When London’s Geffrye Museum closed its doors in 2018 to embark on its mammoth refurbishment, nobody would have anticipated its reopening as the Museum of the Home against a backdrop of national lockdowns and stay at home orders. Although the bulk of its visitors will have tired of interiors a long time ago, the museum is banking on personal, social and historical stories to draw people through its doors.
“In a year when many of our homes have morphed into places to work, learn and keep fit, debating, sharing and delving into ideas, feelings and personal experiences of home seems more important and relevant than ever,” says Museum of the Home director Sonia Solicari.
As part of the £18.1 million revamp led by Wright & Wright Architects, the renovation of the Grade 1-listed almshouses has made 80% more exhibition space available to the museum, thanks largely to the excavation and overhaul of the previously closed off lower ground floor that now houses the new Home Galleries section.
The Home Galleries bring together artefacts from the past 400 years and has something for everyone, from artworks to artefacts to an aroma station. There is plenty of detail to be uncovered in the minutiae, with even the smallest objects carrying historical weight, yet the posters and photographs blown up and displayed along the walls pack immediate punch. Various photo series by Kyna Gourley and Sophie Verhagen give an insight into how we live then and now respectively, and capture recent social changes, including the systems and circumstances affecting young carers, the families of the missing, and everyday people in lockdown. Historical posters by feminist screenprinting collective See Red Women’s Workshop set the stage for the exploration of women’s experiences throughout the museum.
At times the Home Galleries can feel more menagerie than museum, perhaps missing some of the more immersive look and feel that works so well upstairs, where installations depict UK home living through the ages. Where they shine though is in capturing the evolution of design and technology in the home: how the 1920s carpet sweeper eventually led to the futuristic 1960s Hoover, or the contrast between the visibly (and purposefully) uncomfortable Victorian era ‘ladies chair’ and Terence Conran’s laidback Scoop design, which was sold by Habitat through the 1970s.