David Nightingale Hicks, the go-to designer of the 60’s and 70’s elite.
The Beatles and The Stones defined the sound of the 1960s, but interior designer Mr David Hicks defined its look, and that of the 1970s.
The stylish interior designer, (1929 – 1998) who worked with everyone from rock star to royalty in the 1960s and 1970, is still a big influence today.
With a fearless approach to colour and a gift for print design, the British designer’s work ranged from grand country houses to restaurants, nightclubs and shops. His genius was to make every design entirely appropriate to its setting, while retaining his unique creative vision.
At the age of 24 Mr Hicks had sufficient confidence in his talents as an interior designer to persuade his mother to sell her house in the country, liquidate her stocks and move to London in order to launch his career. The first thing he did was to buy a silver Jaguar XK120 sports car, and a house in Belgravia followed. The house was Mr Hicks’ first design job, and he consciously avoided the then-fashionable country house style that Mr John Fowler, Britain’s foremost decorator at the time, had made his own.
Mr Hicks mixed bold solid colours into an otherwise relatively traditional interior, although in the hall he deployed strikingly graphic prints in a way that set the tone for the rest of his career, and beyond. His geometric prints, which feature on MR PORTER’s exclusive collection of Orlebar Brown swimwear, have also appeared in a Burberry Prorsum menswear collection and retain a modernity that makes it astonishing that 50 years have passed since Mr Hicks first designed a carpet. American decorator Mr Billy Baldwin once said his British counterpart wished to “revolutionise the floors of the world with his geometric carpets.” By any measure, he succeeded.
The Belgravia house was quickly photographed for House & Garden, the leading interior design magazine. Commissions, small at first, started coming in. One impressive detail is that Mr Hicks had a prescient view of branding and from the beginning sewed a “David Hicks London” label onto every curtain and cushion he produced. Two early commissions in 1954, from American actress Ms Douglas Fairbanks Jr and ex-wife of Mr Condé Nast, Ms Rex Benson, hinted at the social standing of his future clientele. By the end of that year, at only 25, he was dining on the yachts and in the houses of the richest men of the era – Messrs Arturo Lopez, Stavros Niarchos and Carlos de Beistegui – and he’d danced with the Duchess of Windsor.
In 1957 he was impressed, during a six-week tour of the US, by the energy and precision of New York, and the contemporary architecture of California. The trip opened Mr Hicks’ eyes to a more modern style. His progress up the social hierarchy was fixed when he met, fell in love with, and, in 1960, married Lady Pamela Mountbatten, daughter of Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India, Britain’s First Sea Lord and the uncle of The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband. Their country home, Britwell in Oxfordshire, became an ambitious project for Mr Hicks, who used it to develop his inspired approach to country house interiors, a type of project he worked on throughout his life.
However, it was Lord John Cholmondeley’s city apartment overlooking London’s Hyde Park that would usher in the next stage of Mr Hicks’ career, because it contained the first entirely modern room he ever designed. It’s safe to imagine that the carpet at Windsor Castle he designed in 1965 for HRH the Prince of Wales was more traditional. His aesthetic was moving forward and as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s his work became increasingly “groovy” and imaginative – projects in town were freed from tradition and became truly modern. Like many architects, Mr Hicks used his own projects as test beds, and Savannah, the house he built with architect Mr Robert Stokes on the Bahamian island of Windermere, adjoined by bridge to Eleuthera, provided an opportunity to create an extraordinary, modernist building.
In the years that followed Mr Hicks became a very modern kind of decorator, writing books, licensing his designs for ranges of sheets and towels, ties, umbrellas, bags and clothes. He had big shops in London, Paris, Brussels and Johannesburg. He continued to work, endlessly refining his own house, Britwell, and designing homes, offices, restaurants, shops, hotel rooms and nightclubs all over the world (literally, in the case of the QE2 ocean liner). However, two sharply different later jobs of particular quality were Baronscourt, a grand country house in Northern Ireland that Mr Hicks updated in 1975 with a superbly comfortable and contemporary interior, and Vila Verde, a new postmodern mansion in Portugal he designed in its entirety, which was completed in 1987.
video: The future of English stately homes – discussion at Knebworth House – 1979
Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher . video The Way I Pack: Fashion Week Special with Mr Mansel Fletcher — MR PORTER