NEW YORK - Its Gilded-Age façade may be traditional, but the inside of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is anything but. After a mammoth three-year renovation that added 60 per cent more gallery space and restored period details, this Museum Mile gem reopens on 12 December. “Not only have we redone the museum,” says director Caroline Baumann, “we have redesigned the entire experience.” Baumann spoke with Meghan Dailey about how an institution founded more than one hundred years ago is looking boldly to the future.

A rendering of an upgraded Cooper Hewitt exhibition gallery.

What can we expect from the renovated Cooper Hewitt?

Nothing about it will be the same in terms of the experience. It’s a massive overhaul. We have taken advantage of every millimetre of gallery space. The moment you walk in there’s the message that we’re a 21st-century museum.

How is that message conveyed?

We’re very excited about the Pen, a stylus that every visitor can use in the museum. Visitors will be able to press a wall label with the Pen, which downloads the information and then a code allows you to link the Pen with your device. You can also sit at a digital table and create your own designs or search our collection of objects. The Pen is a global first within the museum industry.

The project was announced six years ago and the renovation has been underway for three. Was it hard to keep the momentum going all that time?

Not really. There were so many twists during the planning stages and, with some very creative people, we spent a lot of time asking ourselves, “What do we want to be when we reopen?”

Did you find the answer?

That’s a good question. Our mission is to empower people with design. The Pen wasn’t created just for millennials but for people of all ages. We really want visitors to engage, to play designer, to put their phones away and experience the objects.