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.


Well, we are back from our house swap and house swapping is good!

I was questioning my sanity in the days before we left, typing out instructions on how to use the TV and where the nearest garage, bank and petrol station is. We had arranged to swap cars as well as houses and I had confidently, mentally prepared for them to use Doug’s very reliable, very economical Citroen C2. Of course in the week before we were due to leave, the C2 started playing up – great! Instead we had to let them use my beloved, but ancient, Fiat Multipla, which is neither reliable, nor economical…aaargh!!

We arrived and our exchange family, the lovely Girods: Cathy, Thierry, Marion and Lucie warmly welcomed us and gave us a delicious lunch and then left to go to our house – hang on…shouldn’t it be us leaving, after they have given us lunch?? It definitely felt odd! Instead, they left, leaving us in their house!! It was slightly Alice in Wonderland…

We got used to it pretty quickly though, literally running to jump in to the pool the moment they headed off!


Provence is beautiful of course and a haven for lovers of food, wine and interior design…




Wondering round the stunning interiors and home ware shops in the gorgeous mediaeval town of Uzes, I quietly decided that when I get home, I want everything in my house to be painted cream or olive, and every unpainted surface, to be limestone or linen…




We were near Avignon, a stunning, walled city, and it was festival time, so lots of art exhibitions, music…


…beautiful scenery, wonderful food and happy days…