Apart from being one of London’s most famous areas, Soho has also long been one of the city’s hottest spots. A real 24-hour neighbourhood, the district sports everything from fashionable art galleries and trendy clubs to quirky shops and glamorous restaurants. It also has an indefinable edge derived from its history as a red-light district where just about anything could – and often did – happen on a Saturday night.
Soho’s urban brio makes it an excellent choice for young professionals, such as the clients who own this apartment in a newly built development in the area. Says interior designer Sophie Ashby of Studio Ashby, ‘They were drawn to the electric atmosphere of hustling, bustling Soho.’
In the midst of all that energy, Ashby has created a home base for her clients that provides a luxurious oasis of calm, while also peppering the interior with colourful artworks and unique furnishings – many of which are bespoke or vintage.
The apartment is enviably spacious, consisting of an open-plan living area that includes a kitchen, dining area and sitting room (and also has a wraparound balcony leading off it) as well as two bedrooms, three bathrooms and a study. The clients’ brief to Ashby was ‘to create a light, airy and elegant space with hits of strong colour,’ she says. ‘They love antiques and art, so it was important to add a good mix of contemporary paintings and photographs to complement the modern, simple apartment.’
The interiors are indeed simple and elegant, but deceptively so. This is not a space that seems ‘decorated’ or formulaic in any way. Rather, what Ashby has done is – in her words – ‘add that layer of character and personality that makes a house a home’.
Born in London to a South African mother and English father, Ashbyspent part of her childhood in the Western Cape and loves South Africa, having recently designed charming and eclectic new interiors for The Robertson Small Hotel in Robertson. Her work in this apartment likewise reflects her overall design aesthetic, in which ‘art is the central theme,’ she says.
‘When art is surrounded by books, beautiful objects, antique furniture and lovely textures, everything comes together to create a real and authentic sense of home.’ In the open-plan living and dining area, for example, this means combining refined neutral finishes with eye-catching bespoke items, such as the dining table, which is made from custom-coloured terrazzo set in a black steel frame.
The materials used are often natural, with wood playing a large role in both finishes and furniture items, such as the wood-topped coffee table. Upholstery fabrics are similarly kept ‘very basic and pure,’ says Ashby, and feature wool, mohair, cotton, linen and felt. As she succinctly puts it, these materials ‘are so inherently beautiful that they do all the hard work for you’.
Vintage furnishings – often made even more special via the use of those luxurious textiles – add restrained hits of quirkiness to the interiors. This is seen in the curvaceous cream armchairs in the living room, which were purchased from 1stdibs.com and re-covered in a tactile wool fabric.
Ashby also has a keen eye for lamps and light fittings: among a number of notable examples here are the wall-mounted Apparatus bedside lamps in the guest bedroom and a hanging light by Naomi Paul in the main bedroom, all of which add graphic verve to the rooms in which they are used.
The final touches are all about colour, most frequently introduced via the contemporary artworks that draw the eye throughout the space. Standout pieces include a bright abstract painting entitled ‘Searching for an Edge to Cling to’ by Sandra Beccarelli in the dining area, a David Ryle photograph in the entrance hall and a bold piece by Milla Eastwood (from The Dot Project gallery) in the study.
When asked about her favourite room in the apartment, Ashby confesses that it is the study. ‘I tend to like the smallest but boldest rooms in our projects,’ she says, ‘and often, the study is that room. I love this one’s vibrant yellow chair set against the blue-grey joinery.’
‘Eclectic’, ‘contemporary’, ‘homely’ and ‘fresh’ are the words Ashby uses to describe her work – and this apartment more than lives up to the promise of something special that this delightfully mixed bag of adjectives suggests. This is a home that functions as an urban haven as well as an energising space from which to re-emerge, both calmed and inspired, into the busy cityscape in which it is situated.