The Geffrye Museum in Kingsland Road is celebrating its centenary through a programme of exhibitions and events starting this month with domestic design exhibition Useful + Beautiful: Contemporary Design for the Home.
April also marks 300 years since the Grade-1 listing building was built in 1714 as almshouses for poor pensioners, with a bequest from Sir Robert Geffrye, whose name the museum now holds.
David Dewing, the director of the museum dedicated to the English home interior , said: “We want to use the celebration of 100 years as a start of a new change”.
The museum, which first opened its doors in 1914 shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, is planning to build an extension – scheduled to be open by 2020.
The museum aims to build a library to make the museum’s archive publicly accessible, and a new gallery to exhibit more of the existing collection.
There are also plans for large multi-purpose rooms to cater for meetings, conferences, and performances.
Dewing says nowadays the public want a museum to be more than just a museum, therefore it is essential to make the space more interactive.
He said: “People these days want to be involved and engaged with museums, rather than just visit them. I think they want to feel the museum is theirs, that it’s open and accessible for them. They want to know that they are part of it.”
The Geffrye is also making its digital debut, with the majority of the collection now available online.
However, Dewing is confident that the museum’s online presence will not stop visitors coming to the physical museum, stating: “I think it does just the opposite, it encourages people to come. It means more people know about what we have and what questions we can help them answer. It gives them ideas and inspiration and opens the doors to a whole range of new possibilities, and if you want to pursue those ideas, you have to visit the museum.”
Walking round the Geffrye museum can feel a bit like traveling through time. As you walk down the corridors of the museum, you pass through different rooms from different eras, slowly exploring how the homes of British middle classes have been changing through years.
The museum documents how British homes of urban middle classes have changed over the centuries, influenced by factors such as social trends to economics, from art to technology.
The permanent display consists of 11 period rooms which span about 400 years, from 1600 to the present day.
Dewing says that the concept of “the museum of home” allows them to take a broad perspective: “The concept of the home is huge. We can go in any direction we like, in terms of going through time, back through time or looking into the future. We can go through different cultures, we can go through different expressions of home, there are no boundaries.”
Most importantly, Dewing believes that by telling stories about homes, you tell stories about people who live in those homes, and therefore the Geffrye museum allows people to get a sense of how the lifestyle of British middle classes has been changing.
He said: “The home is as personal as a collection of clothes you wear. It’s the same sort of thing, we all make conscious decisions how we present ourselves when we step out of our houses, but the home is also a very powerful expression of your personality.”
The museum’s centenary celebrations will continue throughout the rest of the year, with a broad range of events from special tours to live musical performances in the summer.
The autumn will see candlelight performances and talks, the annual Ceramics in the City fair and Christmas Past exhibition.