Celebrating Home: The Geffrye Museum

For many years I’ve had a deep interest and appreciation for interior design; especially that of years past. I used to make a monthly home magazine for my mum, full of drawings and descriptions of rooms I’d imagined in various styles from historical periods and cultures around the world. Although I don’t have time to continue that magazine, I still appreciate interior design and what it says about the ideas and preferences of contemporary society. In London last April, my mum and I visited the Geffrye Museum, which is the Museum of the Home– and that visit satisfied my long-held love for interior design!

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The exterior of the Geffrye Museum– although it has been a museum since 1914, the building used to house almshouses for the elderly poor in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Geffrye is located in the Hoxton/Shoreditch area of London, which I’d never been to before. We took a bus from Liverpool Street Station through an area which wasn’t terrible but wasn’t the nicest or cleanest either– in these somewhat shabby and nondescript surrounds, the Geffrye’s large ivy-covered building really stood out!

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Looking towards Liverpool Street from the Geffrye

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A very old painted advertisement on a building beside the Geffrye

The Geffrye Museum is free to enter, which is pretty awesome seeing that it features a reading room, beautiful gardens, and eleven fascinating period rooms which are described and analyzed in full detail. There is also a little cafe and a busy shop, which is crammed full of mainly books on horticulture, decorating, and historical interior design. I had trouble not buying most of what was for sale there!

Upon entering the Geffrye, one begins a journey through time. Each period room is a representation of a middle-class room from a specific decade, and the journey begins in the 17th century. First there is a room which has exhibits of artifacts and write-ups on the appropriate decade, which prepares visitors for the authentic interior in the next room.

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This parlour, featuring ornate, heavy furniture and little extra comfort, is from 1690

In the middle of the building is the former almshouse’s chapel, which is quite small but has a very airy feel. Then there is a reading room, with gorgeous paintings on the walls and bookcases below them. Visitors are encouraged to take time to sit and read, and a pleasant array of books on interior design is offered.

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The chapel features carved memorial stones and a painted version of the Ten Commandments

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I’d love to have such a reading room as this in my house! It was restful and beautiful.

My favourite room in the whole place was the 1790 drawing room. I love Georgian design– it’s so classical and ordered. Unfortunately I’m not sure I could live in a room like this one, because white furnishings frighten me and because I have too much stuff, but it’s so lovely that that doesn’t make me like it any less!

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I especially love the wallpaper here. When I have a house of my own, most of it will probably be clad in traditional or vintage wallpaper

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The 1830 example was slightly bolder and more ornate than the 1790 one, and it too was gorgeous

Also interesting was the Victorian room. When I was younger, I adored Victorian style because I loved things for the sake of things– if there was a table or a mantelpiece, I thought that it should be covered with cloths and useless knick-knacks. Now I tend to cringe when I see a Victorian interior. The ostentation and busyness of the Victorian home is no longer for me!

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Victorians seem to have been experts at cramming as many furnishings as possible into a small space

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The Arts and Crafts-inspired room, more or less contemporary to the Victorian one, was much more tranquil and uncluttered

The Geffrye also boasts several more modern period rooms, like a 1960s one and a modern loft. The ’60s one just reminded me of my grandparents’ bungalow, with lush carpets, bright colours in sometimes odd combinations, and utilitarian wooden bookshelves. After looking at the modern rooms and perusing the museum shop, it was time to go outside and check out the gardens. Mirroring the rooms inside, the Geffrye has several period gardens, beginning with a knot garden from the 17th century.

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I’d love a knot garden like this; simple yet striking.

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A cute little greenhouse, similar to what may have been seen in Victorian and Edwardian gardens

The Geffrye Museum offers a wonderful and educational look at what life was like for middle-class families throughout history, through looking at their distinctive interiors. It’s amazing what one can learn about a time period by just looking at its interiors, and the Geffrye does this very well. I really enjoyed my visit there– it was something different that was presented in a great way, and I’d love to go back!

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