Image Credit : All images @Gareth Gardner





Project Overview

Wordsworth Grasmere is a museum and visitor attraction based around Dove Cottage, the former Lake District home of the great English Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. All gallery, exhibition design and interpretative overview on the project were created by Nissen Richards Studio, working with client The Wordsworth Trust, whilst the remodelling and extension of the museum building were by the scheme’s basebuild architect, Purcell.
The project opened in two phases in the summers of 2020 and 2021. The first phase encompassed the conservation and reinterpretation of Dove Cottage, where William and Dorothy once lived, together with the launch of a new identity for Wordsworth Grasmere and all signage and wayfinding for the scheme. The second phase saw the launch of the extended and refurbished Museum, with the interior visitor journey and design of four galleries were created by Nissen Richards Studio.

Project Commissioner

Wordsworth Trust

Project Creator

Nissen Richards Studio


Director: Pippa Nissen
Project Architect: Andrea Hickey
Graphic Design: Candy Wall, Dario Pianesi, Terry Hearnshaw
Basebuild Contractor: Parkinson
Basebuild architectect: Purcell
Project Manager / QS: Appleyard & Trew
Introductory film: Nick Street
Sound designer: Carolyn Downing

Project Brief

When Dove Cottage first opened to visitors in 1891, the museum was located within a single room of the cottage. Over the years, more land and buildings were acquired, so that the site finally encompassed the Grade I-listed Dove Cottage, the Museum and the stand-alone Jerwood Centre, housing a world-class collection of Wordsworth manuscripts, first editions and paintings - as well as with a number of supporting buildings, gardens and a car park.
The new renovation, expansion and experience sought to unify and optimise the site and to bring the lives of William and Dorothy and the poetry of William Wordsworth to life for a wide range of visitors, from those new to Wordsworth’s work to those with a specialist knowledge and interest – all within a beautiful site in the heart of the landscape that inspired the Wordsworths daily in their walks, diary-writing and poetry.

Project Need

From stepping into the past in Dove Cottage to reflecting on Wordsworth’s poetry and immersing the visitor in the landscape and its emotional impact, the new Wordsworth Grasmere route encompasses a total experience, including threshold moments, such as a totem sign and words set into the walkways, featuring fragments of poems.
The main entrance now leads visitors into a shop and ticketing area, before entering the new, double-height Museum orientation space. Here, quotations by Wordsworth are set within a dramatic, full-height light wall. Visitors then make their way to a former stable space that houses an immersive introductory film, before stepping over the threshold into Dove Cottage.
For Dove Cottage, Nissen Richards Studio’s approach was not to replicate the original house as it would have been, but to intimate and evoke its past history. New furniture, commissioned from local craftsmen with specialist historic knowledge, was built in the style of the period and sits alongside real, surviving furniture. As well as the film, created with film-maker Nick Street, sound designer Carolyn Downing created a soundscape that reverberates all around, creating a sense of the lives lived there.
Visitors return to The Museum via Dove Cottage’s Garden-Orchard, entering an expanded first floor space, loosely arranged into four new galleries. Galleries One and Four are set to one side and Galleries Two and Three to the other, whilst a pause space in between offers views onto the gardens and surrounding landscape.

Design Challenge

For Dove Cottage, the challenge was to evoke the feeling of the original lived-in house, whilst the museum display needed to speak to a wide range of visitors and bring them close to Wordsworth as a person. The visitor journey needed to weave together many strands, including the biographical story and Wordsworth’s literary process and achievements.
Gallery One features a nature-inspired soundscape by sound artist Carolyn Downing and a number of stand-out literary pieces, including ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, along with objects such as Wordsworth’s ice-skates, which link an incident in Wordsworth’s life to the manuscript nearby.
Gallery Two is an AV space, serving to immerse visitors in Wordsworth’s poetry. Two screens give a 50-minute-long looped recitation of poetry, so that visitors can listen to a single poem, several or the entire run.
Gallery Three ramps up the literary intensity and tells the story of how The Prelude – Wordsworth’s major life work - came about over a 50-year period.
Ink stains are used within the gallery decoration to accompany the manuscripts, referencing the Wordsworth Grasmere branding language devised by Nissen Richards Studio. The pause area between the galleries is in white, left blank for thought, with a creative writing table and integrated dichroic quotes coming alive through colour.
Gallery Four is a homage to the Lake District and Grasmere in particular, showing how Wordsworth was very much a poet of the Lake District and how he and his family were rooted here.


Breaking down and defining distinct packages of work allowed the team to tender small packages to local specialist trades, including local stonemasons to deliver the external wayfinding as well as historic furniture makers for the new Dove Cottage furniture. Local and/or sustainably-sourced materials were prioritised throughout, from local slate for the wayfinding to the Richlite that lines the exhibition space walls and furniture. Made from paper construction, Richtlite is fabricated from 100% recycled products through a process called WETM (Waste-to-Energy) Technology, employing a closed-loop energy system, where wasted product is recaptured and used as fuel during the drying stage, minimising natural gas usage by 83%. The material is certified by a number of sustainable initiatives including GREENGUARD, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), WE Technology, Declare, and The HPD Open Standard.
Beyond the physical build and delivery, sustainability was also a key component of the interpretation. Many of Wordsworth’s poems revolve around encounters with the natural world. By bringing people closer to these encounters, we hope to further Wordsworth’s own wishes as described by Coleridge: ‘by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand’.

Open to all international projects this award celebrates innovative and creative building interiors, with consideration given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes, aesthetic presentation and functionality. Consideration also given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.  

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