India Hicks on style and design in her Bahamas home

They live on an island with five children, three dogs, two cats, lovebirds and a tortoise. And interior decor is on the doorstep,
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Welcome to the colourful and chaotic world of Hibiscus Hill, for the past 19 years the home on Harbour Island, in the Bahamas, of entrepreneur India Hicks, her partner David Flint-Wood, their five children, three dogs, two cats, five lovebirds and a tortoise. 

In Hicks’s home, British traditional with a strong colonial feel meets carefree island culture, mixed with a dash of assured personal style and more than a touch of charming eccentricity. The Britishness is in the genes — her grandfather was Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy to India, her mother lady-in-waiting to the Queen — and so is Hicks’s innate sense of good design, because her father was the celebrated interior designer, David Hicks. 


“Hibiscus Hill provided us with the blank canvas upon which we could paint our own story,” says Hicks, who truly appreciates that she leads a blessed life that is played out against a backdrop of pink sandy beaches, flame trees and frangipani, and in which the children go to school in a golf cart. 

“Our style is relaxed because it has to be. I like to call it ‘under-decorating’. You can visit the island and have a magical time, but the reality of living on a rock, and having to have everything shipped in, is rather different. Getting a lampshade is a performance — the goods boat often doesn’t reach here. Salt air and a three-month hurricane season play havoc with everything. Termites attack the dining table. It makes you creative about the way you decorate. We’ve learned to be resourceful,” she says. 

Because there is such a kaleidoscope of colour on the island — even the prisons are painted conch pink — the couple, after first experimenting with terracotta paint then realising they weren’t living on the Côte d’Azur, used a muted colour scheme on the interiors — dove grey, dusty coral, soft almond. 

“We got rid of the hard surfaces — the glass, the concrete, the white-tiled floor — and instead brought in softer, natural textures, using wide fir planks stained dark to look like oak, rattan carpets, rough linen and white gauzy cottons.” 
On the terrace: relaxed seating at the guesthouse is upholstered with weatherproof fabric to withstand the rigours of island life

They couldn’t resist painting the staircase walls a hot fuchsia and installing a bright scarlet sofa in the sitting room. “Those were influenced by my father, the master of colour,” says Hicks, who also uses pops of colour throughout the house, such as a perfect pyramid of oranges on the kitchen table that has huge impact in the all-white room. 

Her favourite decorating trick is to display oversize vases of enormous palm fronds in every room, a trick that would make any home feel like perpetual summer. “I like to bring the outside indoors,” she says. “Tropical flowers just don’t last, but palm fronds last several weeks, and set a mood instantly. We also have outdoor fabrics indoors, because if a child comes in wearing a wet swimsuit and flops into a chair, it doesn’t get ruined.”

Thus, a gilt-edged Louis XV chair has been reupholstered in what appears to be wildly impractical white linen, but is in fact Sunbrella weatherproof fabric that was designed for patio loungers. Hicks entertains outdoors with great style, little expense and much improvisation. “My father said, ‘Good taste and design are by no means dependent upon money,’ which gives us all hope.” In the garden, tables are pulled together and dressed in formal white cloths, mirrored Indian bedspreads or perhaps a length of coloured linen. 

Vases with palm fronds are placed down the table like giant fleur-de-lys, shot glasses hold single flower buds and decorations might be branches of bananas or shells mixed with votive candles. At Christmas, the table is a merry fusion of crackers and tropical starfish. “I always include flowers and candles, so dining is an occasion, but huge amounts of candles are necessary because we can’t rely on the power.” 

The couple are big on what they call “creative repurposing”. It was Flint- Wood’s ruse to take the kids’ map of the world and use it to wallpaper the guests’ loo. “Now nobody likes to leave there,” says Hicks. Flint-Wood also hand-painted nautical flags on the bedroom walls of their eldest child, Felix, so they appeared to hang around the room, and later replaced these with nautical flags that were canvas theatrical props he found in a thrift store in Nantucket. Another inexpensive way the couple decorate is with what Hicks loosely calls “stuff”.
Muted interiors: traditional British with a strong colonial feel meets carefree island culture

Her father, she explains, was the master of “tablescaping” — a term he invented to describe the art of covering surfaces with collections of random objects. “It’s about layering life and memories, so that the owner’s personality comes through rather than a designer stamp, such as family photographs inexpensively framed and amassed on a shelf, or, say, a pebble found on a beach beside your grandmother’s alarm clock next to a small vase of fresh roses. 

“My father believed in mediocre objects becoming interesting when joined by others to form a collection, and we apply this view to almost everything in our home — shells in an oversize salad bowl, a lending library of hats stored among our books. I recognise that David and I suffer from compulsive collecting, but it’s these collections of stuff that remind me of the wonderful times, the rough patches and all those bits in between.”

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