For July’s Bookshop of the Month, we paid a visit to the redeveloped Museum of the Home in East London. This newly reimagined museum aims to be a place where everyone can explore what home means, consider the ways we have lived in the past and explore creative ideas about new ways of living in and looking at the world today. To learn more, we spoke to Sonia, the museum shop’s buyer, about the store’s place within Museum of the Home and its plans for the future.
1. What do you hope your shop brings to the Museum of the Home experience?
During these unprecedented times, a Museum of the Home is more relevant for our society than ever before. Having just re-opened following a significant re-development project, and further delays caused by the pandemic, our reinvigorated purpose is to ‘reveal and rethink the ways in which we live, in order to live better together’. Delving into the past, present and future, the Museum is moving beyond objects to questions and stories which ignite debate about what home means to different people.
In the gift shop, we wanted to reflect our revamped displays, creative programme and East London location through a newly curated range of products and books. Our aim is to enhance the visitor’s experience both within the Museum and in their own homes long after their visit has ended, through the special souvenirs they’ve bought. We’ve done this by theming our ranges under a broad umbrella of making, keeping and being at home, including exclusive designer collaborations and bespoke collection-based merchandise. With books specifically, we do not profess to be a library for the specialist, but rather weave beautiful and useful titles throughout the shop which are visually and thematically relevant and appeal to every visitor type.
2. How do the exhibitions and collection displayed at the Museum of the Home inform your book buying for the shop?
We have developed key product ranges in response to the Museum displays and tend to buy books that link to these themes so they can be merchandised together as fellow gifts. For example, we have brought some of the vintage textiles from the Museum archives back to life on bespoke homewares and accessories, and compliment these with books on mid-century design and vintage style. The Museum also has beautiful gardens which show how city gardens have developed over centuries, so urban gardening is another key book theme for the shop.
3. How have you found running a bookshop as part of a larger museum?
The key here is collaboration, whether internally with colleagues in other departments, or externally with creative partners, to ensure we are all working to the same vision and values whilst sharing knowledge, opportunities and inspiration. The gift shop, both onsite and online, should form an intrinsic part of the overall visitor experience.
4. In normal times, what sort of books do you find your customers are most interested in? Do they generally correlate with the Museum of the Home’s featured exhibitions?
Having joined the team while the Museum was closed, with the sole purpose of developing an all-new retail offer for when it re-opened, I wasn’t able to find much data on what sold well in the past! However, judging from my experience working for other museums and galleries, I know that gift shop customers are usually motivated to purchase books and products which continue and expand on the stories they have been told during their visit – but which also stand alone as great souvenirs or gifts that are beautiful and useful. They want to take a piece of their experience home with them.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
I am already working on ranges for Christmas, which has always been a popular time at the Museum, with its seasonal dressing-up of the Rooms Through Time – a series of room-sets from London lounges of the past 400 years. This year we will be broadening our themes to encompass winter festivals from different faiths and cultures, so I am hoping to offer something for everyone in the gift shop.