REFIRING: Franklin Vagnone, “Expose Domestic Complexities” (5/6)

FranklinVagnone2-01My people are old-house people. Growing up, my parents and relatives all lived in old houses and the majority of our family vacations were pilgrimages to historic house museums. And then I met Franklin Vagnone, co-author of The Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, and in one encounter, he completely torched my preconceived notions and refired for me what such a place can provide visitors in terms of an unpredictable and personally memorable experience. Not since Thomas Hoving notoriously made the mummies dance at The Metropolitan Museum of Art has any curatorial voice been so radically compelling. And it’s not just me he’s affected, as he has become an in-demand visiting lecturer and workshop facilitator resurrecting these sleeping beauties from their time machine fabled irrelevance and introducing a myriad of creative approaches to make these buildings meaningful again to their local and international cultural communities, today. MacArthur genius award committee: this is a guy you want to meet!
~Victoria C. Rowan, Creatrix-in-Chief


© Franklin Vagnone

© Franklin Vagnone


The interiors of many Historic House Museums seem to be like a galaxy of object-like planets, all with various levels of gravity and atmospheric space. One fine object dare not be allowed to overlap with another, as such an act would undermine the historic integrity of the curated interior. It seems odd that for such intimate spaces, the interiors of House Museums seem to be set up for a first date, where the couple is politely keeping their distance from each other. We sometimes imagine that when we leave and the lights go out, the furniture and artifacts quickly intermingle, much like in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast or Pixar’s Toy Story.

[Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, Page 134, co-written by Deborah Ryan with a foreword by Gretchen Sorin]


Realize that visitors crave a more realistically presented habitation space and some illustration of the variety of occupation that occurred in it over time. Allow visitors to experience visual complexity and change within the HHM. Expose the detritus of real life habitation. We suggest that House Museums build into their experiences and narratives both changeable and complex environments even while we understand the tectonic changes that this idea may produce because it strikes at the heart of the most traditional view of what a House Museum is.

We also believe that the visitor experience is more important than any other aspect of House Museum stewardship. When conflicts between use, collections, and preservation standards arise, discuss those differences and prioritize accordingly. However, it is most important not to let past methodologies and best practices limit new endeavors. The traditional type of structure requires great effort with few positive results. Remember, visitors are our guests. Our job is to be good hosts.

[Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, Page 137, co-written by Deborah Ryan with a foreword by Gretchen Sorin]

See more of Franklin Vagnone’s Featured Creative posts on our Ideablog

FDV~~~Franklin Vagnone serves as Executive Director of the Historic House Trust of New York City. As such, he has instituted a community-based perspective toward guiding the institution, creating and encouraging initiatives that unite all 23 houses and promote them as a community resource. Franklin has significant professional experience in preservation, architecture, design, landscape architecture, archive formation & management, and a deep appreciation and understanding of non-profit organizations.

In addition to having a passion for architecture and preservation, Franklin has a robust social media portfolio. His twitter feed (@franklinVagnone) is regularly reposted by major domestic and international preservation organizations and his blog – Twisted Preservation – is presently read in over 60 countries. Frank also paints & sculpts. He currently resides in New York City with his partner John Yeagley and daughter.

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