The Art of Home by Studio Ashby

“People are moving away from the silk minimalist look, and towards creating real homes – real, lived-in and full of soul.”

With the completion of a collection of new mews houses in St James’s, the Crown Estate asked three leading interior designers to each take a house as their canvas. Struck by the work of Studio Ashby, we caught up with founder Sophie Ashby on her particular approach to the art of creating a home.

How important is the concept of home in interior design?

I think people in London are moving away from the slick, minimalist look we’ve seen everywhere in years gone by, and towards creating real homes. We want to make our designs feel real, lived-in, and full of soul. Its an individual’s quirks and passions thats’ the story.

What were your first thoughts of the new mews houses at Cleveland Court – your potential new canvas so-to-speak?

I was incredibly happy. The mews celebrate the history and heritage of St James’s, but without losing sight of being livable, lovable modern homes. I suppose one challenge though – as it always is – was figuring out how to best use the given space. Unusually, at the top of the house is the sitting room, opening out onto the terrace. It is an interesting shape and was a challenge to come up with an effective furniture layout. I had the idea of making it a calm, white sanctuary, so everything is very light and ethereal. We have used delicate lighting and fabrics, and overlaid cream rugs to create a relaxed haven of light. Although working for a speculative buyer, we always work like we’re designing and creating a real home – one that looks as if the owner has just left the room.

But is designing a show home different to designing for someone’s home?

I dont differentiate that much – the way I know how to designs is to imagine something as my own. So in a sense we become the owner, which in  my mind means “the collector”, and to design with authenticity in creating a real home, even if the eventual owner isn’t around just yet. In the case of Cleveland Court, I wanted to experience the journey personally, and make selections and decisions based on what I would want. We then married those with what would work within the architecture of the house and be representative of a St James’ lifestyle .

Do you balance client tastes and your own aesthetic?

Whether it’s a villa in France or a penthouse on the South Bank, we work with clients to create something special to them.. I think people know I work in such a personal way when they approach me, and that it is this hands-on way of working that makes them choose Studio Ashby!

How do you feel about your final design? What feels particularly special?

Really pleased. It’s full of colour, life and personality. I’m especially proud of the pieces we’ve had made bespoke for the project: the table in the kitchen is very special, it has a stunning black fossil marble top and a very simple black metal base. I think the whole kitchen has quite a modernist edge and the long kitchen table with the mohair bench really adds to this feel. I’ve been happy with the amount of art we’ve worked into the project – I love Tim Hall’s series of photos taken at the Lake Skadar in the Balkans, for instance, which we’ve hung as pendants in the kitchen.

 There’s s a lot of great art in Cleveland Court – how important is the art? And where do you find your artists?

I think people live with bare walls because they are intimidated by the art market or the idea of investing in art. But really your walls should just be filled with the things you love. Art is central to my process. I’m a young patron of the Royal Academy and always try to work emerging artists into my projects. People shouldn’t be afraid to buy and collect art; even framing prints or postcards and then layering them with books, plants and personal objects really brings a room together.

What is the Studio Ashby aesthetic?

Studio Ashby is eclectic, layered, colourful and homely. Art is the central theme, which, when surrounded by books, beautiful objects, antique furniture and beautiful textures, comes together to create a real and authentic sense of home. I believe it’s the story behind the stuff that makes interiors interesting.

And what’s Sophie’s story?

I was art-obsessed growing up and so I knew I had to do something creative. But I was also quite driven by the idea of having a business and so the thought of being a struggling artist didn’t appeal. My parents moved a lot when I was younger and so I was aware of the property market and the process of furnishing a home. Every time we moved, it was another chance to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom, pick paint colours with my Dad, and experiment with upcycling old furniture. I began working for other designers and then started out on my own when I was 25. I have loved running my own business – I can be creative but also take control of the projects I work on and the direction of my company. For me, interior design is the perfect combination of art, business and property.

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