Below Stairs




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Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, Jasper Morrison, Martino Gamper, and Paul Cocksedge to exhibit ‘Below Stairs’ at Sir John Soane’s Museum during London Design Festival – Featuring AVM Curiosities

As part of this year’s London Design Festival, Sir John Soane’s Museum will display four contemporary works by leading designers, created in response to the Museum’s restored Regency kitchens, which will open to the public for the first time. The Museum, with guest curators Rachael Barraclough and Zoë Wilkinson, has invited four leading designers – Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, Jasper Morrison, Martino Gamper and Paul Cocksedge – to place new or recent work in the reinstated space.

The works will go on display as part of the exhibition 'Below Stairs' which opens on 13 September 2016 and runs until 28 January 2017.

The display coincides with the completion of the Museum’s seven-year restoration project 'Opening Up the Soane', which has seen existing buildings developed and new spaces opened. The kitchens have been reinstated and can be seen by visitors for the first time in the Museum’s history.

In 1833, Sir John Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to preserve his house and collection according to his wishes, in order to continue to inspire and educate future generations. It has enthralled countless people over the last 200 years and many designers cite the Soane Museum as one of their best loved and most inspirational places in London.

The exhibition’s title, 'Below Stairs', refers to the original use of these kitchens by Sir John Soane’s servants. Life for his servants was centred around the basement of the house; the front and back kitchens were the heart of domestic life and ensured the smooth running of the household. As the main hub for the servants’ activities, it was here where sumptuous meals were prepared, such as elaborate jellies and blancmanges, laundry washed, and provisions for the household ordered and received. These newly opened spaces will invite the visitor to examine both the downstairs and the upstairs (including Soane’s elaborate private apartments) of a Georgian townhouse.

In 'Below Stairs', curator Rachael Barraclough and assistant curator Zoë Wilkinson, have invited some of the UK’s most celebrated designers to contribute an engaging piece for the kitchens. The front and back kitchens, which have remained unchanged with their original flagstone floors, cast-iron ranges and built-in dressers, evoke a rather haunting ancestral reminder of the history of the domestic objects which inform how we design for our lives today.

The designers chosen for the 'Below Stairs' exhibition all have a particular passion for the culinary and related domestic objects; Barber Osgerby have designed ranges of tableware, day-to-day objects and a number of dining tables; Jasper Morrison’s collection of trays and spoons explores his love of the humble domestic utensil. His fondness for an honest aesthetic provides a perfect fit for the museum’s utilitarian kitchens, which align with Morrison’s vision for functional objects that are not wrapped up in any artifice. Martino Gamper is part-chef, and part-designer, and his London/Milan food pop-ups is indicative of his keen affinity with the kitchen. Meanwhile it was Cocksedge’s ‘Styrene’ lamp made from the humble polystyrene drinking cup that first captured the design world’s attention at his degree show in 2002.

These designers have either created new works, or selected a bespoke piece from a recent edition for the exhibition. The Soane Museum invited the designers to consider their work in relation to the materials found throughout the kitchen and the wider museum. Each designer visited the kitchen whilst work was still ongoing and were able to engage with the original walls and features, which had been hidden for so many years. Paul Cocksedge immediately asked for the lights to be turned off, and suddenly the kitchen was filled with a soft and cool light. Jasper Morrison studied the Museum’s details with interest, and wanted to see all of the old kitchen objects that had been in daily use. Barber Osgerby were struck by how much the original table would have been the focal point of the kitchen, and Martino Gamper was enamoured with the use and display of objects placed throughout the house-museum. There was a real sense from all four designers that each piece by them should sit calmly and command power in this historical setting.

Tasha Marks, Founder of AVM Curiosities has collaborated with the curators to create a bespoke piece of work in response to the kitchen and the design pieces of Barber Osgerby, Jasper Morrison, Martino Gamper, and Paul Cocksedge. As a food historian Tasha Marks champions the use of food as an artistic medium, exploring the relationship between art and food through high-calibre events and edible inventions. In response to the designs and kitchen she has created a series of tactile Scent Chambers. When interacted with these visually impactful chambers release evocative aromas which complement the atmosphere of the kitchen and of the objects within. The released scents will provoke sensations of lost memories of Georgian kitchens, as you’re transported back in time to the bustling environment of the 18th century kitchen, with a hint of today’s gastronomic fantasies.

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