Written by Helen Chislett
Walking into the mezzanine level of the marketing suite of One Crown Place, the spectacular mixed-use development overlooking the City of London, there is a striking lack of brass, bronze and bling. Most luxury developments have a brash, corporate feel and walls of ubiquitous CGIs showing what your future investment could aspire to be, but this one feels more like a private members’ club – all moody Georgian-inspired colours and tactile matt textures. Welcome to the world of Sophie Ashby, the 30 year old interior designer who is making serious waves in the super-prime sector of property. It is to Ashby that CBRE turned when looking to appoint a design studio to oversee the interior architecture and design of the nine penthouse apartments and the amenities within One Crown Place, recognising the need to bring in a fresh and youthful spirit, but one with enough gravitas to oversee a project of such prestige.
It is Ashby who has also reinterpreted the idea of luxury within the marketing suite. “We are brain-washed into thinking of luxury as shiny and gold”, she says, “Whereas I believe it is more about a well considered mix of beautiful, authentic and tactile materials.” The palette she has chosen for One Crown Place includes parquet flooring inspired by African basket-weaves (a place close to her heart as she spent a big slice of her childhood in South Africa), burr elm timbers, book-matched marbles and lava stone work surfaces. The latter in particular is not usually found in developer specifications, but as Ashby says, “It has this wonderful look and feel with no joins or cracks, so is very sculptural in its nature.”
Ashby is a delight to interview, not least because she takes all of this success in her stride without showing an ounce of arrogance. From the moment she knew what an interior designer was, she wanted to be one. However, she first studied
History of Art at Leeds, before going on to study Interior Spatial Design at Parsons School of Design in New York. From there, she moved back to London, working as an assistant to Victoria Fairfax – “huge, beautiful, grand projects” – before moving to Spring & Mercer, a much younger practice looking to make its mark. At the age of just 23, Ashby was entrusted with her own design projects, including residences for Native Land’s NEO Bankside development. Two years’ later, the offer of one significant solo commission gave her the confidence to set up Studio Ashby. Within three weeks, she had landed her second project and began hiring. Five years’ on, she runs a team of twelve including interior architects, interior designers, furniture designers and project managers. Blue-chip clients include The Crown Estate, Capital & Counties, Robertson Small Hotel in South Africa and Ikoyi restaurant. She has also designed notable private residences including a seaside home in Salcombe, Devon,a riverside villa in the Languedoc and a spectacular house on Lake Windermere in the Lake District.
One Crown Place is of particular significance to Ashby, because it was the first time a developer also asked her to configure the interior layouts of the nine penthouses, “Each one is very different – some are duplexes, for example, and others are wholly lateral, so it was an exciting opportunity for us to make an imprint on the interior envelope of the building.” She also enjoyed the challenge of the seventh-floor amenities, “There was a huge floorplate, but it was quite an exercise trying to understand how best to divide that into functions, such as gym, cinema, library and work hub. We also wanted the amenities to feel like an extension of the home, full of character and personality, rather than somewhere corporate and impersonal.” To this end, she chose artworks from local galleries and artists and commissioned special touches, such as the panels in the residents’ lounge inspired by the skyline of London. Perhaps the space that most reflects her ethos is the gym, where masculine blacks, reds and greys have been replaced by creams, tans and “living” walls of ferns, palms and rubber plants. “I have an allergic reaction to most gyms”, she laughs, “I wanted something that felt clean, fresh, healthy – and much more feminine than usual.”
When designing for developers, she often imagines who might be the future resident of her spaces and this was no exception, “In the back of my mind, I had a young, professional couple who want to live in an interesting, dynamic and creative area that is also super convenient.” Could she have been subliminally designing for herself and her husband, fashion designer Charlie Casely-Hayford, whom she married last year? She laughs, “We certainly love this area – particularly The Clove Club, Hostem and Flowers Gallery”. It is perhaps the ultimate compliment that One Crown Place recognise her worth and are marketing the penthouses as The Sophie Ashby Collection. She herself hopes that anyone walking in will feel there is something a bit different and special at work here, “I love having the opportunity to push myself creatively. I can only design interiors that I feel passionately about – I love what I do and I intend to do it for a long time to come.”
This article is featured in the latest Cityscene magazine which can be downloaded here.
Photo credit: Thea Lovstad