David Hicks biography — 1960s interior design legend

David Hicks Bedroom with graphic wallpaper and Marilyn Monroe artPhoto used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

Do you know David Hicks? Another amazing person that played a critical role in midcentury interior design. I am just starting to study him, so am by no means an expert, but so far what I have learned: David Hicks was famous for helping introduce the world of interior design to: Tight bold geometric prints, bright-colored furniture, mixing the old and new, shaking things up…. 1960s into 1970s interior design as we know it! 

David Hicks with model

David Hicks with fashion model (I think) in David Hicks print. Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

Hicks was not only a design genius — he was a dashing celebrity in England and the world beyond. Notice all the geometrics… and the colors: These are hot hotter hottest today. Today’s designers did not invent these looks — David Hicks did!

David Hicks interior designPhoto used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

For today’s Retro Renovation 101 Lesson, I have (1) spotlighted a selection Hicks interiors and (2) researched and linked to several articles that seem to do some justice to his career and life. Note, these interiors are just the tip of the iceberg… It seems to me that as David Hicks’ work progressed, it could not be “pigeonholed”. Seems to me he could do “anything” well.
Also, I have only just now ordered my first book about Hicks — the biography by his son Ashley Hicks. I need to read and study it to get beyond David Hicks 101, into 202 and beyond. Note the book’s description of his life:
David Hicks is acknowledged as one of the most important interior designers of the late twentieth century, in the company of Albert Hadley and Billy Baldwin. Known for his bold use of color, eclecticism, and geometric designs in carpets and textiles, Hicks turned English decorating on its head in the ’50s and ’60s. His trademark use of electrifying color combinations, and mixing antiques, modern furniture, and abstract paintings became the “in style” for the chic of the day, including Vidal Sassoon and Helena Rubinstein. By the ’70s, David Hicks was a brand; his company was making wallpaper, fabrics, and linens and had outposts in eight countries, including the U.S. where he worked with the young Mark Hampton, and where his wallpaper was used in the White House. “My greatest contribution as an interior designer has been to show people how to use bold color mixtures, how to use patterned carpets, how to light rooms, and how to mix old with new,’’ he stated in his 1968 work, David Hicks on Living—with Taste, the last authoritative book on his work. Written by his son Ashley Hicks, who has unprecedented access to Hicks’s archives, personal photos, journals, and scrapbooks, this is a vibrantly illustrated celebration of a half century of stunning interiors.

David Hicks bold geometric wallpaperPhoto used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

David Nightingale Hicks (born 1929) died in 1998, The New York Times wrote:

…Mr. Hicks’s heady combination of bold antiques and modern furniture set off by abstract paintings, often best deployed within an envelope of cool Georgian architecture, was the last word among movers and shakers of the 1960’s…. [his] relentlessly organized, color-clashing home interiors were the acme of jet-set chic in the 1960’s.

”My greatest contribution as an interior designer has been to show people how to use bold color mixtures, how to use patterned carpets, how to light rooms and how to mix old with new,” he wrote in ”David Hicks on Living — with Taste” (1968).

David Hicks flower power bedroomPhoto used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

In 2006, the NYT Magazine wrote about Hicks’ continuing influence on the design world. Indeed, I think you still his stamp all over the graphics we see in contemporary design, especially graphic wallpapers and textiles. The Times wrote, for example:

…He shook up the genteel world of English decorating, combining a modern outlook with an informed sense of history; banished chintz and tepid colors in favor of scarlet and pink; lacquered walls the color of Coca-Cola; and artfully arranged groups of objects, both grand and humble, that he memorably called tablescapes.

His son, Ashley, himself an architect and furniture designer, said his father’s “preoccupation with making interiors that grabbed the eye when published is a perfect recipe for designers now in our genuinely media-obsessed world — he was 40 years ahead of his time in this.” [pam says: YES, he was! So much of what you see in media you see because It Photographs Well. Don’t think this means it’s Liveable or anything as prosaic as that!]

