Towards an uncensored history of design: Ideal Homes and Constance Spry at London’s Design Museum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In 1993 Ideal Homes, a survey of the history of the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home Exhibition (founded in 1908), opened at London’s Design Museum. It drew the highest visitor numbers to the museum at that date, many of whom although Ideal Home Exhibition regulars were new to the Design Museum. As curator of Ideal Homes I aimed to challenge the established approaches in museums of design and decorative arts in exhibiting design history. In particular, influenced by feminist design histories and anthropology and ethnography, I wished to move away from reading objects through aesthetic, primarily modernist, considerations of form and function and consider instead objects as bearers of social relations. I also aimed to subvert the white cube of the museum and capture some of the carnivalesque pleasures of the Ideal Home Exhibition in the presentation and design of Ideal Homes at the Design Museum. This chapter reflects on the curatorial process of Ideal Homes and the conflicts that it created within the Design Museum. It contrasts this with its favourable reception by the public and positive media coverage. It particularly focuses on critical issues raised around ‘good design’, gender and the domestic sphere in relation to both Ideal Homes and the Ideal Home Exhibition proper, which it argues were intrinsically bound up with modernist curatorial practices. It also discusses the ways in which these issues were raised again by the Design Museum’s controversial Constance Spry exhibition in 2004, which led to the resignation of the Museum’s chairman James Dyson.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign objects and the museum
EditorsLiz Farrelly, Joanna Weddell
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing Company
ISBN (Electronic)9781472577252
ISBN (Print)9781472577238
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


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