Fashion in the Museum: Managing a Renovation Project

The last shelf went up yesterday and the work crew have packed up…. Although I have a background in architecture and two home renos behind me, managing the renovation and relocation of Ryerson Fashion Research Collection was a huge undertaking. Having made it through the other end of that process, I can see now that I was innocent of the many obstacles that would fall into my path (which was probably a good thing).


Former Darkrooms in Kerr Hall West, Ryerson University
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013


When I first walked through the space allocated for the collection last July,  my heart sunk at how dark, dirty and ugly it seemed.  Undeterred by ugly, my friend and award-winning architect Guela Solow offered to help me on spec, and her team at ARK Inc. created visionary plans for the space. Although these plans were met with applause from the Advisory Council, the administration had other priorities. Even so, I did not give up hope that the space could be transformed into a functional home for the collection –one that would also be more accessible to students, faculty, and visiting researchers. With a bare bones budget that allowed little more than carpentry work and paint, I forged ahead.

One of the most important lessons I learned in managing this project is that tenacity is essential to get things done.  You simply cannot give up. People rarely say no; they just ignore your request. That did not deter me and I would just ask again. Sometimes I had to ask multiple times, but I was always polite and I always smiled. I also made an effort to be clear and explain my needs – for air flow and temperature regulation etc. – to help the team understand the unique requirements related to storage of historic artifacts and why I was asking for things to be done a certain way. Setting a specific deadline for completion offered a target to get things done, and my batches of home-made biscotti may have helped encourage the team along.

I rolled up my sleeves to make this project happen, coming in on weekends to dust shelves, wash counters, sweep the floors, and move racks of clothes. I knew that the sooner that the garments were moved out of the library, the sooner I would be able to organize the collection and do another round of editing. It was only a few weeks ago that I moved the last artifacts out of the library, and the entire collection is now housed in Kerr Hall West.

The space has been divided into:

1. Research rooms/office: Counter space for visitors to the facility to examine extant garments and conduct research. (Note: the archival boxes have yet to be put away; one of the many tasks on my long to-do list).

Fashion Research Centre Office

Fashion Research Centre Office
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

2. File room for storage of periodicals and other ephemera

3. Holding area: Low lighting area for racks of clothing waiting for registration, photography or conservation

4. Mannequin room


Mannequins and Dress Forms, Ryerson Fashion Research Collection
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

5. Hat and accessories room

6. Designer archive – designer clothing hung alphabetically plus shelving for designer hats

FRC Designer Archive

FRC Designer Archive
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

7. General collection storage – racks of clothing hung by period or course


FRC General Collection Archive
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

8. Fur storage – separate storage for furs, leathers and feathers

9. Photography studio


FRC Photography Studio
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013

The space is not pretty, but it is bright, clean and functional and there is room for the collection to grow.  Although there is still much organization and cataloguing to do, I can see the end. This project has not been easy, nor has it been without heartache, but I know that what I’ve done has literally transformed the School of Fashion. Had I not had the “crazy idea” to offer my skills and services to undertake this project in February 2012, this collection would likely still be accumulating dust behind LIB767 of the Ryerson University Library. Sometimes you just have to jump in….



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  • ian drummond July 18, 2013 06.52 am

    Congratulations Ingrid,
    I can certainly appreciate how much thought and effort goes into a reorganization of this magnitude. I’m sure all the sweat equity will pay off handsomely as this (growing) collection is now thoughtfully available for viewing.
    I’m looking forward to a quick tour!
    3 cheers,

  • Tarah Burke July 18, 2013 03.24 pm

    Congrats Ingrid!
    You recognized the diamond in the rough the day we had our first glimpse at the Ryerson collection. You turned chaotic treasures into an essential asset for the school of fashion. Great Job!

  • June Kenner July 19, 2013 05.52 am

    I am looking forward to seeing the collection ASAP. It looks very exciting. June Kenner

  • Ingrid July 19, 2013 07.16 am

    Thanks for the words of support. There is much work still to do, but it is exciting, especially when I think of the state the collection was in a year ago.

  • Jonathan Walford July 27, 2013 01.28 pm

    Fantastic space – if ONLY I had that much clean, bright working space for the FHM collection! It may not look pretty to you, but its STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS to me!


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