Useful & Beautiful: The Geffrye’s new exhibition explores 100 years of the way we’ve lived in London

The Geffrye Museum of home design is marking its centenary with a cutting-edge new show that takes inspiration from William Morris’s quote, ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful.'
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Hackney was the centre of the furniture trade in 1914 when a new museum, the Geffrye, opened to inspire the local furniture industry with examples of good design. It is still fulfilling that promise 100 years on. Over the last two decades designer/makers have moved into workshops and living spaces around the museum, at the heart of the Shoreditch design hub.
This museum of the home also concentrated on educating children, and later adults, in social history and the history of their homes. Since the Thirties, the story of interiors has been set out in period rooms, with its collection illustrating 400 years up to the present day.
The room sets are displays of the taste “not so much of middle-class Londoners, but of the middling way of life of Londoners”, says museum director David Dewing. “We don’t represent the rarefied, but the typical. What I find fascinating is how people’s homes reflect them. Over the last 25 years people have been preoccupied with flexible space, as we have changed the way we live.”
The popular museum is currently occupied with its own flexibility. “Visitor numbers have risen to 110,000 annually as interest in design has grown,” adds Dewing. “Our visitor profile has changed to the 20 to 45-year-old design aficionados.”


Good design: Geffrye Museum of the Home
The Geffrye’s new exhibition, Useful & Beautiful, celebrates the museum’s centenary, its purpose, and the emergence of Shoreditch as a design hub. “The title is drawn from William Morris’s quote, ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful,’” explains curator Alex Goddard. “We think our pick from today’s designers ticks both boxes.
“Over 75 per cent of the designers whose pieces we are showing are local to the museum,” offering a broad range of domestic products from furniture to wallpaper, textiles, lighting and technology.
Cutting-edge design by established and emerging talent includes relatively new pieces now in production — which can be bought from the Geffrye’s shop, local retailers such as SCP or the designers’ own websites — alongside prototypes being developed for manufacture.


Useful & Beautiful: an exhibition room set
There are multiple displays and three mini room sets showing the work of designers based locally, including Tord Boontje’s Magnetic Fields coffee table and 100 Years fabric; Hunting and Narud’s Rise and Shine adjustable mirror; Doshi Levien’s Capo Chair for Cappellini; BarberOsgerby’s Tab Lamp, and the Pigeon Light by Ed Carpenter.
Useful & Beautiful also includes Hulger’s new Plumen 2 light, launching next month, and Matt Elton’s wooden  A-Frame shelves for Ambrose, the new Heal’s online home and furniture collection which is sponsoring the exhibition with London property developer, First Base.
“All the work is intentionally domestic, but has been chosen for its innovation — be it in terms of how it fulfils new lifestyle requirements, its aesthetic, the use of new materials or new ways of making, or a combination of all four,” says Goddard. “Visitors can try out some furniture, including in our garden.”
  • Useful & Beautiful runs until August 25, Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road, E2 (020 7739 9893; Free admission to museum and gardens. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from noon to 5pm. Closed Mondays except bank holidays.

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