V&A Members' Room
V&A Members’ Room. Photography: Rory Gardner

Architects Carmody Groarke have taken cues from Édouard Manet’s last major work for their design of the new V&A Members’ Room – a vaulted former study space inside the London museum.

The designers drew inspiration from the painter’s 1882 ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’, depicting a lady awaiting customers at the nightclub in Paris. A mirror behind her reflects the hubbub of the surrounding space, as well as a variety of intricate details.

Édouard Manet’s 1882 ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Translating this painting into a 3D space, Andy Groarke explained: ‘[We wanted] to put members at the heart of the experience, to make a chemisty and atmosphere that’s about the accumulation of details, and to make an architectural experience that’s about linking views of other things going on in the museum.’ He add: ‘That’s all embedded in this Manet image.’

Carmody Groarke have used mirrors extensively throughout the V&A Members’ Room – a top-lit space in the museum’s 1909 Aston Webb wing. These are angled so that members can glimpse the V&A’s new AL_A-designed Sackler Courtyard outside while seated, and view down into the mosaics on the ground floor of the museum via a mirror above a large light well.

V&A Members' Room
Photography: Rosella Degori

‘Mirrors not only amplify the energy in the room, they distort the reflections,’ said Andy Groarke.

Non-members wandering around the floors below can also peer upwards to catch reflections of the new space, as part of Carmody Groarke’s mission to ‘mix up the social life of the museum’.

V&A Members' Room
From left: The terrazzo bar; a glimpse into the Members’ Room from the floor below. Photography: Rory Gardner

Before the practice began working on the V&A Members’ Room, it was used as the National Art Library offices and windows were boarded up to preserve rare books. Carmody Groarke stripped out these light barriers and a mezzanine level to open up the room. They also painted it a fresh white and introduced teak parquet flooring salvaged from elsewhere in the museum.

A monolithic terrazzo bar is the centre piece of the Members’ Room, which will serve up a unique Queen Victoria and Prince Albert cocktail. Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s stackable 403 armchair from the 1930s was recommissioned for the space, which also includes chairs and coffee tables designed by Carmody Groarke themselves.

Menus at the all-day brasserie are provided by Benugo.

Read next: Tour the V&A’s £55m new Exhibition Road Quarter



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