A book that informs, inspires and surprises from a designer as engaging as a fantasy art-history teacher

Ashley Hicks' new book combines his own designs with the work of those who have inspired him, from Royal Pavillion glass to 17th-century Chinese lacquer cabinets in Wiltshire.

For a man with more than 200,000 Instagram followers, Ashley Hicks is remarkably immune to fad and fashion. Like some of the most interesting designers, he ploughs a resolutely lonely furrow and displays an almost microscopic fascination with the work of his predecessors. His Instagram feed reads like the commentary of a fantasy art-history teacher: engaging, yet erudite captions discuss 16th-century drawings of Cardinal Montalto’s garden at Villa Lante; a 17th-century scagliola altar at San Fedele in Milan; Lord Nelson’s funeral car. It is this deep well of disparate references that informs Mr Hicks’s work as a designer of furniture, fabrics, objects and spaces that take their inspiration from the near and distant past.

In this book, he juxtaposes his own work with the things and spaces that inspire him, revealing the secret of employing a profound understanding of the past to create something new. Images of his set in Albany rub shoulders with etched glass designed by Frederick Crace for the Royal Pavilion; 17th-century Chinese lacquer cabinets with a room for a client in Wiltshire.

‘From the alabaster walls of Lord Bute’s Bachelor Bathroom in the Clock Tower at Cardiff Castle to faux scagliola designed by Renzo Mongiardino in Milan a century later’

For someone with an almost supernatural capacity to absorb and recount provenance, it is remarkable that he is able to separate aesthetic influences from historic significance with such rigorous discipline. The book is arranged as a series of essays on visual themes: colour, pattern, form, texture, faking and flowers and, of course, jewels, which inspire so many of his sculptural pieces and installations.

In the chapter that explores the transformative possibilities of colours with a deep jewel-like intensity, the references are typically diverse, ranging from the alabaster walls of Lord Bute’s Bachelor Bathroom in the Clock Tower at Cardiff Castle, built in the 1870s, to faux scagliola designed by Renzo Mongiardino in Milan a century later. The result is a book that informs, inspires and surprises by putting the past into a fresh new perspective. An idle trawl through Instagram it most certainly isn’t.

Rooms With A History by Ashley Hicks (Rizzoli, £45)