Monday, March 12, 2012

All abloom for David Hicks

"An abundance of 'Peace' roses in a simple Provencal basket reflect the pink of the chintz-covered settee and the cream colour of the cushions."

I first learned about interior designer David Hicks from an English curator I worked with at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and when I left the museum for Architectural Digest, I was delighted to find a wonderful selection of his books in the magazine's library (not to mention the many AD features that had been published on Hicks over the years, all quietly tucked away in the archive).

Hicks, who would have celebrated his 83rd birthday on the 25th of this month, is perhaps my most favorite decorator. (To be honest it's really a tie with Tony Duquette.) I frequently pick up his books for inspiration, which I find as much in his words as in his work. For some reason I've come to associate him with spring—I really don't know why, perhaps it's his use of bright colors or all of his garden books?—so this weekend, as I watched the birds begin building their nests in our tree, I pulled David Hicks on Home Decoration (1972) from the shelf.

What jumped out at me like never before was his use of flowers. I'm acutely aware of them in magazine layouts todaythe requisite pink peonies of stylistsbut Hicks's use is something altogether different: they were an integral part of the overall design. (This is the fella who coined the term tablescape.) As he writes in the forward of Home Decoration, from which most of these images are taken, "The purpose of this, my other and future books is to show the way in which I arrange objects, flowers, furniture." Ha!—Blooms listed even before furniture. In his 1987 book, Style and Decoration, the final chapter ends with a section devoted to flowers, "the ultimate finishing touch," he states. "They provide colour, shape, and vitality. And most importantly, they link the interior with the world outside, by reflecting the mood of different seasons and landscapes."

Sometimes the plants or bouquets take center stage or help balance a room. Sometimes it's as simple as a tiny silver cup filled with lilies of the valley on the corner of a desk, more for scent than for show. Either way, there's inspiration aplenty in the images that follow.

Welcome, spring. I'm ready for you.

"In a 19th century library, crimson roses reflect the scarlet of the cushion and the bookbindings. Flowers should be coordinated with their background or contrasted with it."

"Hosta flowers and leaves work well with this group of Chinese jade and pottery in a turquoise boudoir."

The pinks and greens of a potted geranium perfectly match their surroundings in a suite at London's Hyde Park Hotel.

White flowering branches catch the sunlight in a soft-hued living room.
"Beneath a black abstract landscape, blue objects combine effectively with a slate-coloured Chinese Buddha head, blue hydrangeas, primulas and chrysanthemums."

"Standing on a table top covered in cobra skin are a gilded 18th century figure-head, yellow and orange glass and pottery, and six vases of spring flowers. Massed together like this, they have the charm of a florist's shop." (David Hicks on Decoration)

The serenity of white, and the best of both worlds with a potted cyclamen and a vase of freesia. (Style and Decoration, 1987)

Below, a few practical suggestions from the designer:
  • Flower arrangements should always be seasonal. Summer is naturally the high point, with an abundance and variety of species at the peak of flowering: mass the blooms using color to complement or contrast with the decorative scheme in a particular room. In winter, dried flowers and interesting foliage are very attractive, massed in the same way as fresh arrangements. In early spring and autumn, when there are fewer blooms, single flowers in a series of interesting containers look much more effective than a single bouquet in one vase.
  • Some of the most pleasing flower arrangements I have done have cost me nothing—a large trough of grass, wheat or dried seed heads just packed naturally with no attempt at arranging.
  • Containers are very important. Simple shapes in materials such as pottery, glass, pewter and basketwork are far better than over-decorated varieties. 
  • Pack flowers in upright cylinders for fullness; mass them in low troughs for a carpet of color on the dining table.  
  • Grouped containers in different styles and shapes, holding different flowers of varying heights both planted and cut but linked by color, can be extremely interesting.
  • Hicks's favorite "vases" were black plastic film containers: "I often trim roses very short and place a single bloom each in six or eight of these cylinders and arrange them in a grid about six inches apart. The effect is arresting—as if the flowers were floating on the surface."
  • A display of greenery can be just as refreshing as flowers. Humble species (like parsley, or lemon-scented geraniums) can give much textural interest, as well as providing fragrance.
David Hicks's books, as well as those written about him by his son, Ashley Hicks, can be found online. They're fun to read and full of tips and advice. If you come across the old ones from the 1960s and 70s, snaffle them up. You won't regret it.

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