An open mind and an intuitive approach have led to a thriving design studio and an eclectic home for Sophie Ashby

In just two short years interior designer, Sophie Ashby of Studio Ashby has surpassed even her own expectations. With a design studio on Kensal Road, a team of five and prestigious projects, which have included a rambling country house in Somerset for actress, Gabriella Wilde, a slick apartment in Southbank Tower (formerly IPC Media HQ) and a super-cool scheme for diner and takeaway, Patty & Bun, already notched up this young designer is off to a winning start. ‘Our projects have all been word of mouth and so the company has grown organically,’ says Sophie. ‘It’s been so exciting to work on projects where I’m able to do what I want to do design-wise.‘

A lover of art from an early age with a nomadic family, Sophie has soaked up a huge amount of influences, which she has distilled into her own sophisticated and eclectic look. As a child growing up in South Africa, Sophie moved with her family from the vibrant city of Cape Town to the scenic valleys of Stellenbosch, where her mother was tasked with turning around a failing winery. ‘My mum is a doer,’ explains Sophie. ‘She’s had about ten careers, including fashion-buying and selling jewellery. She has always had a studio where she’s made art and at 50 she went back to university to study sculpture.’


A move to London ensued – Sophie’s parents thought it would offer the family a better life, but her mother found it hard to settle in the capital and so they upped sticks to Totnes in Devon, a town known for its alternative culture. ‘We’d lived on the side of a mountain and we all found it hard to adjust to city life,’ says Sophie. ‘Totnes is a bohemian, hippy town with so many interesting characters, I really enjoyed living there.‘ Sophie’s interest in art continued to grow and having won an art scholarship to the sixth form of Millfield, the independent school she had been attending, she went on to gain a BA in History of Art at Leeds University. ‘I practically lived in the art department at school,’ she says. ‘My other subjects probably suffered because of it, but I was obsessed with art.’ Now also a Young Patron of the Royal Academy of Arts, it was an obsession that served her well.


The work of Schiele makes a regular appearance on Sophie’s walls

One unforeseen but happy consequence of moving so often was the exposure Sophie had to different styles of property. Having lived in a traditional Cape Dutch farmhouse, a London Edwardian house and a contemporary oak frame and glass home that her parents had renovated by the time she was a teenager, a chat with a family friend then crystallised the idea of a career in interior design. ‘My parents did up houses and sold them on, so I was interested in property as well as art,’ she says. ‘Interior design seemed a good way to combine the two.’ A friend advised her to learn AutoCAD and French and take up interior design at Parsons, the famous school of design in New York, so after mastering the first two, at 21 Sophie found herself studying in the Big Apple.

Keen to put her newfound skills to good use, Sophie returned to the UK, settled in Portobello and started to hone her craft working for interior designer, Victoria Fairfax. ‘Victoria is very patient and taught me so much; I got my love of antiques from her,’ she says. Sophie’s next move was to Spring and Mercer, a start up agency, where she was able to run her own interior design projects. With a number of successful creations to her name, it was then a natural move for Sophie to set up her own practice, Studio Ashby in 2013.


Having plunged into the world of interior design, Sophie continues to immerse herself in learning about past renowned architects and designers, ‘I’m constantly reading about designers from all over the world but I particularly love those of the Modernist era, such as Gio Ponti and Pierre Jeanneret,’ she says. Most of Sophie’s weekends are spent perusing galleries and exhibitions with her boyfriend, fashion menswear designer, Charlie Casely-Hayford, whom she met through a mutual friend. ‘We’re lucky we like the same things,’ she says. ‘We both collect art and give each other a piece of art for every special occasion.’

Sophie’s creative energies have mostly been spent on her projects so the young designer has done the bare minimum décor-wise to her home, although, her stylish touch and various influences are very much apparent. ‘I have inklings and feelings about things and I love there to be a mix of items from different places,’ she says. ‘I like masculine clean, sharp lines with a feminine colour palette. I’m usually drawn to the same natural, earthy tones, as I don’t design with saturated colour. I also like to include an African influence, which is to do with my South African roots and I love Aboriginal art, the shapes and stories behind the paintings are beautiful.’

Indeed the Portobello flat she shares with Charlie is peppered with their ever-growing art collection. ‘Charlie is a man of few possessions but those he does have – art, sculpture and books – have added character to the flat,’ says Sophie. ‘Plants are important too. I like a home to be quietly colourful, comfortable and welcoming.’

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Words: Jacky Parker