Today I’d like to introduce you to a really dynamic new designer, Sophie Ashby. Talking of not putting off your dreams… Sophie set up her own business at just 25, and has some incredible projects under her belt already! What with restaurants in Mayfair and celeb country pads, Studio Ashby is going from strength to strength. Seriously impressive. We chat inspirations, seasonal updates, dream design projects, and how to break into the biz.
In a nutshell, how would you describe your design style?
We create spaces with a unique identity. Our aim is to bring authenticity to each project, not only in the selection of furniture, lighting and art but by using a natural palette of materials and textures. We are generally unswayed by the passing dictates of fashion, and instead draw on a love of antiques, colour, contemporary world art, modernist furniture, photography and our latest discoveries to deliver an eclectic richness to each interior. Humour and a love of objects are also important!
What’s your biggest source of inspiration?
My biggest inspiration has to be my mother. She is always the strong voice in my head. I think feeling inspired starts with feeling confident and she has always given me the strength to have conviction in my decisions. Her catchphrase is “you go girl”.
I have quite a few design heroes: Joseph Dirand, Jonathan Reed, Jacques Granges, Rose Uniacke to name but a few, the list is constantly growing. I look to fashion quite a bit too. I think Phoebe Philo at Céline is a powerhouse of creativity and originality. Swedish brand Acne Studios is in a league of it’s own for that archetypal flavour of newness and minimalist cool.
Without sounding too clichéd, being in the presence of big, overwhelming nature inspires me too. I recently went to Botswana and was in awe of the scale of everything – the size of the sky, the depth of the horizon. It makes you feel like anything is possible.
How did you get into the design biz?
I developed my design vocabulary through History of Art at Leeds University, then going on to study interior design at Parsons in New York. After graduating I worked with a very talented designer called Victoria Fairfax; she has an incredible eye for colour and detail and was very keen on antiques, which I think I picked up from her. After that I was at a small agency called Spring & Mercer where I learnt a lot about running a business and the London property industry. I started my company aged 25, we have been going for nearly two years now and it has been the best thing I have ever done!
What’s been the highs and lows of setting up your own biz?
The most challenging thing has been working out what I am really setting out to create and do in my career and with Studio Ashby; I started with such small hopes and dreams but as projects are won and successes are celebrated you feel more and more positive, ambitious and determined. It’s been a challenge to learn when to say no to a job or walk away from something because, at the beginning, I was just so flattered to have been asked, but not all projects are right for us and it’s important that we work on things we can be proud of and enjoy.
The most rewarding thing has been to have the opportunity to build a company from scratch, on my own. I have loved making decisions and setting up the structures and systems by which we now work. From finding an accountant to a lawyer I have loved learning about the bits of the business I never even thought about before I started. I am not much of a computer whizz but I set up all our computers, internet, printers, scanners etc myself – that was a small triumph and a cause for huge celebration in the office!
What makes a place feel like home to you?
Books. Lots of beautiful books, books that you want to read. I hate books as “decoration” – there’s a real trend for them to be flipped around at the moment, so that you don’t see the spine and instead just all the white pages stacked together. But I think books tell a story about a person. At home, sometimes even just reading the spine of a book inspires me or reminds me of something that I want to research and get into.
How do you transform your own home?
I am a firm believer that a home should evolve naturally with its owner and the changing seasons and years. So just as you would do with your wardrobe, you may need to refresh your space from time to time to suit function, climate and style.
If the light is dimming, then introduce more glassware such as lanterns, to reflect light into the rest of the house. In winter I generally like to bring out warmer bedspreads, throws and blankets and introduce more texture. And for summer, I like to de-clutter, try and put more stuff away and make the house feel more open and airy.
A great seasonal change is to add in plants and flowers that reflect the time of year and bring life into your home. I’ve got my eye on your faux Banana Tree as an indoor plant which can add soul for the colder months!
What are your fool-proof styling tricks?
Fresh flowers, lots of plants, white linens and towels and unusual ceramics.
What’s on the cards at the moment?
At the moment we are working on a family townhouse in Chelsea for a wonderful young Italian family, they have exquisite taste. We are designing the actress and model Gabriella Wilde’s house in Somerset, which is the most charming, rambling country pad in the trendy village of Bruton. Also, we are designing a huge penthouse in Battersea and a Nigerian restaurant in Mayfair. Lots of exciting things!
And finally, what would be your dream project to work on?
A safari lodge in Botswana, a boutique hotel in New York, or the home of an art collector.