Regency Redux Backstory: The Ashley Hicks Stools

A few weeks ago, Regency Redux had its book launch in London at the Fine Art Society. It was a lovely evening - I got to see many old friends as well as meet contacts made while writing the book.

One of these was the very charming garden designer Marie-Christine
de Laubarede whose country house living room is pictured above and is the closing photo of the book. I was drawn to this photograph because of the pair of neoclassical stools that seemed so academically correct, they could have lept out of the Parthenon. I knew they must be by the designer T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings (1905-1976) - "Gibby" to his friends - who was absolutely obsessed with adhering faithfully to Ancient Greek precedents. In the search for discovering a contemporary style, Gibby thought it was necessary to return to the purity of ancient design when form was distilled to its most simple and beautiful.

Gibby's NY studio in 1936. Doesn't that vase look like something from Jonathan Adler? Photograph by Loomis Dean for Life, reproduced in T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, Furniture of Classical Greece , New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963).

Well, I was wrong. And luckily before the book went to press, Marie-Christine corrected me and said they were by Ashley Hicks, son of legendary decorator David Hicks. I confessed all this to Ashley at the book party and he told me that in fact he had thought quite a bit about Gibby while designing them. As a student, Ashley came across Gibby's 1963 book Furniture of Classical Greece which included his iconic version of the klismos chair (see below).

In the 1960s, Robsjohn-Gibbings and Life magazine went to Greece to showcase his "authentic" designs in their "original" surroundings. Life Magazine, circa 1961

Gibby relied heavily on the furniture drawings found in
Ancient Furniture: A History of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Furniture written in 1926 by Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Gisela Richter to create these replications of antiquity . However, Ashley did a little digging and realized that Richter had revised her descriptions just three years later in the 1966 The Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans and that Gibby's klismos was no longer on the mark. Ashley picked up the glove and made his own line of even more correct klismos chairs, of which Marie-Christine's stools were a spin off.

Why I find this so particularly interesting is that not only does it affirm that interest in the Classical tradition is alive and well, but that - to my eyes - it continues to be as striking and appealing today as it was to those both decades and centuries ago. This then begs the question: why have we responded for so long to Classical design?

Top photo © Fernando Bengoechea/Beateworks/Corbis