Saturday, January 22, 2011

Britwell House: David Hick's Country House

2010 was a banner year for huge coffee table tomes about famous and influential decorators: Billy Baldwin, Mark Hampton, Madeleine Castaing, Syrie Maugham each got comprehensive coverage and in The Great Lady Decorators, we get a lavishly illustrated treatment of the cream of the 20th century's crop.

But I'm reading and studying David Hicks: A Life of Design written by his son, Ashley, and released in 2009. Part family history and biography and in-depth exploration of his father's design work for himself and others, this is a superbly written account of a fascinating personality. In an odd way you never feel quite close to the real David Hicks throughout but you can't wait to see and hear what he will do next. The persona and the work are everything here: the person is composed of these two elements, so a portrait of Hicks is really achieved by examining his life's work and the very public life he led. Reviewers may cavil at his snobbery, publicity-seeking, and social-climbing but these are beside the point. He had genius and his genius clears the slate.

His son has wisely taken an amused stance on his father's personal shortcomings by never directly addressing them.  A book such as this would be spoiled entirely by some dry assessment of character. Ashley Hicks has managed to satisfy the reader's curiosity about the man while offering a complete retrospective of his design work, including extensive coverage of Hicks' many homes, London apartments and shops.
Britwell House, 1728.

Overview of Britwell House and garden. Hicks dug a canal and
added the lime walk bordering it. You can see the canal at left
in the aerial photograph.
Hick's reason for digging the canal was not merely decorative.
He claimed such a large house needed a water supply in
case of fire.

Britwell House in Oxfordshire functioned as Hicks' family home, a laboratory for design ideas, and inspiration for the evolution of his style. Purchased shortly after his marriage to Pamela Mountbatten, daughter of India's last Viceroy, Britwell was built in 1728, an early Georgian style brick mansion with early 20th century wing additions. The main features of the historic main structure are described in British Listed Buildings  http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-247473-britwell-house-and-attached-walls-and-co .

Hicks transformed the interior by emphasizing its eighteenth century features while adding his color sense, a mix of antiques inherited by his wife, and contemporary design elements to strengthen the overall grand sweep of the rooms. The house and its contents were sold in 1979 when the tax burden and upkeep were too costly for the couple to sustain. Hicks had many other homes and haunts but Britwell was his home base and inspiration for much of his long career. Fortunately, Hicks ensured his design work was documented extensively and this affectionate portrait by his son is a fine retrospective tribute to a 20th century genius.

Hicks' library at Britwell with his signature geometric patterned
carpet, black walls and black-bordered Roman shade supported
by rich red tones of leather book bindings, desk chair, and
red leather chair cushion.


Hicks created one of his famous tablescapes
using his own posessions for the cover  of
Sotheby's sale catalog.


Front Drive with column. Britwell is now a wedding venue;
 hence the bride and groom.

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