Display: Learning from the Experts at The Manchester Museum


One of the lovely things about having visitors is that they make you look at your home town in a different way and visit places you take for granted.  I haven't stepped foot in The Manchester Museum since I was at school and came with my class.  It was a wonderful, imposing and impressive place then and it still is now.  On this visit I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of many of the objects on display - don't remember thinking that back then.  I was probably more agog at the dinosaur skeleton frames and the improbable animals. 

The Museum is housed in a suitably significant building on the main drag into the city centre.  I admire this building every time I pass it and it is a wonderful thought that you can go inside for free any day of the week.   

What really struck me on this visit, looking at it from an interior design point of view, was how well displayed the exhibits were and how well their display methods would translate into a domestic setting.  The huge cabinets are fabulous and I love the way they are set out in rows like a lovely old-style shopping arcade.  Having the cabinets painted in black, rather than the more expected polished brown wood, creates a more contemporary look.  So many homes have cabinetry that would benefit greatly from being painted black or nearly black - Farrow and Ball's Off-Black and Railings are both great colours to use.  I'm thinking particularly of the kind of built-in cupboards and shelves that you often find in the alcoves of Victorian houses.

The cabinets are, of course, also well-lit.  Lighting shelves and cabinets from scratch can be an expensive business but you can have quite a bit of impact with simple, cheap battery-powered LED lights that you can pick up in Ikea or B&Q.

Look at the image below for a great way to display found objects (sea shells you picked up on your hols maybe).  If you're not handy yourself many framing shops would easily create simple partitioned boxes like these for your treasures.

Similar objects grouped together on shelves will have impact purely because of the repetition:

Place them on plinths (just simple blocks of painted wood afterall) of differing heights and you will add a touch of gravitas to the objects: 

If you really want to have a gallery/museum feel you can number your pieces and add some informative labels.  You can make it serious or humourous depending on what you write in the text, e.g. Shell of a crab that bit me on the toe - it won't do that again.

For a bit of variety you could mount your objects on prongs:

These fossils are held in place by small metal brackets:  

The Mummy Portraits below date from around 30 BC - 395 AD, are among the earliest realistic depictions of the human face in two dimensions and are, I imagine, extremely valuable.  Some sepia photos of your own dearly beloved arranged and lit in a similar fashion would look pretty impressive too - tongue firmly in cheek of course!

I hope this post will prompt you to go to the museum, or another museum, to really look at the amazing things on display and learn more about them than how wonderfully displayed they are, interesting as that may be.

Check out the Museum site:


Do take the kids, or your folks.  They'll all love it and the shop and cafe too.  The many children I saw were having a lovely time.  Babies in the City are very positive about how child-friendly it is and they should know.


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