I encourage you to seek out any small museums in your local area while you're on holidays or trips. They're often hidden, sometimes tiny and occasionally in private houses, often bypassed by locals. Put on your super-sleuth hat and look for obscure signs (which may be handwritten). Here are four of my favourite international museums to get lost in.
South Parks Road Oxford OX1 3pp
Many of these smaller old-school museums are the result of the lifetime's work of one person, and become really interesting when science & collecting merge, and the personality of the collector becomes evident. That's the case here, where pieces are curated in item groups, such as fire-lighting tools or combs, with little regard to period or time. The over-stuffed freestanding and wall cabinets, dim lighting and a handwritten metal-edged discs and rectangular tags, holding all the data information one might night for identification, all add to the visiting experience and intrigue of this vision.
62 rue des Archives 75003 Paris
This must be one of the most considered curations I have ever experienced. It has all the things I admire in an interior: a sense of humour, artisan-made functional pieces, custom joinery & hardware (even the clipboards are accented with beautiful brass hardware & illustrations), a refined colour palette, attention to detail, consideration of the vista, a mix of old & new in furniture & art, the use of superior materials, and the interaction of a space welcoming the visitor to be an integral part of the space and journey. My favourite room is The Stag & Wolf Salon, with its pickled oak floors and panelled walls, brass antler installation dagger-like on the panelled ceiling, a huge antlered stag casually standing in the corner, tapestries lining the walls, and two modern B&B Italia-esque blue wool, very square sofas sitting opposite one another complete with coffee table & floor lamps – so very residential. It is of course the hunting & nature museum, and so guns & swords are very much part of the installation and sit comfortable beside the menagerie of mounted animals: polar & grizzly bears, wild boars, sleeping foxes, tigers & lions.
84 South Pine st Doylestown, PA 18901
I discovered Fonthill, the passion and vision (some might say folly) of Henry C Mercer, when I was on a Gourmet magazine shoot in Pennsylvania. The magical higgledy-piggeldy concrete castle, lined with Moravian tiles he produced in his workshops, was built in the early 1900s to house his massive collection of everyday tools, hardware, machinery, finished products and even an entire general store interior from the 1860s. Although I do not have the collection bug for carts, canoes, and other larger scale objects, I did appreciate the impressive display of these things hanging and flying around the depths of the museum.
9341 Venice Boulevard Culver City, CA 90232
Long ago I read in Mr Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder, which was based on an out-of-the-way place in LA, around way before cabinets of curiosities reached the resurgence of coolness they now enjoy. With limited time and the excuse of Bowerbird, I made an appointment to see the Museum Of Jurassic Technology. Its unassuming facade, in a shade of green with an old brass buzzer engraved with its name, lovely and old-school, was completely deceiving. I initially thought it was made up of just three rooms. In fact, two floors and a rabbit warren of roughly twenty rooms (I lost count so don't quote me on that) make up MJT. Each room is intimate, dark and encourages you to look into, touch, listen or read. It is a realisation of one man's (& his wife's) vision. Part carnival, side show, history, circus, museum & gallery – it's impossible to categorise. Each display is different, with dioramas, holograms, microscopes, 3D glasses and listening devices for you to experience each strange & curious installation in its own way. Note to self: leave plenty of time – hours disappear here.