Few designers can boast fairly such inspirational digs as designer Sophie Ashby’s new St James’s Park hub in London. Built in 1709 as the house of The Bluecoat School – a philanthropic place of safety and schooling for underprivileged kids – the redbrick constructing is understood right now merely as Blewcoat. “It definitely feels appropriate to be designing beautiful spaces in such an incredible place,” says the 34-year-old designer, who relocated her 15-strong Studio Ashby staff to the location in December and has since been placing the ending touches on the house.
Ashby not solely welcomed the prospect to convey her staff collectively at what she affectionately phrases “the mothership”; these grandly proportioned partitions additionally helped her to understand the long-held ambition of turning into a shopkeeper. This month, Blewcoat opens its doorways as an appointment- solely showroom and store for Sister, Studio Ashby’s playful sibling line of ornamental interiors and furnishings, established in 2020 to serve, she says, “her mates and peers who can’t afford the whole Studio Ashby design shebang”.
Her new house is one among a number of home-from-home locations bobbing up in London. House of Hackney moved into a brand new gothic dwelling, St Michael’s clergy home in Shoreditch, earlier this 12 months – the inside is about up as an actual residence with an aesthetic that could be a Victorian-Seventies mash-up with a convivial environment.
While Ashby’s Blewcoat is an announcement of future intent, the remnants of the constructing’s early charitable origins maintain sturdy. Above the Doric entranceway, beneath a sublime clock face, guests are greeted by the small however vital determine of a younger scholar in a frock coat, yellow stockings and the blunt-toe buckle footwear typical of the day. With one hand aloft, he personifies a kind of 18th‑century piousness and modesty that’s swept away inside the place the Corinthian-columned inside vestibule and the sheer scale of the single-roomed higher ground, with its 6m-high ceilings, takes the breath away.
More of a retail playroom than a standard retailer, the inside is adorned with a collection of vibrant artwork and vintage-adorned mise-en-scènes paying homage to Ashby’s Spitalfields residence. There are the studio’s monochrome stripe Toucan daybeds (£4,790), tapestry-swathed Chess Swivel chairs (£4,050) or the Tibetan motif Tiger rug (POA) that enlivens her personal toilet. “I want it to feel like you’re coming over to my house,” she provides. Unless you go all the way down to the basement – the place there’s a gathering room, delicate (material and textiles) and arduous (materials finishes) pattern rooms and storage rooms – it’s straightforward to neglect it is a place of job.
Upstairs, movable banks of desks inhabit the far finish of the house, the fireside is shielded by a pair of towering cupboards, and equipment are scattered all through: African sculpture, picket vessels, fabric-clad storage bins, crops, glassware and, of course, cushions (“You can’t be an interior designer without doing some cushions,” she smiles). In one of many semicircular niches punctuating the partitions, together with the infinite home windows, are the cheery ceramic vases born out of a collaboration with the artist Christabel MacGreevy.
The impact is of a energetic and luxurious artist’s sitting room that’s primed for enjoyable. “Everyone who comes in says we need to throw a party,” says Ashby, who has plans to stage dinners catered by her youthful sister Rose, the manager chef at Skye Gyngell’s Spring Restaurant. “I love hosting and setting the scene,” she provides. “But I’m a terrible cook.” Outside, in a triangular, tree-dotted terrace, Ashby hopes to ask a espresso van and florist, and to stage the occasional pop-up market.
In the identical spirit of artistic sociability, the inside will open with an exhibition of work by the South African siblings Mia and Erin Chaplin. Part of an ongoing artist-in-residence collection, it marks the primary time the sisters have displayed their energetic canvases aspect by aspect. It’s additionally a poignant nod to the designer’s personal itinerant previous: Ashby was born to a South African mom and an English father, and lived in Stellenbosch till she was 12, when the household emigrated to the South Devon village of Stoke Gabriel.
This was one among 14 home strikes earlier than Ashby graduated with an artwork historical past diploma at Leeds University. A former style purchaser for the division retailer Edgar’s, her mom would recreate her homeland wherever they went. “Home is about the people, but possessions are also very powerful in making you feel comfortable and familiar,” she says of her nomadic childhood. “For me, until the pictures are hung, it just doesn’t feel right.”
Immersing herself within the artwork books that lined her dad or mum’s cabinets, Ashby imagined proudly owning the trendy creations conjured by everybody from Brâncuși to Barbara Hepworth. It was their sculptural types – and the dramatic panorama of her native South Africa – that set the foundations for her sturdy aesthetic. But it was the bustle of the close by market city of Totnes that cemented her love of procuring. “It gave me quite a traditional idea of shopkeeping,” says Ashby, who spent her adolescence scouring market stalls and classic shops for garments and bric-à-brac. She nonetheless thrills at rummaging across the stationery division of The Conran Shop or exploring the eclectic choices at Mouki Mou or the Willer Gallery in London. “I’ll always find something that catches my eye,” she says. “I know what I like so I don’t have to put much thought into it.”
But even Ashby skilled a modicum of doubt when it got here to, what she phrases, the “high growth moment” of exchanging on Blewcoat. She’d spent the previous few years attempting to safe a retail house in Marylebone’s Chiltern Street, near the store she conceived for her husband, the sharp-suited menswear designer Charlie Casely-Hayford. This was a part of a dream to make their lives work extra in tandem, however that wasn’t meant to be. Putting her setback apart, Ashby is realising her shopkeeping goals on a much more epic scale, creating someplace she believes will ignite not solely her personal creativeness however that of all those that enter.