Hollis (Interior Design/Edinburgh Coll. of Art; The Secret Lives of Buildings, 2009) returns with a personal history of the ephemeral lives of interiors.
The author employs an emotional image throughout: his grandmother’s London home—“a little brick box” he calls “The Doll’s House.” He returns to this scene at the beginning of each of the major sections to show us the symbolic relevance of her tiny space, a space that holds many of her personal treasures and memories. Hollis begins with an obvious note: Interiors don’t last very long. We change, move and die, and all is lost or scattered. The author takes us back to Palatine Hill in ancient Rome and describes the structures that once lay there (or nearby)—and what has happened to them. He takes a farther leap back to Romulus and his hut and notes, “there’s always been a beginning before the beginning.” In his section on furniture, he discusses the significance of thrones, the Round Table, the King’s Bench and the design of the House of Commons. His section on objects includes the fabled Kunstkammer, the cabinet of curiosities. Then he examines décor, and where could that lead but Versailles? Hollis offers several sections on the palace but ends with the room in Paris where Marie Antoinette awaited her execution. His section on commodities includes the history of the 1851 Great Exhibition and its centerpiece, the Crystal Palace. Hollis ends with an appropriate focus—the 1939 film of Gone with the Wind—and tells us what happened to some of the costumes, properties and scenery, and he examines the evolution of the mass media, from the earliest TV sets to the iCloud (the latter, he writes, is itself “an enchanted memory palace”).
Eloquent and evocative evidence of the evanescence of all.