The rooms we live in are always more than just four walls. As we decorate these spaces and fill them with objects and friends, they shape our lives and become the backdrop to our sense of self. One day, the houses will be gone, but even then, traces of the stories and the memories they contained will remain. In this dazzling work of imaginative re-construction, Edward Hollis takes us to the sites of five great spaces now lost to history and pieces together the fragments he finds there to re-create their vanished chambers. From Rome's Palatine to the old Palace of Westminster and the Petit Trianon at Versailles, and from the sets of the MGM studios in Hollywood to the pavilions of the Crystal Palace and his own grandmother's sitting room, The Memory Palace is a glittering treasure trove of luminous forgotten places and the people who, for a short time, made them their home.
Interiors and memories are inescapably linked. It is something we are all subconsciously aware of – but not something we may give much consideration to. However, if you take a minute and look at the interior of the room you are sat in, reading this, you would begin to notice a number of things.
In all likelihood the interior you are in is not the original that was created when the building the room inhabits was constructed. Also it is more than likely that many of the items in it belonged to others before they were yours. If you start to think about it, then, how long will the room stay as you currently see it? It will most probably be slightly different in a week, considerably different in 10 years and completely different, if indeed it exists at all, in 100 years.
It is this cycle of change and how we remember these spaces that forms the premise for Edward Hollis’ awaited second book. Following the very successful The Secret Lives of Buildings he has turned his investigations to some of the great interiors now consigned to history. In telling these stories he narrates; “the moments and modes of their disappearance, for the ways in which interiors are lost tells us as much about them as the ways in which they were created or inhabited’.
The book is split into five sections – architecture, furniture, objects, décor and commodities, each containing five stories. The book is structured such that you could read it from start to finish or choose topics in your own order – dipping in and out. Either way you will be taken on a fascinating journey through some well known and lesser known interiors. From the Purple Room of the porphyrogenitai to the cottages from The Great Exhibition, or the exchequer to The Big Brother House, Hollis takes us through familiar and less familiar spaces.
Hollis’ writing style can only be described as a fictional telling of fact. He uses an underlying story of his own Granny’s sitting room to link all the interiors. This removes any academic tightness from the book, without diminishing the evident research and investigation that has gone into putting it together.
Hollis has made an educated and inventive selection of lost interiors to delight the reader. The scale of the topics also varies – he gives as much attention to an Enchanted Island as he does to a chair. This really makes you think about the detail as well as the bigger picture of the interiors that have existed and influenced those of today.
However don’t think that this is a book about interior design – it’s not. This is not about flouncy curtains and cushions, it’s about how we create and destroy the spaces we inhabit. It’s about how storytelling allows these spaces to remain visible in our heads today, though physically they no longer exist.
As Oscar Wilde said; “There is only one thing in life worse than being spoken about, and that is not being spoken about “. Hollis has interpreted this into the fascinating world of interiors and in doing so has ensured that these places continue to exist in our own memory palaces.
This book is something that architects, interior designers and grannies will enjoy. It should come with a health warning that you will want to paint a room in French Grey paint, and it’s a guarantee that you will never look at the interiors that surround you in the same way again. It was long listed for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize.
Rachel Simmonds RIAS