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Introducing The Museum Of The Home

Introducing The Museum Of The Home

The London-Based Geffrye Museum Is Being Rebranded, At A Time When The Idea Of Home Is More Important Than Ever

The concept of home—and what we use it for—has undergone a tremendous transformation recently, so it seems only fitting that one of the leading museums on the subject of the home front has reinvented itself.

When it opened earlier this month after an £18.1 million renovation that lasted nearly three years, London’s Geffrye Museum—which was established more than a century ago and is renowned for its historically accurate galleries of period rooms—was rechristened as the Museum of the Home. The changes, according to the museum’s director, Sonia Solicari, “better reflect our renewed focus on the theme of home and make the museum more relatable to a wider audience.”

After a nearly three-year renovation, the Geffrye Museum in the Hoxton neighborhood of London is being rebranded as the Museum of the Home
After a nearly three-year renovation, the Geffrye Museum in the Hoxton neighborhood of London is being rebranded as the Museum of the Home.

“The new campus, which doubles the public space, will be a place to discover, reveal, and rethink home together,” Solicari says, “and our public programs will explore universal themes, social issues, and diverse, thought-provoking and personal stories related to the theme of home.” The renovation, designed by London-based Wright & Wright Architects, whose clients have included the British Museum, the British Academy, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, is the museum’s first in nearly a quarter century.

The 300-year-old almshouses in the city’s Hoxton neighborhood that house the museum now include space for new home galleries, a collections library, and spaces for film screenings and performances, plus two additions—a learning pavilion and a green-roofed studio.

“Homes can mean so many different things—from the physical spaces we live in to a feeling of safety or comfort that goes beyond a specific time or place,” Solicari says. “Real homes are often messy and complex spaces. We want our visitors to see their own experiences and feelings of home life reflected in the displays and stories we share.”

To that end, in April 2020, when much of the world was under lockdown, the Museum of the Home, which typically gets 125,000 visitors per year, started “Stay Home,” a rapid-response digital collecting project that documents how the pandemic changed the way we live.

People from all over England filled out questionnaires and sent photographs, oral recordings, and diaries that document how they adapted to what has come to be called the “new normal.” “They have shared how they have learned new skills, made new connections but also struggled with the isolation and economic hardships caused by the pandemic,” she says, adding that the home became a “sanctuary for some and a prison for others.”

She adds that the museum’s exhibitions, artist commissions, performances, discussions, festivals, and events are designed to open up a dialogue about issues around the home, such as homelessness, migration, mental health, and the environment.

The museum provides a deep exploration into how people have lived over the past hundreds of years and how they live now.
The museum provides a deep exploration into how people have lived over the past hundreds of years and how they live now
The museum provides a deep exploration into how people have lived over the past hundreds of years and how they live now
The museum provides a deep exploration into how people have lived over the past hundreds of years and how they live now.

The Museum of the Home, which provides a deep exploration of people’s everyday lives and a dossier of domesticity over the past 400 years, has always spotlighted change. Its own history acts as an apt reflection of its mission. The 14 almshouses, built in 1714 for impoverished people, originally housed 50 pensioners associated with the Ironmongers’ Co. The buildings, which each had four rooms, were financed by the estate of Sir Robert Geffrye, an English merchant who died in 1704 and who had served as the Lord Mayor of London.

In 1911, when the area became overcrowded, the Ironmongers’ Co. sold the buildings to the London County Council and moved the residents to cleaner, safer suburban areas. The original museum, which opened to the public in 1914, featured furniture and woodwork and was a resource for workers in those industries.

The chronological period rooms were added in the 1930s to cater to an audience of schoolchildren, and over the years they were embellished with paintings, furniture, and decorative arts.

In the 1998 renovation, a wing for 20th-century period rooms and spaces for learning and exhibitions were added; the herb garden and period gardens opened around the same time. In 2011, the word “home” was added to the museum’s name.

One of the museum’s new features is the “Room of Now,” which, by design, will keep evolving. “It will be curated by a range of thought leaders, creatives, and community groups and will invite visitors to have their own say on what stories they would like to see in the museum,” Solicari says. “This will be a space for visitors and partners to consider the role of a ‘room for the 21st century’ and what a room of the future could represent.”

As we adapt to spending more time at home and using the space differently, the Museum of the Home will continue to delve into our relationship with what is the most relevant space in our lives. “The pandemic has highlighted how our feelings about home shift all the time,” Solicari says. “Home is ever-changing—and so is the museum.”

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