HBL Events: Christmas traditions at the Geffrye Museum

Monday, 6 December 2010

Christmas decorations in the 1870 room
WGSN-homebuildlife this week paid a visit to the annual Christmas exhibition at London's Geffrye Museum, which tracks Britain's changing interior tastes from the 17th century to the 1990s via a succession of room sets, each one fitted out in the seasonal decor of its time.

Dinner setting in the 1630 room

We've picked out our favourite details from each period, accompanied by some information from the curators about the attitude to etiquette, meals and interior design from the 'middling classes' of London at that particular period in time.

A hall in 1630: The table is set with the second course, a mixture of savoury and sugary sweet dishes. These would have been particularly special because sugar was an expensive luxury. The sweets are made in shapes playfully imitating other foods or items, such as bacon and eggs, walnuts and a chequerboard of gilded and white leach, a dish similar to Turkish delight made of a boiled milk jelly.

1745 room
A parlour in 1745: It is one of the evenings between Christmas and the New Year and a family are taking tea in their parlour after supper. They are sipping cordial, a strong alcoholic drink, with their tea. The cordial is served in glasses with a small bowl on a tall stem. A friend has called on the family and, because he has missed supper, he is offered two jellies and a glass of wine to make up for it.
1790 room
A parlour in 1790: In diaries, journals and letters of the time people often referred to rooms and furnishings that they liked as 'neat', which meant bright and stylish as well as clean and tidy. This taste required lighter colours and much more delicate decoration. Wallpapered walls were particularly useful for achieving this effect, replacing heavily moulded panelling.
1830 room
A drawing room in 1830: By this date colour schemes tended to be more unified, with matching curtains and upholstery, often in the same fabric.
1870 room
A drawing room in 1870: As a room in which guests were made welcome, it would be carefully furnished with an eye to current fashion. Different patterns and styles might be used for walls, floors and curtains, creating a 'busy' impression.
Decorative accessories from, left: 1870; right: 1890
Between 1870 and 1890, the Aesthetic Movement gained dominance amongst the middle classes. It was a reaction against mainstream taste, and is on clear display in the1890 room, where a collection of small Japanese lanterns adorn a decorative display.

1890 room
The 1890 exhibit also marks the introduction of the Christmas card, an English invention devised by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 as a way of streamlining the number of individual Christmas letters he had to write each year. It became common in the 1860s and really took off in the 1870s - when a cheap rate was introduced for mailing cards and unsealed envelopes.

1900-1914 room
1930s: This living and dining room, or 'dining lounge', is furnished in the Moderne style. Interiors were light with pale painted walls and furnishing fabrics in muted greens, oranges and beiges. There were fewer furnishings compared to earlier in the century and surfaces were plain and smooth.
Mid-Century period room: Social and domestic conventions relaxed considerably in the 1960s, and the family living room now had to provide for activities like homework, eating and entertaining. The room is furnished in the 'Contemporary' style, which was influenced by Scandinavian interiors and, in particular, Danish design.
1990s flat: This room is typical of an architect-designed loft in a twentieth-century warehouse, with the kitchen, living and dining areas all in one, open space. The main features associated with this style of interior are bare wood flooring, white walls, sparse furnishings and modern furniture.
1990s flat, continued: Colour can be provided by the upholstery, a few decorative objects, such as coloured-glass vases, and a large contemporary painting or print. Sometimes, as shown here, a section of wall is picked out in a bright, accent colour. 

If you're a WGSN-HBL subscriber, you can also see the future of Christmas decor: view our creative direction for Christmas 2011 and 2012 here.