London: A Tour of Middle Class Interiors

photo courtesy of Geffrye Museum
photo courtesy of Geffrye Museum

For nearly a century, the Geffrye Museum has been leading visitors-in-the-know on a thoroughly comprehensive tour of urban English interiors. A series of historic 18th-century almhouses offers a chronological array of period rooms that begins in the 1600s, and extends to the Victorian era. A newer wing moves into the turn- of-the- 20th-century with a look at Edwardian decor, then proceeds into the bleak privation of the 1940s, before emerging triumphantly with a 1950/1960s modern flat, and ending in the age of “cool Britain”: a converted warehouse from the ’90s.”

A special exhibit, “At Home in a High Rise,” peeks into the living rooms of 46 flats in one building in London’s Battersea neighborhood, ast they were when photographer Mark Cowper knocked on the occupants’ door. It’s on until the end of this month and brings the museum’s mission– to document ordinary British interiors– right up to the present.

Located off the beaten track in a funkily shabby East London neighborhood, the Geffrye is also well-regarded for its lovely period gardens, alive with roses, boxwood, and foxgloves in the summer, as well as a walled garden featuring 170 herbs.

Indoors, panelling, carpeting, paintings, decorative objects, and furniture also blossom, creating vignettes redolent of the daily lives of middle class Londoners. The Regency room, for example, features a mahogany sofa upholstered in Wedgwood-hued silk, and tables laden with silver lustre teaware, Reeves and Sons watercolors, and ivory and mahogany game boards. One room over, the mid-Victorian room with its autumnal colors and vibrant patterns offers a marked contrast to its serene neighbor.

It’s a perfect Geffrye moment, one where the spare and the cluttered, the light and the dark, the ornate and the simple engage in the ever-fashionable, ever-fickle dance of design sensibilities. Information: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk