Fans create amazing things. They collect, they build, and they show their love and appreciation in a beautiful myriad of ways. Whether they have the world’s largest Hatsune Miku figurine collection or are trying to build every Doctor’s TARDIS, fan collections and creations are simply marvelous. A sterling example is Chuck Kovacic’s authentic and historically accurate recreation of Sherlock Holmes’ sitting room at 221B Baker Street.
You don’t have to go to London, or even leave the United States to find yourself in the famed sitting room of the great Consulting Detective. Kovacic’s recreation resides in Los Angeles and is available to visit by private booking—there’s also a 3D virtual tour online.
There’s something immediately awe-inspiring about 221B in Los Angeles. Upon walking in you’re immersed and taken back in time—he intricate rug, the omnipresent velvet, and the indescribable, calming scent of old books. The room is so thick with references from the stories and history that it’s overwhelming. It does indeed look like the sitting room of a mad sort of genius with its organized chaos, strewn papers, and a chemistry set filled with who knows what.
“It’s a lot like a Christmas tree. Can you over decorate it? I don’t think so,” Kovacic says of the room. It’s been a labor of love for years, and even though it seems filled to the brim, he’s still not finished.
And it all began with corporate murder mystery parties.
“I come from an advertising promotion background,” Kovacic explains. “I knew how to sit down with a client and ask questions and really create a custom crafted mystery. And they always wanted a Sherlock Holmes one… but people would get really obsessed with these mysteries.” There is a certain exasperation to his voice at this, though a bit of a wry smile as well. “hey would sometimes corner me and try to go through my pockets and open my briefcase to search for clues so everything in my pockets and my costume had to be authentic.” That need for authenticity stuck with him.
“I had always bought antiques and I liked the late eighteen hundreds in terms of furnishings. That’s what I furnished my apartment with because the antiques were available,” Kovacic explains. “I thought someday it might be kind of fun to do a period sitting room. I started looking at what went into a period room, how it would be furnished, how it would be displayed, and then it kind of overlaps with Sherlock Holmes. And I thought it’d be kind of interesting. Do a Sherlockian sitting room.” Voila.
Having chosen the year 1895—proclaimed Sherlock Holmes’ best year and immortalized in Vincent Starrett’s poem 221B. Kovacic began creating his sitting room.
“I would occasionally go over to England and then later France, hitting the antique shops and flea markets in those countries looking for things. What I wanted was to go into the room and if I were to go to the bookshelf and pull out a book, it had to be an English edition—and that English edition had to be period appropriate.
At the heart of Kovacic’s 221B is a fierce commitment to historical accuracy and authenticity. “I wanted to be able to open the drawer on the desk and have all of the things in the drawer be of the appropriate period.” If Sherlock Holmes walked into this sitting room, he’d find a contemporary space that would feel like home.
While creating and furnishing the sitting room, Kovacic was constantly learned new things—the hierarchy of chairs for instance. “I could never quite understand why there were so many chairs,” Kovacic laughed. “I was reading a thing on proper etiquette of the period and when a gentleman would rise to offer a lady a seat he would never offer her his seat because his chair retained his body heat.”
This made him go back to the original stories with a new and critical eye. There are instances where women come in and have no seat other than the one Holmes was in because they’d be filled with papers and what-have-you. Kovacic, who had recently learned about the etiquette of chairs, began re-reading the canon in a whole new light.
“This is how desperate this woman is. How very very critical it is that she gets in to see Holmes. This is the extent of the seriousness of the mystery that she’s about to present.”
A rather vexing problem of the room was where to place Holmes’ chemistry set. “If an experiment went wrong you had to be able to toss it out the window or in the fireplace,” Kovacic says,particularly adamant about that placement. “A lot of set directors, when they’ve created the sitting room, they don’t get that right. Usually there’s a plot device where a chemical experiment goes wrong and a fire is set or something goes badly. There’s no way to quickly dispose of an experiment gone wrong. So that was one discovery that I saw. This is the way it has to be. It can’t be any other way.”
As to what would be on Holmes’ chemistry table, that’s something Kovacic has been struggling with. He’s yet to find any period appropriate information about what chemicals and compounds Holmes could have had. “Whenever I’ve tried pursuing it with someone with a chemistry background they simply haven’t wanted to dive into it to do the research.”
He did, however, get a custom microscope made in London. “Yes, that’s how obsessive with this stuff you can get,” he laughed. It just goes to show how devoted fans are to getting it right, to recreating not only a setting, but an experience. There is no doubt that Kovacic’s sitting room is 221B and Victorian. There are even London street sounds playing outside, solidifying the experience.
The sitting room was created out of a love of furniture, history, and Sherlock Holmes. It’s historically accurate down to the encyclopedia set, and little embellishments like the pearl handled cutlery with “SH” on the handle provide a poignant realness.
The sitting room has been used for filming, photo shoots, and such, but the best experiences Kovacic has had has been at conferences or conventions after he’s introduced his sitting room. “People would come up to me and say ‘I’ve got to reread the stories. Because you’ve given me a totally different perspective that I just didn’t understand.’”
From one fan to another, that may be the best gift of all.
Photography by Chuck Kovacic @221b BAKER STREET/Los Angeles