Decor is always a sort of alchemy, for combinations of colour, texture, and pattern bind together the elements of a room, and make them more than the sum of their parts. The root of the word is found in the Latin word ‘decorum’, which means appropriateness, in modes and manners. To decorate a room is to dress it up for a performance, and to enchant its occupants into behaving like actors in a play. Successful dining, as Elsie de Wolfe observed in her Recipes for Successful Dining, wasn’t about the food on the plate, but the occasion of the meal, and the room in which it was eaten.
My grandmother would agree. When she is going to entertain, she sets her white hair in stiff curls, and powders her face until she resembles nothing so much as a ghostly courtier. She opens curtains usually drawn, and a pale, cool light washes over silk, gilt, and crystal. Just as the bell sounds, she checks herself, and the room that clothes her, in the mirror above the mantel. The scene is set.
By Ed Hollis
Extract from Ed Hollis’ new book The Memory Palace: A Book of Lost Interiors (2013).
THE UNIVERSITY of EDINBURGH Edinburgh College of Art
THE UNIVERSITY of EDINBURGH MORAY HOUSE SCHOOL of EDUCATION