Rebuilding the Past
When a hurricane left iconic designer David Hicks's home in shambles, his daughter stepped in to pick up the pieces.
Once Hurricane Irene finally decided to move her impressive self past our tiny cluster of islands, we came blinking out into the daylight. Devastation was everywhere. But I suspected worse was to come: Fragmented reports said that the eye of the hurricane had directly hit Windermere, a neighboring island where my father, the late designer David Hicks, had built a home the year I was born.
My parents, on their honeymoon, had visited the island of Eleuthera, named after the Greek word for "freedom" by its first settlers and dominated by pink coral-sand beaches and simple native villages. When, a few years later, they were offered the chance to buy a plot of land on the tiny adjoining island of Windermere, they could not resist.
In designing our home, my father found inspiration in the modern and majestic ancient Egyptian temple of King Zoser, created in the third dynasty B.C. by Imhotep, the rock star architect of those times. My father followed his idea of a mausoleum building with walls, both inside and out, rendered in rough cement made with the pink sand of the beach and scored with nails in order to give it an unusual, textured look.
The finished house, named Savannah after a nearby settlement, was seen as a triumph, standing back from the beach on a small hill with views of the surging Atlantic on one side and the silent turquoise sound on the other.
My father decorated the interior simply. The bedrooms had bedside tables made in the same cement as the walls, seemingly floating blocks with lights inside. The living room was dominated by two oversize abstract paintings. And a large fireplace stacked with driftwood collected from the beach gave the room an air of importance. All the doors were made with fixed panels so that they appeared to be full height, vanishing into the white plaster ceilings. They appeared also to be floating, the plaster cut back with a two-inch recess all around. White and yellow Perspex cube tables sat alongside Chippendale chairs, mixing antiques and modern in trademark David Hicks style.
As soon as the post-hurricane sea began to calm, and the boats were put back in the water, we crossed over from one island to the other and began the tricky drive to Savannah. Parts of the roads were so flooded that our Land Rover had to slowly forge its way through, water gushing up to the windows. In one village the angry sea had erupted into the graveyard, destroying the protecting wall, tossing headstones around and then discarding them like a petulant child with a deck of playing cards. We saw little wooden shacks that had been lifted by the ferocious wind and dropped down again in an entirely new location, boats crushed against a crumbling sea wall, and homes, roofs removed, now naked to the elements.
I remembered the years we spent coming here as children. The time my mother taught our Bahamian cook to make a hot chocolate soufflé—with such great success that it was triumphantly served as a starter. Or being held under the water just too long by my mischievous older cousins in the pineapple-shaped swimming pool at the Windermere Island Club, and dancing to the calypso band in the evenings with other sunburned guests. And being photographed at the house by iconic photographer Slim Aarons. (Rather disappointingly, I was immortalized wearing my brother's hand-me-down jeans.) I now also understand why my godfather, Prince Charles, would stay with us, because Windermere Island had the magical qualities of freedom and privacy—a gentle pace of life, where the days of the week no longer mattered, children entertained themselves in the warm, shallow waters of the sheltered lagoon, and adults could play long games of canasta.
As we drove up the grassy hill to the house I could see that the garden was beaten. We parked and walked in. All of the outside dining room screens had been swept away. Bits of furniture were strewn around the place, and pretty chintz cushions sat pathetically in damp, moldy puddles. The indoor palm tree was snapped in half, her trunk oozing. Inside the main room, the floor-to-ceiling glass doors had been torn out—the wind must have burst through, and in a screaming fit of rage also ripped a hole in the roof and sent the contents of our home scattering outside. I walked across shattered glass and wreckage to the far side of the room and looked out at the ocean, to the last of the storm clouds disappearing. All around me were broken childhood memories.
Unlike so many other hurricane victims, we were blessed to be able to start over. I recognize that and am hugely thankful. Slowly, we brought Savannah back to life. A new roof, new doors, new glass partitions, new decking, new furniture, even new bedding. Of course the house will never be fully restored to her original splendor, as my father is no longer here with his Midas touch. But we have preserved as much as possible. Even the artwork is back. For me, nothing is more poignant than the mop sculpture my father created, which has a place of honor in the living room: Four old-fashioned kitchen mops, their cotton heads fluffed up to look like palm trees, covered in an orange Perspex case. My children race to stare in wonder at this piece of art every time we arrive, just as I did before them: history repeating itself.