by Miguel Flores-Vianna
Hurricane damage threatened decorator David Hicks's retreat in the Bahamas, but his family restored it, remaining faithful to the original.
"WE DO NOT REMEMBER DAYS, WE REMEMBER MOMENTS": The saying is weighted with meaning for David Flint Wood and his companion, India Hicks, who undertook an ambitious rehabilitation on the Bahamian island of Windermere. The project was Savannah, a house designed and built in the late 1960s by India's father, the English decorator David Hicks. From India's childhood until three years ago, the Hicks clan, largely based in London, gathered every Easter at Savannah. Then, in the summer of 1999, Hurricane Floyd roared through the Caribbean, severely damaging Savannah's roof and many of its furnishings.
David Hicks, who died in 1998, dreamed up Savannah after visiting the funerary complex of King Zoser, which has some of the earliest stone buildings extant, in the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Saqqara. Hicks had the structures in mind when he designed the huge freestanding pylons that serve as Savannah's gates and lead visitors into a blocky, symmetrical house through a fountained forecourt. The rooms are not Caribbean in style; the original decoration was minimal for the islands, furnished for comfort and easy maintenance and lavished with color that is softly bright--"pure 1970s," says India.
After Hurricane Floyd's damages were assessed, the family decided on a renovation that would not only consider their personal attachment to the house, but also respect it as a historic landmark. (Savannah is also the place where Lord Mountbatten of Burma, India Hicks's maternal grandfather, would bring Prince Charles, his nephew and protege to spend vacations away from court. The prince would later visit Savannah with his bride, Diana, on their honeymoon in the summer of 1981.)
Flint Wood took charge of the rebuilding. On neighboring Harbour Island, he had just finished updating both the house he and India and two sons use as their main residence and also their small hotel. With the exception of a few details, the couple decided that the original architectural plan would remain intact. Surviving the hurricane were David Hick's concrete walls coated in a mixture of plaster, honey-colored limestone dust, and sand from the nearby beach, with crushed seashells stirred in for texture. The new roof was coated with a rubber membrane, the outside walls were bleached to remove mildew, and the long-weathered deck surrounding the house was replaced. White-lacquered ceilings suspended from the roof had to be restored. In the only significant departure from the earlier design, India reconceived the kitchen, removing a cooking island. "It took up too much space," she says. "By substituting a small work table, we gained room for storage cabinets all around."
As for the furnishings, India maintained both her father's bold color scheme and his blend of spareness and luxury. In the living room she used the same Bruce Tibbett paintings to anchor two opposite seating areas. She says, "Although the furniture my father used was shipped from England or built locally, I went to the Internet to buy new pieces, mostly from well-known American sources like Pottery Barn and Garnet Hill." The results are markedly similar to the original. Fortunately, most of the art remained intact after the storm, so throughout the house paintings have been rehung in their old positions. Besides the Tibbetts, there are works by Hicks pere, India, and her brother Ashley.
This past spring, the Hicks family descended on Windermere once more; during other seasons, Flint Wood and India often come for a change of pace, or they lease the house to tenants. Having been designed (twice) for easy care and comfort, the rooms remain staunchly fresh and vivid.
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