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House Call

The Art of “Happy Clashing” With Sophie Ashby

The Expert Team
a living room filled with lots of books and furniture

Photo by Philip Durrant.

Catch a glimpse of Sophie Ashby’s house in London’s Spitalfields, and it becomes immediately clear why she was named House & Garden’s Designer of the Year in 2021.

A vivid citron-hued sofa is paired with luminous art by Heath Wae and Lakin Ogunbanwo in the living room. Sophie’s home office is moody but bright, thanks to a pair of flame stitch swivel chairs and a Klein blue Gino Sarfatti desk lamp. The kitchen and bathroom are imbued with so much character, they look like they’ve been lived in for decades. The alchemy of her designs comes together like magic.

You wouldn’t guess that the 30-something South African started her firm at the young age of 25—following a degree in art history and a summer spent at Parsons in New York—that she grew her one-woman firm to a team of 15 (and her Instagram following to 128k and counting!) and that she launched a charity called United in Design, which addresses the lack of diversity within the interior industry, following the George Floyd protests.

Last month, Sophie unveiled a new HQ for her studio and her online shop, Sister, in London’s St James and is focused on major new projects in the UK and overseas. She chatted with us about her passion for collecting art, her dream client project, and the design rule she loves to break.

a bedroom with a bed, nightstand, and pictures on the wall
a bathroom with a tub, chair, pictures, and pictures on the wall

Photo by Philip Durrant.

Photo courtesy of Studio Ashby.

You’re designing a room—where do you start?

Art plays a central role in our process. I believe it has a vital place in every room. We often start there, sometimes literally taking a piece and building an interior around it, and other times more figuratively using it as the start of a narrative journey. No space feels complete without it. It’s through art that rooms become highly personalized and unique to each client.

How does natural light influence your color choices in a room?

At our studio, we’re driven by the potential for telling stories via the spaces that surround us. We find beauty in what’s there already and enhance it—and natural light is a key component. We love earthy and natural tones that recall the world outside, I find they’re very easy to live with, but I love all colors and try not to reject any from my palette. 

What’s the best question you’ve ever received in an Expert consultation? 

I was asked how to start an art collection from scratch, which is my favorite kind of question. I could talk about that for hours—it was such a joy to share some of my favorite places to source art and tips for building a collection. The Expert is totally different from our usual way of working and it’s so enjoyable. I feel an adrenaline high after each call because I work hard and fast to make sure the client gets the most out of their session.

a living room filled with furniture and lots of windows

Photo by Kensington Leverne.

If your interiors were a fashion icon, who would they be?

Peggy Guggenheim. She championed the avant-garde, was experimental and brave, but also somehow timelessly stylish. I appreciate her penchant for fabulous jewelry and spectacular eyewear—to me, ceramics, glassware, sculptures, and objects do the same thing for an interior when layered with beautiful furniture silhouettes. She lived an artful, creative life. I admire her very much. 

What are you dying for a client to request?

My dream has always been to design a safari lodge. 

Which design trend needs to be retired?

I’m very bored of the all-white and cream everything look. It’s beautiful when done well but it’s hard to pull off and rare to see. Generally, I try to avoid trends as I think it’s the death of the designer to succumb to them, so we just opt for timelessness every time. 

a bedroom with a canopy bed and a colorful rug
a living room filled with furniture and a window

Photo by Philip Durrant.

Photo by Philip Durrant.

Where to save / where to splurge?

Always splurge on one piece of art that will move you. Save your pennies by reupholstering or upcycling vintage pieces or framing postcards and prints.

Favorite artist? What do you love about their work?

It’s almost impossible to choose, I admire so many artists: Amoako Boafo for striking, gestural portraits; Cinga Samson for surrealist oil paintings; Lakin Ogunbanwo for colorful, evocative photography; and Cassi Nomoda for truly sumptuous brushwork.

What should you always buy vintage? What vintage pieces are you eying right now?

There are some incredible vintage bedside tables on the market—we tend to always gravitate to pre-loved versions for our projects. I’m also always looking for a special bar cart or magazine rack!

Design rule you love to break?

Matching patterns. I like clashing prints—I call it happy clashing.

a living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Photo by Philip Durrant.

What are your go-to finishing touches that always elevate a room?

Books, plants, and objects. A room never feels finished without them. 

What hotel anywhere in the world represents ultimate luxury to you and why?

Mezzatorre. I love everything about the Pellicano hotels, the designs are beautiful, the settings are always magical, and Italian food is my absolute favorite.   

Favorite spot to hang out in your house and why?

My daughter Gaia’s bedroom. It’s at the top of the house so it’s really bright with views of trees and rooftops. I’m usually there with her and she is excellent company!

a baby's room with green walls and a white crib
a foyer with a red console table and stairs

Photo by Philip Durrant.

Photo by Philip Durrant.


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