Design museum Gent originates in a private initiative by a group of industrials and art lovers who united themselves in 1903 in the ‘Union des Arts Industriels et Décoratifs’. The museum was conceived as a ‘Musée des Modèles’ where ‘good examples’ of applied arts were shown. Several disciplines were represented in the collection, including furniture – mainly eighteenth-century style furniture – ceramics, copper and bronze, and textiles. At the same time a library was created.
The objects were initially stored and displayed in the Ghent municipal academy, situated in the Sint-Margrietstraat. Owing to purchases in the various pavilions during the Ghent 1913 World Exhibition and further extension of the collection with Asian objects, textiles and French Art Deco, a new accommodation became a necessity. In 1922, room was found in the Hôtel de Coninck, an impressive 18th-century urban residence in the Jan Breydelstraat. Artist Armand Heins was the first curator until 1931. His successor Henri Nowé furnished the rooms of the Hôtel de Coninck as ‘period rooms’, which still makes the collection items come to life today.
In 1958 the museum was taken over by the City of Ghent and renamed Museum of Decorative Arts. Between 1958 and 1973 the museum was closed for restoration works. In the 1950s, the then curator Adelbert Van de Walle organised the famous National Salons for Modern Social Furniture, which continued the tradition of the ‘good example’. After the reopening of the museum, curator Lieven Daenens expanded the collection considerably. He put together a collection of Belgian Art Nouveau and Art Deco of exceptional quality, with objects and interiors by Henry van de Velde, Victor Horta, Paul Hankar, Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, Philippe Wolfers and Albert Van huffel. In addition, he intensively collected objects of the Italian postmodernism and put the accent on contemporary international design with purchases from star designers such as Philippe Starck, Ron Arad and Shiro Kuramata. In 1987, the museum received two important legacies of interior and furniture designer Pieter De Bruyne and the Dutch collector Norbert F. Havermans, who donated a substantial collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco glass, ceramics and silver. In the 1980s, important designer archives were also donated by Gaston Eysselinck, Albert Van huffel and Geo Henderick. In 1995 the museum changed its name to Museum of Decorative Arts and Design.
Meanwhile, back in 1992, the museum inaugurated a new wing, which accommodates additional collection presentations and temporary exhibitions on three floors in a fascinating, unique combination with the capabilities of the Hôtel de Coninck. Since 2002, our name Design museum Gent.