‘Welcome to Albany,’ says interior designer Ashley Hicks as he shows us into the exclusive apartment buildings on Piccadilly, London. The Albany’s list of illustrious former residents includes Lord Byron, William Gladstone and Aldous Huxley. Built in the late 18th century, it was converted in 1803 into 69 bachelor apartments, known as ‘sets’, by the architect Henry Holland.
Ashley’s father, David Hicks (1929-98), was one of the most influential interior designers of his generation, whose clients numbered the Prince of Wales, Vidal Sassoon and the King of Saudi Arabia. David bought the apartment in 1979. ‘The Albany has always been a haven for bachelors,’ explains Ashley. ‘Unfortunately, I met an unruly Texan,’ he dead-pans, gesturing to his pregnant wife, Kata.
Asked how she likes living in her husband’s colourful apartment, Kata smiles. ‘It's fantastic,’ she says. ‘I love living in a retirement home!’
‘I like things to be quite comfortable,’ continues Hicks, undeterred. ‘I like things to be interesting, so I like to have layers of historical allusion and a bit of modern pizzazz.’
Sitting on on a sofa covered in his own fabric, Hicks describes how he has followed in his father’s footsteps. ‘I design rooms, I design furniture, I make things. And then I have a couple of lines of David Hicks by Ashley Hicks fabrics and carpets. Here’s one of my father's designs,’ he says, pulling out a cushion covered in a geometric pattern that he has remade in a cut velvet. He talks of his own reworking of David Hicks designs as an ‘impossible dialogue between father and son’.
‘I like to do things that are inspired by old things,’ he explains of his unique aesthetic. ‘This is an Italian renaissance velvet originally,’ he says, showing us how he has covered one of the seats in the apartment. ‘I redrew it as if it was a renaissance woodcut.’
Hicks says his particular passion is finding ‘a contrast of periods and materials — interfering with things’. The next piece he points out is a case in point: a Nymphenburg porcelain crucifix, the figure modelled by Ignatz Günther in 1756. ‘I made the cross myself out of a couple of bits of wood from the holy island of Patmos. I’m not a terribly devout person,’ Hicks admits, which perhaps explains the addition of a bright orange boomerang.
In the couple’s bedroom, the designer discusses how he filled the niche with a mirror to make the space seem bigger. ‘I placed this obelisk to cover the join in the mirror,’ he says, ‘and then I made these gilded bull’s horns. This is a bought thing, from Christie's,’ he says, pointing us towards a Coptic Egyptian and Tunic border from around 400 AD.
The table upon which this eclectic arrangement of objects is displayed was made by Hicks himself. ‘I carved it out of pine and gilded it and painted the top to look sufficiently like porphyry when seen from a distance,’ he says.
Next up is a French chair from the early 19th century. ‘They couldn’t get expensive horsehair fabric [for the seat] in an appropriate design so instead they got the local guy to paint it by hand,’ Hicks explains. ‘It's rather wonderful but it does mean that no one’s allowed to sit in it.’
‘Very practical,’ says Kata.
Ashley Hicks has decorated the West Room gallery at Christie's in London using highlights from our Classic Week auctions and his own designs. View the installation, including the lots below, at King Street until 7 December.