Interview: India Hicks on Top Design


In anticipation of Top Design's second season, I recently had the chance to participate in a conference call with the new host, celebrated fashion model and design aficionado India Hicks, as well as world-renowned designer Todd Oldham, who has a moved over to a new role as the contestants' mentor. And, I shared with you Todd's thoughts on everything from the judges to design no-no's. Now, I'm back to you with more from the interview, this time sharing the highlights of what India Hicks had to say. For those of you not familiar with India, she is daughter of famed interior decorator David Hicks and Lady Pamela Hicks, and is the author of several interior design books. Here are some of the highlights:

On the show's new look:

The main difference is going to be that we are really designing outside of the box. [In] Season One they were designing inside these white boxes, and this time we’ve taken our kids out into real places and real settings. You have real professionals designing in real places.

On designing on a budget:

My father, who was a very great designer in the '60s and '70s, had a very famous quote that he said which was, "Good taste and design are by no means dependent upon money." We see it more than ever with the group of contestants we have. I think the producers were very canny about keeping the budgets down low because that really does show who has the good eye and the good talent. If you can make something wonderful from a very small budget, you really do have talent.

To hear more of what India had to say during the call, read more.

On common design mistakes that people fall into:

Now there is this huge trend to have your plasma screen TV right out there in the room. Of course, I was very much brought up hiding the television. The television was an obscure, terrible object that needed to be hidden under a table or inside a cupboard. And indeed, I still live like that. We have televisions hidden in different places throughout the house. Trends change and obviously as times change, we adapt. Of course, my children have a plasma screen TV that they want out and they want to show off that they have this plasma screen TV. I find it’s the height of vulgarity. So, you know, it is a very sensitive question depending on who you’re talking to.

On whether she's ever done set decoration:

Well, I’m constantly being accused that my house is one big set decorated. But I take pride in that and I think that if you care, then you’re constantly reshaping and reformatting the way your house looks.

On the importance of your interiors these days:

I think there’s nothing nicer than having a home that is inviting and tastefully decorated. I think it’s good that we do care and I think this show is going to be very relevant because I think we are seeing a trend in the general public of people beginning to care.

I think also with the economic downturn that we’re going to be seeing, people are going to be spending much more time in their homes. They’re going to be cutting back on the restaurants, holidays and nights out, and I think we want those places to be stylish, warm, and inviting. And they’ve got to be a reflection of who we are as an individual.

I think Top Design is going to be very pertinent right now because of that economic down trend. We are going to be at home watching TV and this is a show that’s going to be showing you how to make your home that stylish, warm, and inviting place.

On Todd's role

Todd is very, very compassionate and I think it fills that role incredibly well, and these kids really relate to him. And I would go in and have to wag my horrible finger, and Todd got the nice bit of being nice and giving them a pat on the back.

On keeping a nicely interior designed house with kids:

My whole life is about kids. But having said that, I’m also very aware that they need to have their area and I need to have mine. And I think I’m blessed with living with space around me so we do have the space, that they’ve got a big playroom where they can be kids. I think even if you live in an apartment in New York, it is very important to keep that compromise. We do need to have room for ourselves to live in an adult environment with usefully styled tables and for the kids to have their space.

On what each contestant brings to the show:

What’s interesting about the contestants that we have on this show is that there’s such a wide variation and background. We have some very, very highly trained professionals which obviously brings a very different edge to the show. There’s a set designer from the Sex in the City. There’s a style editor from Martha Stewart. But we also have some very fresh, new blood on the scene. It’s interesting to see that the collaboration really stimulates the imagination in this instance and that you’ve got the 20-year-old who’s just come out of school, really fresh new look at the world, and then you’ve got the very experienced set designer who’s been on the game for some time.

On designing for your own home:

I think it really is nice to have a home that is a reflection of who we are as an individual. I find that in New York I could have a very minimalistic apartment but I live with a family on an island and so I design in the vernacular. I’m very aware of maintaining the integrity of where I live. When we build here we build in the old style of pitched roofs made of cedar shingles. But there has to be a unique and original twist to it as well. I like to also keep a sense of humor in the designing.

On working with the judges:

I hadn’t met any of them before. Margaret was known to me because my brother and sister-in-law are very much in the design world and they had said, you know, she’s going to be wonderful. Margaret is extremely authoritative with reason. She has a great deal of knowledge. Jonathan, obviously his work I knew because he was heavily influenced by my father, David Hicks, and referenced my father continuously which I respected enormously, as did Kelly. Jonathan is out there in the field, as is Kelly, and so they know and they have both worked their way up to the position they’re in now, so they know what it takes, so that they are in a position to be able to sit there and criticize may be too strong a word, but certainly give their point of view. These are real professionals judging and I think that makes a big difference.

On the guest judges:

Hold onto your seats, guys, because there are a couple of comments coming up from our guest judges that will make you sit up!

On American architecture:

I am a traditionalist, certainly. So naturally, I gravitate towards a tradition style in architecture as well. But, you know, America is a melting pot of so many different nationalities of people and design. From a European point of view or an English point of view, you know, Los Angeles is startling but that’s also what makes it quite special and unique, is the fact that you do have your Disney world of craziness going on there.

On environmental responsibility:

I am a great believer in zoning and in following the guidelines of the area that you live in. I’m very, very, very aware that, you know, island life is very precious and I live in an environment that is — you know, needs to be tended and loved. It is very important that we are very careful with our environment. I live a very responsible life. I do not live a fanatically green life, but I live a responsible life. I want my children to be brought up understanding how fragile our world is.

On the design styles of the wealthy:

Especially in England, you know, you have these wonderful estates that are done in impeccable taste. And then you have these new Russians living in London who can afford things that we couldn’t possibly begin to imagine and design in a very different way. I probably would tend towards the old, slightly dustier way of designing. I was brought up very much with the notion that it was terribly non-you to have actually bought your furniture. You were obviously meant to inherit it.

Stay tuned for more coverage of Top Design in the future!
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