over, on all at the same scale – even the properly dated London newspapers.

The result now sits proudly on the library table behind our Victorian love seat, separating the from library from the living room. It is flanked by the 221B floor plans of Julian Wolff and Kiyoshi Tanaka, plus a framed postcard of the 221B reconstruction formerly housed at the Holiday Inn on Union Square in San Francisco.

Which one of these many visions is the true 221B? Whichever one you believe. For, as Vincent Starrett reminds us, “Only those things the heart believes are true.”