He was the superstar designer of the 1960s and 1970s sought after by royalty and the privileged. Though it's been many years since his last projects were center stage in the design world, David Hicks' influence is still felt today.
David Hicks built the bridge connecting the formal classical styles of the past to the current modern style of today. Many past and present day interior designers, such as Billy Baldwin, Mark Hampton and Vicente Wolfe, got their inspiration from him. When you look at a room with a harmonious mix of classical and contemporary pieces, you are seeing an echo of the David Hicks style.
David Hicks was born in March of 1929 in Essex, Great Britain, surrounded by great country manors and sweeping formal gardens. Adored by his mother, he grew up with a healthy sense of self and confidence. During his early years, his mother encouraged his drawings, theatricals, and any other fantasies he wanted to indulge in. Frequent trips to the cinema to watch Hollywood musicals such as Fred Astaire's movies stimulated young David and left him yearning for a world of glamour.
The death of his father and older brother in his teens ended this idyllic life and brought the family to near destitution. Many of their belongings had to be sold and they were forced to move to a smaller home. The upheaval of this period created in David Hicks a fixation for collecting objects to treasure. In his travels far and wide, he would always bring back objets d'art, textiles, photographs, etchings, anything that could be admired and liven up a dull room. With these objets d'art, he would carefully arrange what he called "tablescapes," still-life compositions of beautiful works. His catchy phrase gained popularity and soon all the designers were talking about creating tablescapes for the home.
Despite having a rather ordinary childhood with limited exposure to the arts and design world, he managed to expand the limits of his education. During his obligatory army service, he came upon an issue of House and Garden that provided an escape from bleak post-war England. The sophisticated interiors fired his imagination and left him longing for more. He partially satisfied his passion by joining the Georgian Group, an English society that organized tours of significant country houses. From these tours, he was able to glimpse and learn about a world of high style and classical decoration.
He went on to train at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts, and through visiting the homes of some of his school friends started to explore the rest of Europe. From this modest beginning, David Hicks continued to travel extensively and visited Europe's treasure trove of mansions, villas, and palaces. With each visit, he educated himself by drawing the many architectural details, furnishings and accessories that attracted his eye.
After graduation, he spent a brief period as a graphics designer at the advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, designing mundane product labels. At the age of 25, he decided what he needed was a London house to decorate and show off his skills. His mother obliged by selling the old home and leasing a house at South Eaton Place in the chic neighborhood of Belgravia, London.
During this period, 1950s English homes decorated in Victoriana of the last century were still the norm. Stuffy floral chintzes adorned heavy carved pieces. The few homes updated more recently were styled in lackluster, drab colors.
Deciding to create a fresh spin, David Hicks used bold color combinations in the classical 19th century Belgravia house. Using clean, vivid schemes, he placed white painted chairs alongside yellow upholstered sofas. Multi-colored framed art brightened a gray wall. He discovered unused printing blocks from Colefax & Fowler and commissioned new wallpaper prints with striking colors blacks and yellows, scarlets and khakis.
He then invited a select few to inspect the home, including House and Garden editor Peter Coats. The design and timing were a success. The editor brought in a photographer and Hicks' house made the 1954 House and Garden magazine. The article became the springboard for future jobs. Editors and designers alike were excited to see his home. A Conde Nast publisher's wife needed a new decorator and David Hicks was it.
David Hicks' styling and color schemes blew in a fresh wind to the stale design environment. He would juxtapose a modern abstract painting with classical urns or vases. Antique sculptures would stand on plexiglass bases. Period French fauteuils would be upholstered in bold modern patterns. Expensive objets d'art would sit in a tablescape next to ordinary found objects from a beach or a ruin. Striking colors of vermilion and scarlet contrast against the dark woods.
Through the House and Garden editor, he was later introduced to Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks, the famous actor's wife, who hired him to create designs for her summer home. One by one, the wealthy and the aristocratic came calling for David Hicks. In 1958, he took the opportunity to design Vidal Sassoon's first home, and later on, his first beauty salon.
Then by 1960, in typical whirlwind fashion, David Hicks met and married Pamela Mountbatten, the daughter of the Earl of Mountbatten and Viceroy of India. The marriage elevated his status in British society and brought more fame to the designer but it nearly sank his career. Many assumed he would no longer work as designer and would instead run the charity circuit. To bolster his suddenly non-existent career, he designed flats for free for magazines and worked as a consultant to design manufacturers.
Soon clients started asking for him again, and then he landed his biggest client Helena Rubenstein. The beauty magnate employed top interior designers to design her homes around the world. This commission gave David Hicks worldwide attention and sealed his career as high society interior designer.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, he landed jobs designing for Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Aeroflot, various country homes for earls, dukes, and duchesses. He worked on a nightclub for the QE2, a yacht for King Fahd, a presidential palace for the President of Ghana, an embassy library in Washington and the St. Regis hotel suites in New York.
Besides working in interior design, David Hicks designed furniture, jewelry, textiles, carpets, wallpaper, and even gardens. He opened several shops to showcase his products. His obsession with decorative details and extensive exposure to beautiful homes provided a constant source for creative ideas. His trips abroad to India and Middle East inspired his geometric designs for his carpets. Recognizing his popularity, the American textile company, JP Stevens, commissioned him to create designer linens for the American market. His son, Ashley Hicks, has also recently re-released editions of his fabric and carpet patterns. They can be seen on the Web site: www.dh1970.com.
David Hicks' melding of yesterday's designs with modern works has proven timeless and has spawned copies from other designers around the world. By bending the rules and combining different style periods, Hicks was able to produce endless possibilities of decor and enjoyment of his fans around the world.
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