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"Proust" Armchair
"Proust" Armchair, Designed 1978; made 1998-1999
Designed by Alessandro Mendini, Italian
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Storage Project: Modern and Contemporary Design and Craft Furniture

The Museum houses a rich collection of more than 5,300 pieces of furniture from a range of periods and cultures. Its holdings of modern and contemporary design and craft furniture are particularly distinguished, comprising 550 objects and including notable works such as Alessandro Mendini’s “Proust” armchair and a group of molded plywood furniture by Charles and Ray Eames. Until recently, the Museum had just 2,774 square feet of storage for this collection, insufficient for its current number of objects and severely limiting room for new acquisitions. Thanks to generous funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Museum made significant improvements with the acquisition and installation of new compact shelving in 2013–14.

Prior to this project, the furniture was secured in a state-of-the-art storage facility but housed on stationary shelving, which led to significant overcrowding. The shelving had been erected as a cost-effective interim solution in 2004, with the long-term plan of converting it into mobile, compact shelving, which optimizes space use and maximizes storage capacity. Customizable, mobile shelving units rest on floor-mounted guide rails and easily slide together or apart. These features minimize the need for staff to handle objects—the shelves themselves can be rearranged to gain access. In addition to its convenience, this system significantly decreases the risk of damage to the objects that can occur during routine handling.

Overcrowding of storage prior to new mobile units being added
Go behind the scenes of this furniture storage project.
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The project was carried out between October 2013 and July 2014 by a team of conservators, conservation technicians, a collections manager, registrars, and a full-service, business storage-and-retrieval solutions firm. The first stage of the project, undertaken between October and mid-March 2013, consisted of transferring the furniture from existing shelving to a temporary space. In preparation for their move, objects were examined, dusted, and vacuumed with minor treatments performed as needed. The team ensured that all protective padding, stabilizing support, and archival linings remained in good condition.

During the next stage, shelving was dismantled and compacting carriages were installed. Removal of shelving allowed for a thorough cleaning of the storage facility, a key component of normal collections care. After installation of new shelving, the furniture pieces were returned and placed on the new mobile units. To the greatest degree possible, objects were grouped together by artist, size, material, era of production, and style.

<i>Red Beaver</i> Armchair, 1986
See some highlights from this impressive collection of furniture.
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The new shelving system created 1,344 additional square feet of storage space, nearly a 50% increase. This dramatic gain alleviated problems of overcrowding and inaccessibility, improved overall storage conditions, consolidated contemporary design and craft furniture holdings into one unit, and increased capacity for new acquisitions. All 550 furniture pieces that currently constitute these collections are now stored safely and securely in conditions much better suited toward their long-term protection and conservation.

This project was generously supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.