The House as a Museum

After reading "The Biography of a Building" by Witold Rybczynski detailing the life of the Sainsburys and the design and building of the Sainsbury's Centre for the Visual Arts I was drawn to the concept of the house as a Museum.

The Sir Robert Sainsbury had collated a vast collection of tribal artefacts which were displayed within his house, he had been questioning whether to donate them to a museum, construct a new museum or simply open his London home as a public museum. Thus displaying the artefacts in the same manner that he and his family had always enjoyed them.

The collection at Smith Square (Jenkins, 2003)

This raises the question of why do so many museums inhabit the homes of their patrons. Just a few examples: Dennis Severs' House, Hill Top House (home of Beatrix Potter), Anne Frank's House, 122b Baker Street, Benjamin Franklin House, Charles Dickens Museum. Rarely are houses sufficiently large that they can accommodate the number of visitors that are attracted to them which leads to long queues, a rushed visit and overall a bad experience.

Other examples include the countless country houses owned by the National Trust which are kept in furnished in their typical Victorian fashion and open to the public.

Why are these places so popular? Do visitors believe they learn more about the patrons by seeing the artworks artefacts within the dwellings?

Visiting a personal collection is like paging through a scrapbook; not 'Everything's important' but rather 'The Things I Like.' Quite different from visiting a conventional museum which is like opening an encyclopedia where the entries are categorized, labelled, certified A to Z.

Rybczynski, W. (2011)

Jenkins, D. (2003). Norman Foster: Works 1. Munich: Presetel.
Rybczynski, W. (2011). The Biography of a Building. London: Thames & Hudon.