“What do your fathers do?” I remember the teacher asking the young classroom. Other fathers were lawyers, farmers or bank managers, mine was an Interior Decorator. This was always met with an awkward silence. No one, including me, really knew what it meant. Did other fathers design their mother’s hair do, or their own scarlet red heeled dancing shoes or indeed their funeral? I suspected they did not live in a 1728 mansion that was used as a design laboratory, nor holiday in a house inspired by an Egyptian mausoleum or have golden pheasants and peacocks as pets.
Having David Hicks as your father was anything but dull. I assumed that everyone lived in a world of vibrating colour, where walls of pink felt met purple tweed cushions, clashing with vermillion carpets and maroon upholstered furniture.
My parents married on a snowy day in Hampshire in 1960. So cold and full of snow that Noel Coward said, “This is carrying interior decorating too far!”
My father was a keen shot, and a keen horseman and surprisingly a devoted countryman. And although an eccentric husband he was also a devoted one.
He was, and remains to this day, a name to conjure with. He made a statement. Unlike many other designers you can tell a ‘Hicks’ room. He mixed yesterday with today before any body else. Who had previously thought to place a Louis XV commode in a modern room?
He was completely self confident in his use of color and pattern. He had a fearless relationship with pink scarlet and orange. He woke up the quiet drawing rooms of England, blew away the cobwebs and told the world know about it. He was a voracious explorer, discovering architectural wonders and surprises and never once thought that a gate marked private actually meant private and would take us, as children, on grand tours around Europe. My brother paying full attention, my sister and I dreaming of ponies.
He eventually became a world recognized garden designer. Green gardening at first, allees and vistas, hedged rooms and grassy labyrinths. The local ladies were mystified. Where were all the flowers? And he was surely the first and last to make a hedge of horse chestnut.
I remember him furiously driving his Landover across unsuspecting daffodils when one morning he decided they were the wrong shade of yellow. Of course his real aversion in hot climes was for the dreaded bougainvillea, a plant that entirely covers the façade of my own Bahamian home. Recognizing that he was dying my father, by the kindness of friends was jetted thousands of miles into our small island to see the house I had made my home, and meet his grandson, for the first and last time. My father barely ate, was incredibly weak and only stayed for lunch. I asked him what he thought of the bed we had just proudly shipped from New Orleans “Looks like it comes from a bordello” he pronounced. He was probably right.
We had a tricky relationship at times, it was hard on occasion for my siblings and I to reconcile ourselves to the fact our father detested Christmas so much he decided not to come at all. However he had an energetic sense of humour, was a great enthusiast and utterly determined. Nothing was impossible if he wanted something done. And immediate action normally followed.
When his license was taken away he would drive across fields, some his own, some belonging to neighbors and walk the last half-mile in order to make the early morning Sunday service. He was prone to exquisite snobberies, which were liable to sudden changes. In his final days, he suffered a small heart attack, my mother called an ambulance, which upon arrival my father refused to get in, he would not be driven in such a common vehicle and insisted my mother drive him herself.
From houses to gardens, to restaurants, hotels, offices, jewels, and books he was a master of good taste. He taught many others how to make the world a lovelier place.