My Home: Designer Allegra Hicks
She grew up in Turin, flirted with New York, and now calls London home. Allegra Hicks on how she created the perfect Chelsea townhouse
Wednesday 16 January 2008
Allegra Hicks, an interior and fashion designer, lives in Chelsea with her husband Ashley and daughters Angelica, 15, and Ambrosia, 10. She was born in 1961 in Turin, Italy, and raised there.
I was brought up in a glass house in Turin. My father was a physicist and my mother – although she had two degrees, one in law and the other in literature – never worked, so she had the time to have very strict views on design.
They both loved modern architecture and design, and from an early age it was instilled in me to appreciate modern aesthetics.
After I married my husband, the interior designer and architect Ashley Hicks, we lived in a fantastic building in New York that belonged to the artist Marc Chagall's grandson. It was near Fifth Avenue and many other artists lived there. But inside our home, everything was rather shabby – there was no air conditioning or anything. Although it was a glamorous address it was, for us, more about the people who lived there.
The thing I love about New York is that it always inspires me and makes me curious. I've lived there on three separate occasions. Once, when I was studying for a semester at the Parsons School of Design. Then there was a spell when I worked as an assistant to the artist Donald Baechler. Finally, I lived there with my husband.
When we bought this house in London in 1992, I was heavily pregnant with our first daughter, Angelica. I think one of the reasons we bought it was because it was quite cheap – it was on the wrong side of the street, or something. It is a five-storey house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms and a kind of backyard that is full of plant pots.
We live between here and our cottage in Oxfordshire. I love London; it is such a vibrant city that you don't really need to go out to be able to feel what's going on. I also love the fact that it can be quite an anonymous place – you can have about five parallel lives going on at once, but no one really has to know about them.
I love all the museums in London, too, and I adore going to the cinema. We just went to see Control, the film about Joy Division, which I thought was wonderful. We often go to the Chelsea Cinema on the King's Road – which happens to be owned by my brother-in-law.
I like the fact that London is very different from Italian cities. London is like a series of villages that go on and on. In Italy, you tend to have a centre and then the outskirts, and that's it.
I lived in Milan when I studied design, then in Brussels for a year, where I studied frescoes. For a few years, I worked as a fresco painter – but then I had a rather awful accident, falling from a ladder and hurting my back, so then I focused my career on interior and fashion design.
Our house is full of books. My husband and I both love reading – and everywhere there are books on art, history and philosophy. We must have more than 1,000 books – the library, which is off the sitting room, is my favourite room.
When we first moved in, this was a terribly boring-looking terraced house. Thankfully, my husband changed it quite a lot. I'm good at colours and texture but I'm not very good at space – whereas Ashley, who is an architect, is expert in changing spaces. He made the sitting room L-shaped and added the library room and put in a special fireplace using stone from Jaipur. The carpet is one of my own designs, and there is a white leather sofa designed by my husband that sits upon it.
We've changed the colours in this house a lot over the years. At one point, our bedroom was all bright reds and pinks. Now it is in shades of muted green and beige – and it's a lot more relaxing for it. I feel that houses are rather like people, and you tend to dress in the same way all your life, but with slight changes. Houses have a similar framework, but it is good to change the signature style a little bit.
Downstairs in the dining room, I have painted murals on the walls – this was an idea of my husband's but I executed it. There are also portraits of my daughters and myself painted by a friend that rest against the mantelpiece.
Our daughters' bedrooms are at the top of the house, and they share a bathroom. I don't usually like to have carpets in bathrooms, but we have a zebra-print carpet in our en suite bathroom, which I actually do quite like. We also have a flat-screen TV at the end of our bed, which is a bit of a luxury. We like to change the art around a lot to keep things looking fresh: at one point, we had all the paintings that are in the hallway in the sitting room – so it felt really packed. Now there are only a few paintings there – I have three paintings by my friend Anish Kapoor on one wall and outside in the hallway are three Basquiats, among other artworks.
One thing that has remained the same all the time in the house is the wallpaper in the hallway – it runs from the top to the bottom of the stairs, and was designed by my husband. It has chemical symbols made to look like a maze. It really inspires me.
I do miss my home in Italy sometimes – I think everyone always does miss their homeland. I miss most of all my sense of belonging and my roots, and the smell. But London is a wonderful city and I don't think I could live anywhere else now.
Allegra Hicks, 28 Cadogan Place, London SW1; www.allegrahicks.com
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