F5: Sophie Ashby Strives for Diversity in Interior Design

09.03.21 | By
F5: Sophie Ashby Strives for Diversity in Interior Design
light skinned woman with shoulder length blonde hair posing in front of bookshelves

Photo: Jon Gorrigan

Interior designer Sophie Ashby is half South African, half English and grew up between Stellenbosch (Cape Town) and the UK. She broadened her design views with a BA in History of Art at Leeds University, going on to study Interior Design at Parsons, The New School for Design in Manhattan. Sophie founded her interior design and creative direction practice, Studio Ashby Ltd, in 2014.

But before branching out on her own, Sophie learned her trade as an apprentice to Victoria Fairfax and head of the interiors team at creative agency Spring & Mercer. Between the two she found a love of antiques, understanding of color, sense of proportion and how to run projects. Studio Ashby started from a laptop, with no investment and working from cafes, and has grown to a team of twelve with a studio in Notting Hill.

With a diverse roster of projects, Sophie has completed a luxury hotel in South Africa, a penthouse in Battersea and a rambling country house in Somerset among others. Most recently, Studio Ashby was listed in the House & Gardens top 100 Interior Designers, Country & Town’s 50 Best Interior Designers and named as a Rising Star in The English Home’s Hot 150 2018/19.

Sophie is also the co-founder of United Design, a charitable initiative that launched in July 2020 with a mission to address the lack of diversity in interior design. She lives with her husband Charlie Casely-Hayford in Spitalfields.

Today Sophie Ashby is joining us for Friday Five!

interior dining space with tables, chairs, plants, and high ceiling

Heckfield Place, Hampshire, England \\\ Photo courtesy Citizen Femme

1. Holidays
Our lives are full, and at times highly stressful, and the ability to take a break and get away from the hustle and bustle of London life is so welcome. It’s obviously been pretty impossible in the last year, but even just escaping to the country for the weekend – wonders such as The Newt in Somerset or Heckfield Place in Hampshire are really restorative.

2. Nature
So much of our inspiration at Studio Ashby is rooted in the changing landscapes of nature – from the palette to the shapes, textures and prints. The sounds of the wind, waves and wildlife never fail to remind me that we are so small – just little dots. That awe-inspired feeling you are granted by nature is very powerful to me.

orange and black abstract art

Photo courtesy of The Clyfford Still Museum Denver, CO

3. The Royal Academy
From finding new artists through the Summer Exhibition to blockbuster exhibitions (in recent years, the Anthony Gormley, the Abstract Expressionism and the Anselm Kiefer to the RA Schools Shows with their Masters programs), The Royal Academy is a dynamic, ever-evolving hub of innovation and artistry.

4. Books
I have a growing collection of reference books and recently pinched quite a few from my mother-in-law. From artist studies such as Gerhard Richter, Juergen Teller and Legér to books on houses in Provence, Venice style and African textiles. I find myself reaching more and more for physical sources of inspiration – I love the tactility of books, and they give me a needed break from screens!

group of older women enjoying an indoor pool with sculptures

Saint Petersburg, Florida, 1973 \\\ Photo: Jonathan Blair

5. Stories
When I hear a client talk about their lives and what they need, what moves them and makes them feel alive, how their family functions or details of their daily rituals, my mind starts whirring with solutions. I am a very solution-minded person and can’t help but want to leap in and solve people’s problems, so conversation and listening is of invaluable importance – and key to my motivation.

Work by Sophie Ashby:

interior dining space with white tablecloth covered tables, armchairs and light walls and floor

Mickey Hoyle \\\ Photo Robertson Small

bedroom with curvaceous orange headboard, decorative pillows, and light grey walls

Photo: Alexander James

interior dining space with tables, chairs, plants, and high ceiling

Heckfield Place, Hampshire, England \\\ Photo courtesy Citizen Femme

store interior with dark green walls, colorful clothing, and patterned armchair

Casely Hayford Store \\\ Photo: Alexander James

Kelly Beall is Director of Branded Content at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based writer and designer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, from Fashion Plates to MoMA and far beyond. When not searching out the visual arts, she's likely sharing her favorite finds with others. Kelly can also be found tracking down new music, teaching herself to play the ukulele, or on the couch with her three pets – Bebe, Rainey, and Remy. Find her @designcrush on social.