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Ashley Hicks: ‘I like people who have really hideous taste’

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When Ashley Hicks’ parents moved house in his mid-teens, he and his older sister were given a choice: ‘Do you want to decorate your own room or do you want daddy to do it?’

‘I obviously, being difficult, was like, no I’ll do it, thank you very much,’ says the 59-year-old today.

It was a bold decision, not because the 16-year-old conjured up an all-black room — black walls, black ceiling, black carpet — with white furniture (‘rather fantastic… but a bit surprising in Oxfordshire’), but because ‘daddy’ was David Hicks, the renowned interior designer to the elite and eminent tastemaker. Pressure, much?

Still, the elder Hicks must have been impressed by his son’s aesthetic confidence and gung-ho commitment to a look. Feted for his exuberant, unconventional and elegant designs, David shook up interior design in the 1960s and 1970s. He achieved refinement via rebellion. Designing spaces for an international who’s who that spanned English royals, Greek shipping tycoons and American cosmetic mavens, many of them at addresses in London’s poshest postcodes, Hicks’ work encompassed different styles but always had his distinct handwriting. ‘There’s a very clear vision that’s common to all of them. But the actual ingredients and what he’s doing is very varied,’ says Ashley, who is now himself an in-demand, uber-connected designer with a similarly audacious aesthetic. ‘A lot of it is about simplicity; he liked things that were very clear. You immediately understood the whole thing. There weren’t layers, there was very little subtlety to it. It was just a very graphic, bold image that caught your eye and said to you: David Hicks.’

One common thread was his fearless, unboundaried use of colour, something Ashley is celebrating in a new book. Created in collaboration with Cabana magazine, with a foreword by Hicks enthusiast Tory Burch, David Hicks in Colour is a lavish exploration of the work of a man who once, Ashley explains, quipped to an apprehensive client, nervous his wife would dislike the (supposedly) clashing colours in the bedroom: ‘My colours don’t clash, they vibrate. And your wife will find it exciting!’

‘It was a big thing once upon a time, people were terribly worried about clashing colours,’ says Ashley. ‘I’m not really sure what they meant, to be honest. I don’t know what clashing colours are, do you?’ Not really, no. Although he might be in the inner circle, Ashley isn’t shy of poking fun at it. ‘Most rich people now want to live in a very upscale art gallery. They can’t have anything that will interfere with’ — he affects a theatrically precious tone — ‘the art, because they are collectors. And they think the only way to show [it] is against a white background, which is completely mad’. Go to the National Gallery if you need to be convinced of that, he suggests.

He will also send himself up. ‘Let’s face it, it’s not a scholarly tome!’ he laughs of his author credit. ‘But people really don’t read any more anyway. They can’t even get through a whole caption on Instagram.’ Quite, but thankfully even those who do only pictures will find plenty to be inspired by. So delicious are the book’s verdant green bathrooms and Hermès orange hallways, Jaipur pink dining rooms and aubergine studies, it makes one wonder why so many of us are still so timid when it comes to how we dress our homes.

‘I think people are frightened of making a commitment and they’re terribly anxious about [whether they have] got the “right” idea or the “wrong” idea, which is very odd,’ he says, adding, ‘I like people who have really hideous taste, but revel in it, they love it and they’re just thrilled to have completely the “wrong” idea in everyone else’s mind’. Be right, be wrong. Who cares! But above all — in the Hicks world — be colourful.

‘David Hicks in Colour’, by Ashley Hicks, is out now (£85, at cabanamagazine.com)