David Hicks interior designPhoto used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

Goodness, I can’t just quote articles printed by U.S. media about one of Britain’s favorite sons. This story from The Independent provides lots more details, with references to many English figures. E.g.:

His later work, with its massive overscaling and deceptive simplicity greatly influenced by his hero Sir John Soane – with frequent chapeaux to Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor – became the classical trademark by which he will be best remembered, but it was his early decors, so violently heathen to the cretonned hearths of post-Festival Britain that brought him instant recognition, a well-observed and edited transatlantic- stroke-French chic that propelled him up ladders so fast his “international fun-folk bobble shoes”, as his contemporary Dominic Elwes noted, hardly touched the rungs.

David HicksPhoto used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

Ashley Hicks — David’s son — continues as a leading figure in the design world. He also licenses a number of David Hicks designs for carpet, fabric, and wallpaper — still for sale today. On Ashley Hicks’ website, he has another short biography of David Hicks. What a most interesting man. I would quite like to have him at my imaginary dinner party of influential architects, designers and decorators!

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Comments

  1. Just another Pam says

    I was oddly relieved when I read his son said his designs ‘photographed well’ as I do remember them but even as a very young person I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the color and the, to me, excessive pattern.

    While they are interesting as art and quite exciting I don’t think a lot of people would find much comfort there after a long day out and about.

    • pam kueber says

      Pam, I’m doing a DH mini-series, more images to come that are less overwhelming…stay tuned! That said, I think that during the era these bold David Hicks designs came out, many folks were LOOKING for excitement in their interiors. Bright lights big city and all that. Mod London.

  2. Allen says

    Pam I don’t know why no one else has commented. I usually don’t but I LOVE this post. Thanks much for revealing another great designer!!

  3. Ann-Marie Meyers says

    As always, you are so timely, I could swear you read my mind. my current dilemma is how to bring my love of mid century into my 1986 Texas home.

    I think a scaled down intensity of his design would work very well for a lot of us who want to mix old and new, cherished family pieces in our mid century homes.
    Thanks, Pam.

  4. Olga Plant says

    O you smart girl! Thank you so much for educating us on yet another cool designer! I LOVE reading you and appreciate the “education” along with the eye candy!
    Big fan!

  5. Elaine says

    I remember this look bursting on the scene. I found it way too overwhelming, but then, I was coming from an early American colonial decor that I found very comfortable. I agree, it can be judiciously toned down and used with the geometric designs as accents rather than the full background. Area rugs instead of wall to wall carpet, things like that. The colors are wonderful, and the tablescapes live on with interesting arrangements these days as well.

  6. AmyEbbertHill says

    Another trip down memory lane. Mr Hick’s designs were like Haute Couture, one of a kind, prototype ideas that eventually made it into mainstream decorating. I remember you used to be able to order matchy matchy bedroom stuff, spreads, lamps, rugs, curtains, even wallpaper in a the same floral pattern from JC Penney’s, Sears, and Montgomery Wards, and all inspired by the kind of designs you feature today. It’s a little busy for my taste, but to each his own. The wallpaper must have been difficult to hang, but it does make a statement.

  7. gavin hastings says

    Wanna scaled back, middle class version of a David Hicks interior?

    Look no further than the apartment of The Mary Tyler Moore, 1971.
    Small amounts of bold prints, lots of old and new, pops of wild colors and every surface is covered with something….Yet it is done with a stylish restraint. Digestible in one glance. And everyone loved it.

    The Doris Day Show, Phyllis and The Bob Newhart Show (everyone knows that bedroom) are all heavily influenced by DH. CBS wins hands down as the best set designs of the early 70’s.

    The condo of NBC’s McMillian and Wife on the other hand:
    David Hicks Full Throttle.

    I recieved my degree in Interior Design at age 12, watching TV.

  8. Bill Tingey says

    Interesting to find so much interest for the work of David Hicks. I was chief designer to David from 1969 to 1974, a time when he was venturing into corporate work and a number of product design projects. It was a very interesting time and I benefited so much from working for him and with him. Today I was looking back as some of my designs which date from that period and I felt prompted to look on the Net for some of David’s work. After leaving his studio, I and my wife went to live in Japan for 24 years. One day, I was walking down a residential street in Japan and there airing in the sun was one of the designs I worked on. Very unexpected.

    • pam kueber says

      WOW! It is so great the “meet” you, Bill. I will email you separately. I would LOVE to interview you!!!!! I am a superfan!

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