David Hicks was the most celebrated decorator of his day. During his army service, he came upon an issue of House and Garden that provided an escape from bleak war torn England. The sophisticated interiors fired his artistic imagination and offered a “window into another world.” It also set the course for an extraordinary life and career—among those pages and beautiful images he first read the words “interior decorator.”
Famed for his use of bold graphics, formal antiques and modern furniture set off by abstract art, Hicks was highly desired among the 1960's jet set. Early clients included Vidal Sassoon, the Duchess of Rutland, Mrs Condé Nast and Helena Rubenstein for whom he designed a living room of purple tweed walls and Victorian furniture upholstered in magenta leather.
Other projects included the Prince of Wales' first apartment at Buckingham Palace, a yacht for King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and a nightclub on the QE2 ocean liner—gray flannel walls edged with silver.
David Hicks A Life of Design, pouring over every page before going to bed at night. Written by his son, Ashley Hicks, the book is much more than a book of design. Rather it is a visually beautiful and insightful tribute to the private and public life and work of Mr. Hicks.
A big thank you to India Hicks for recently putting me in touch with her brother Ashley. I was beyond delighted to have an opportunity to inquire about one on my style icons and favourite designers.
ATB: Without a doubt David Hicks turned English decorating on its head in the 50s and 60s. What do you think influenced his radical direction,electrifying color combinations, antiques mixed with modern furniture and abstract paintings?
AH: To start with, he was determined to make a big impact and have his own strong look, distinguished from the whimsical prettiness of most decorating at the time. He loved antiques and couldn't bear rooms which lacked them; he liked the excitement of modern and old together. He trained as an artist/graphic designer/theatre designer - all of which set him apart from most decorators then who were in the business of making cosy homes for nice people.
ATB: Is it fair to say that your father really was THE superstar designer of the 1960s and 1970s? If so, what in your opinion lead to his superstar status?
AH: I suppose he was. He got a big start in the fame stakes by marrying Lord Mountbatten's daughter. His work was deliberately photogenic and often spectacular-looking, as was he. He had real star quality, and was always performing. He would go out of his way to achieve publicity and magazine pages, filling 24 volumes of scrapbooks by the end.
ATB: Even though it has been many years since his projects have taken center stage, his influence is still very much alive today. What you think contributes to his continued importance and stature?
AH: His work is utterly timeless; and known to so many designers now through his books on his work, which achieved cult status after his death. They offer something for everyone, strong colour or muted, pattern or plain, modern or classic - it's all there to offer 'inspiration' to today's design world.
ATB: One of my favorite David Hicks words is tablescapes - a carefully arranged, still-life composition of beautiful objects. Certainly your father had a way words. Do you have a favorite David Hicks word or phrase?
AH: I am sorry to say that his and my favourite word is GHASTLY which describes so much that surrounds us! He was keen on his own mantra 'Good taste is in no way dependent on money'... Although he certainly found that money helped!
ATB: I once read that your father appointed you the custodian of his fame. What would he think of David Hicks A Life of Design?
AH: He really didn't 'appoint' me - but he did enjoy that I, as a child and teenager, would study his scrapbooks and work. I was his only son, and with his slightly Victorian ethos he couldn't imagine his daughters working. I suspect he would love the new book, since it has all of his best work, and is a splendid monument to his talent - although it does show up how his fabulous creativity had less and less outlet towards the end.
ATB: In what ways are you like your father? In what ways are you different?
AH: We are very different! I do share his passion for history, his desire to make his surroundings beautiful, and his sense of humour. But I am a much quieter and more considered character, without his ambition. He always thought me very intellectual (not really true) but hated my diffidence, wanting me to be confident and assertive like him.
ATB: What little known fact about your father would surprise most people?
AH: That his first funeral instructions, written in 1971, had him embalmed, in a stainless steel pyramid on his country estate, with a small glass panel revealing him seated in an armchair of his design inside.
ATB: In what ways did your father's design aesthetic influence you?
AH: As a child I would design vast arrays of military hardware, all with very Hicks graphics. However, I enjoy a lot of things that he loathed, organic forms and muted, earthy colours. I like subtlety and gentleness, which are not qualities he relished.
ATB: What do you feel is David Hicks greatest legacy?
AH: His books, which set him apart from so many designers of his time who did not publish their work.
Profile by Ronda Carman (may not be reprinted without permission and citation)