After being locked down for much of the past year, the public are now being invited to learn more about the places we’ve been confined to, as the Museum of the Home in Hoxton, London reopens following an £18.1m redevelopment by Wright & Wright.
The 100-year-old Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) is housed in a group of 18th-century almshouses and gardens, and is designed to be a ‘creative space to explore and debate the meaning of home’ through displays of its permanent collections, exhibitions, performances, discussions, and events.
In 2011, the museum brought in David Chipperfield Architects to create more space via a proposal that involved demolishing the site’s listed pub to create a new extension – locals campaigned to save the pub, the council refused planning permission and David Chipperfield’s scheme did not proceed.
Ten years on, Wright & Wright’s redevelopment sees the pub turned into the museum’s café, and consolidates the historic buildings with new contemporary spaces, creating 80 per cent more exhibition space and 50 per cent more public space. It also introduces a new entrance, adds two new garden pavilions and a street-facing café, and improves public access.
In the main almshouse, the architects have excavated and re-established the lower ground floor to form the new Home Galleries, which explore the concept of home over the past 400 years. The first floors have been reinstated to create a new Collections Library and Study Room, and the reception area has also been redesigned. A reconfigured circulation route gives visitors more flexibility to navigate the museum in their own way.
Two new pavilions – one with a green roof planted to increase biodiversity – provide community space for educational activities.
The museum has faced controversy over the contentious statue of 17th century merchant and slave trader Robert Geffrye, the former namesake of the museum who partly funded the almshouses in which it stands. While consultation last year found that the majority of locals supported the removal of the statue from the museum’s grounds, UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden demanded that it should remain.
In the end, the board of trustees decided to keep and explain the statue in its current position, with a new panel that details the history of Geffrye, including his connections to the slave trade. A statement on the museum website says that the board and museum team are continuing to review and discuss options for the statue, and that: “We will confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the Museum buildings, and fulfil our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
NEW CURATORIAL APPROACH
While the previous focus was mainly on the changing design of homes, the aim now is to widen the appeal of the museum by focusing on contemporary issues, including changing family structures, homelessness and our emotional and psychological experiences of home.
The museum still features its 11 period rooms, or Rooms Through Time. A mix of contemporary and historical stories are told in the new Home Galleries via films, exhibits and interactive displays. Events currently running include a photo exhibition celebrating the resilience of single parent families and monthly online panel talks on themes including migration, foster care, social housing, family and gender.
In 2020, the museum invited the public to submit stories of their home lives during lockdown as part of the national collecting project Stay Home. The results join its Documenting Homes archive, which contains around 8,000 items.