The Geffrye Museum

Delighted to have a guest post this week from one of my oldest friends and my long time work mentor, journalist Sue Gray. She recently visited the Geffrye Museum of the Home and was telling me about it and I thought ‘Why have I never been to this place? Why have I never even heard of it?’

Sue has very kindly put that right for all of us, please enjoy her post below, about this wonderful institution.

Your Living Room – Past and Future

Forty nine years a Londoner and I’ve only just got round to visiting the Geffrye Museum of the Home. A short bus hop east from Liverpool Street Station, and housed in a horseshoe of early eighteenth century almshouses, the Geffrye is a delight.

1965 Living
1965 Living

Room sets take your from the typical living room of the 1600s to the millennium, and what a revelation. Remember sisal matting, not so long ago the in thing for stairs and hallways? Well fragments were found in Hampton Court, so not as contemporary as we thought.


And ‘Live / Work spaces’ sound terribly modern, but they were actually the norm for the “middling sort” until well into the nineteenth century, when professional men first started going out of the house to work. Before then families literally lived over the shop, or the counting house, or the grain store on the ground floor, with a small living room shoehorned in upstairs. But once hubby had been exiled to the office for the best part of the day, the living room or drawing room or parlour moved to pole position on the ground floor, and was annexed by the ladies for drinking tea, socialising and playing cards.

Tea’s wide availability from the 1700s onwards also had a profound effect on how we entertained at home, and 44 piece porcelain tea sets, with intricate wooden handles and silver spouts, were coveted by every hostess.

The other thing which really stuck me, was how taste in interiors filters down the classes.


A bourgeois living room of the 1890s, with brass pendant gas lighting coming from the ceiling, and pianos, armchairs and ornaments stuffed into every available space, exactly resembled photos of my parents’ cluttered childhood homes, in 1940s working class Dublin. Old interiors styles never die, they’re simply adapted by a new set of people.

Once the room sets reach the 20th century, the chances are you’ve been in a real life version of every single one.


I loved the clean lines of the 1930s with its Bauhaus emphasis on light and simplicity.

1998 loft

But reaching the ’90s, the era my friends and I were setting up home for the first time, gave me a right shock. Designs I yearned for, and envied my friends for having, I’m thinking particularly of Ron Arad’s bookworm shelf for Kartell, now seem a little try -hard.

For a steer on truffling out tomorrow’s design classic visit the Geffrye’s Useful + Beautiful Contemporary Design for he Home, (exhibition closes on 25 August, so there’s a fortnight to get there rather than 49 years.)

useful + beautiful #12

The most talked about piece is Rising Chair by Robert van Embricqs, consisting of angled wooden slats that shake out to a curved wooden chair. The video of the design going from 2D to 3D is mesmerising, as are the number of visitors’ comments noting Rising Chair’s discomfort. Sitting in it (briefly) is positively encouraged. Samuel Chan’s tripod table is another beautiful example of a piece looking as attractive folded flat, as it is opened out. Lights made from hand blown glass and Tracy Tubb’s origami wallpaper:

useful + beautiful #6

also made me long to liberate them, and re-exhibit them to best effect in my own home.

Afterward, Kingsland Road’s Vietnamese restaurants will fill you up cheaply, and demonstrate just what is possible with red vinyl seats and golden lucky cats.


2 thoughts on “The Geffrye Museum

  1. Maybe your parent’s home was cluttered because it was small
    and shared by many .I think the victorian interiors were more
    to do with desire and status,mass market culture in infancy.
    The trickle down taste from bourgeois to working class,(I think )
    is more in the love of pattern.
    And now ,in the age of mass production the bourgeois(for want
    of a better word) want the singular,the natural and blond white
    spaces.well until they realise how bloody cold it can get
    Uhg I feel winter coming on.small rooms and patterns xx

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