architecture

Behind the gates of Buckingham Palace

Published 12th October 2018
Throne Room, Buckingham Palace, by Ashley Hicks
Credit: Royal Collection Trust / Ashley Hicks
Behind the gates of Buckingham Palace
Written by Ana Rosado, CNN
Interior designer Ashley Hicks is no stranger to Buckingham Palace. Before spending eight days shooting 26 rooms of the royal building for a book about the palace's interiors, Hicks had been there several times as a child. This is no surprise; as the godson of Prince Philip and second cousin to Prince Charles, Hicks had a front row ticket to the lavishly furnished home of Queen Elizabeth II.
"I had been every year as a child with my grandfather, after he rode in the Trooping the Color, the Queen's birthday parade, as Colonel of the Life Guards and Gold Stick-in-Waiting. We always had delicious lemonade and sandwiches in the Center Room behind the balcony," said Hicks.
The Center Room is where the royal family gathers before walking out onto the worldwide famous balcony of Buckingham Palace. And what lies behind the open windows of the balcony is one of the most unexpected rooms Hicks shot for "Buckingham Palace: The Interiors." The space is adorned with a glass chandelier that resembles a flower hanging from the ceiling -- a colorful and peculiar main attraction -- as well as Chinese embroideries and candelabra.
"After 40 years, I went back to photograph (the Center Room) and was shown Queen Mary's bell-push, a tiny Chinese devil mask with a scarlet-lacquered tongue that she could push to summon the footman," said Hicks, who is an advocate of humorous details in interiors.
Grand Hall, Buckingham Palace, by Ashley Hicks
Grand Hall, Buckingham Palace, by Ashley Hicks Credit: Royal Collection Trust / Ashley Hicks
Initially known as Buckingham House, King George IV rechristened the London residence as Buckingham Palace in the 1820s. The grand abode is the work of celebrated architects like John Nash and Sir Aston Webb, who, over the years, added their own touches to the building.
When Hicks was invited to capture the mood of 26 rooms -- out of the existing 775 rooms -- of the royal residence, he was excited about shooting the Royal Closet, a hardly known room, which hides behind a nifty jib door.
"The entrance is hidden, and it's very surprising for guests standing in the White Drawing Room to see a huge marble table and an enormous carved and gilded mirror suddenly move, as the door to which they are fixed swings open, as if by magic, for the Royal Family to enter," said Hicks.
White Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace, by Ashley Hicks
White Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace, by Ashley Hicks Credit: Royal Collection Trust / Ashley Hicks
Most of the palace is still closed off to the general public, but over the past 25 summers, more than ten million visitors have toured the State Rooms, and around 50,000 guests are invited, each year, to events.
Hicks' photographic tour starts with the more known, but no less grand, State Rooms, and veers off to other gems, which are usually out of bounds. The book, for the first time since 1968, brings together the carefully considered details of the palace's interiors.
Blue Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace, by Ashley Hicks
Blue Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace, by Ashley Hicks Credit: Royal Collection Trust / Ashley Hicks
"It's the only chance most of us get to see the Chinese rooms in the East Wing, which are too small, delicate and distant from the visitors' route to be opened to the public during the summer, unlike the State Apartments," said Hicks.
During his royal assignment, Hicks spent some time asking people to turn the lights off, so he could capture the rooms in natural daylight. Despite being a royal descendant and having been to the palace before, he was surprised to see the space in this new context.
"I photograph everything in daylight only, and the effect of moody, romantic chiaroscuro lighting on those grand rooms was amazing," said Hicks.
"Buckingham Palace: The Interiors" is published by Rizzoli and is available now.