Untold Lives

Kensington Palace

Revealing the hidden stories of those who worked in the royal palaces three centuries ago

Exhibition Design, Graphic Design

‘Untold Lives’ is a temporary exhibition in the Pigott Galleries at Kensington Palace for client Historic Royal Palaces (the independent charity that cares for the Palace). The show switches the focus to those who worked at the royal palaces in the 17th and 18th centuries, using multiple contemporary devices to bring their fascinating stories to life.

The curation and interpretation, carried out by experts in the Historic Royal Palaces team, were inspired and informed by the rich detail preserved within the royal account books, which list names, roles and pay levels of many of those employed through palace history. From this, people’s origins and identities were investigated, creating a clear geographical pattern of origins, along with skill sets, to clarify where people would have worked, from kitchens and laundries to the specialist staff looking after lighting or, for example, the preparation of food and royal feasts.

The five design principles that formed the basis of Nissen Richards Studio’s design approach were:

Making the invisible visible / Powered by people / Intimate moments / Revealing the unexpected / Making connections with today.

Visually, these approaches were expressed through interplays of presence and absence; revealing and unveiling; illumination and the shedding of light on what was previously unseen, bringing new stories into focus through strong colour and vibrancy. This can particularly be seen, for example, in the bold reds and blues of the new fabric linings inside the exhibition’s showcases. The paint colours used for the walls – all by Little Greene – refer to the historical focus period of the exhibition, whilst complementing the bright fabrics used for the display cases via a rich-but-muted colourway. Ordinary objects from the past are brought to the fore throughout the exhibition to illustrate the working lives of palace staff.

Historia Royal Palaces’ Interpretation Manager Carol Swords, working with the curatorial team, led the commission of a series of new artworks for this exhibition that sought to distill and interrogate these themes. One is a photographic portrait by Peter Braithwaite, creating a contemporary counterpoint to a Black trumpet player, whose original nameless portrayal forms part of a mural on the King’s Staircase at Kensington Palace. The second is a series of ceramic plates by artist Matt Smith, highlighting the historical status of LGBTQ+ people in this country and their rights – or lack of – within the law.

The third commission is a series of portraits of contemporary Historic  Royal Palaces staff by photographer Robert Taylor, spanning ten members of staff currently working at the palace. Each was interviewed and asked a series of 5 questions to accompany their picture, with each also asked to select an object associated with their experience. The ten photographs were then interspersed throughout the exhibition.


Historic Royal Palaces


Kensington Palace, London


Exhibition and Graphic Designers

Lighting Design:

Light Bureau

photography: Gareth Gardner