Just about a month ago, on Dec. 12 to be precise, Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum re-opened after a three-year renovation.
And a visit earlier this month proved the destination for design fans remains a draw – and now even more so.
The museum, built as the Fifth Avenue (at 91st Street) home of Andrew Carnegie, has always been a place to examine the many facets of design. I recall my own visits, ranging from the 2002 show dedicated to industrial designer Russel Wright to the more recent 2011 show devoted to the jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels.
The Gilded Age mansion always seemed important, if somewhat stiff and dark at times. Of course, you could never forget the dramatic staircase.
Now, things have changed. There are countless exhibitions that take advantage of the full space.
In total, the transformation project offers 60 percent more exhibition space. Right now, there are 10 exhibitions and installations, many drawing from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 210,000 objects spanning 30 centuries.
More of the collection is on view – and seems so much more accessible. In fact, some 700 objects are filling four floors.
The project has kept the sense of history – and that staircase – intact, while creating a backdrop for the most modern exhibitions.
Expect to spend some time at the museum and expect to be dazzled.
I started my latest visit with “Designing the New Cooper Hewitt,” the ground-floor area dedicated to the renovation project that explores the entire process with glimpses into what’s yet to come.
From there, it was on to the varied exhibitions, where highlights come quickly.
I was charmed by “Maira Kalman Selects,” in which the author, artists and designer combines her own memorabilia with objects from the collection to fanciful effect. I also wanted to stay all day in the Immersion Room, in which you can select from more than 200 wallpaper designs in the museum collection and have them projected on the wall to stunning effect. Same went for the newly restored Teak Room, where “Lockwood de Forest and Frederic Church: Passion for the Exotic” takes you to another world.
I also saw, in no particular order, a 1937 telephone model, a circa-1810 sampler, a stunning 1929 lacquered wood dressing table and bench, a circa-1880 French parasol cover, a 2004 garland lamp, 1830s Russian dinnerware, a 1960s Bob Dylan poster, a balcony grille from 1909-11 Paris, a 2012-13 Issey Miyake ensemble, an 1875 travel dressing table, a pre-1881 fishing hook, a circa-1900 Japanese abacus, an early 20th-century Alaskan parka made from the intestine of a Beluga whale, 1970s satellite tools, a handful of 19th-century patent models for clothespins… you get the idea.
In total, the four floors of exhibitions proved thought-provoking, interesting and in some cases, plain old fun.
As with the most enjoyable museums, the Cooper Hewitt offers ways to extend your visit with an expanded design shop and a café with glass-enclosed seating.
And yes, the famed garden also remains, with an updated landscape design to be unveiled when it fully reopens in the summer.
For more, visit cooperhewitt.org.– Mary Shustack