Design Museum asks, ‘What does domestic design's past tell us about the future?’

Up 5_6 armchair with ottoman by Gaetano Pesce for B&B Italia
Installation view of Home Futures at Design Museum London including Up 5_6 armchair with ottoman by Gaetano Pesce for B&B Italia, 1969 (reissued 2000)
(Image credit: TBC)

What has the past got to tell us about the future? That’s the question posed by the Design Museum’s upcoming show: ‘Home Futures’.

Curator Eszter Steierhoffer puts 20th century prototypes up against the latest innovations in domestic living, allowing visitors to wonder whether yesterday’s fantasies have become today’s reality (and which version of the future is better looking).

‘It became clear that a lot of the topics we’re dealing with today – lack of space in big urban centres, nomadic behaviours, tech in home, sustainability and self-sufficiency – are issues that were present throughout the 20th century,’ says Steierhoffer.

Lamp integrated into a green chair art piece named Sinerpica Angolosa by Michele De Lucchi, 1978

Sinerpica Angolosa by Michele De Lucchi, 1978

(Image credit: TBC)

Steierhoffer’s jumping off point was MoMA’s 1972 show, ‘Italy: The New Domestic Landscape’. ‘In the 20th century, there was a special relationship with the future,’ she adds, ‘the future became the point of reference to determine the present.’

There are more than 150 objects and ‘experiences’ on display, including original furniture from the Smithsons’ 1956 House of the Future; original footage from the General Motors’ Kitchen of Tomorrow of the same year; and two delights from 1972: Ettore Sottsass’ Home Environment, and an original model of Joe Colombo’s Total Furnishing Unit.

And were these creatives’ vision of the future better looking than today’s efforts? That, says Steierhoffer, is very subjective. ‘21st century ideas look very different from an aesthetic point of view, and less futuristic. The most futuristic idea of the smart home today has midcentury furniture in it.’

New York-based architect SO-IL was tasked with creating an exhibition design that will display domestic behaviour in a museum context. Their solution: a number of areas zoned with semi-transparent mesh. Meanwhile, the graphics and catalogue are the work of London graphic design practice John Morgan Studio.

Come spring 2019, the show – which was organised in partnership with the IKEA Museum – will relocate to Älmhult, Sweden. 

Tawaraya' boxing ring by Masanori Umeda

Installation view of 'Tawaraya' boxing ring by Masanori Umeda for Memphis,1981

(Image credit: TBC)

Gary Chang, Domestic Transformer, 2009.

Domestic Transformer by Gary Chang, 2009. Photography: EDGE Design Institute Ltd 

(Image credit: EDGE Design Institute Ltd)

Modularity is Interaction by Dimitri Bähler & Mathieu Rivier

Installation view of Modularity is Interaction by Dimitri Bähler & Mathieu Rivier, 2015-18Â

(Image credit: TBC)

La casa telematica by Ugo la Pietra (1983)

La casa telematica by Ugo la Pietra (1983), Courtesy Archivio Ugo La Pietra, Milano

(Image credit: TBC)

Hans Hollein in his "Mobile Office“ 1969 Photo: Gino Molin-Pradl

Hans Hollein in his 'Mobile Office' 1969. Photography: Gino Molin-Pradl. Copyright Private Archive Hollein

(Image credit: TBC)

Lake by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, 2018

Lake by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, 2018. Courtesy Studio Bouroullec

(Image credit: TBC)


‘Home Futures’ is on view 7 November 2018 – 24 March 2019. For more information, visit the Design Museum website


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Clare Dowdy is a London-based freelance design and architecture journalist who has written for titles including Wallpaper*, BBC, Monocle and the Financial Times. She’s the author of ‘Made In London: From Workshops to Factories’ and co-author of ‘Made in Ibiza: A Journey into the Creative Heart of the White Island’.