Planning to revamp your home? Be inspired by the 'world’s best' interior designers
‘It’s all about mix – juxtaposing antiques with contemporary pieces to achieve eclecticism’
Sophie Ashby at the TVC apartment in London. Photograph: Alexander James, courtesy of Studio Ashby
If the past year has taught us anything, it is that our surroundings are essential to our happiness and comfort. As our worlds have shrunk in size, our desire to create the perfect environment has only grown, and many of us have become obsessed with home improvements, planting gardens, decluttering and, of course, interior design.
A great starting point for inspiration is By Design: The World’s Best Contemporary Interior Designers, a richly illustrated guide to the most exceptional interior designers and decorators working across the globe now. This handsome book would grace any stylish coffee table, but it’s the 100-plus designers inside that really inspire.
A Phaidon publication, the designers therein have been nominated by a group of industry experts including Amy Fine Collins, special correspondent for Vanity Fair; Ronnie Fieg, chief executive and founder of Kith; Hanya Yanagihara, editor in chief of T, the New York Times Style Magazine; and Rachel Zoe, creative director, author and TV presenter.
The interior design practitioners selected are both established and emerging, among them Ilse Crawford, Studio KO, Studio Shamshiri, Beata Heuman, Kelly Wearstler, Martin Brudnizki, Brigette Romanek, Faye Toogood, Neri&Hu, Norm Architects and Pierre Yovanovitch. With the practices organised alphabetically, all manner of spaces are covered – from private residences to hotels, restaurants to show homes, shops to bars.
By Design features exquisite images that are bound to be a rich visual resource for anyone with an interest in interiors. It also includes an introduction to the practice of each designer, which makes for fascinating reading as the different backgrounds, styles and purpose of the designers result in an exciting variety of taste and style.
Here you will find the energetic retro opulence of some of Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s designs (he of Million Dollar Decorators and Hollywood Me fame, as well as his involvement here with Capard House, Co Laois) and the timeless, comfortable style of Ilse Crawford’s Studioilse (with whom even the least design-savvy will be familiar from the 2015 Sinnerlig collection at Ikea). The modern classical style of a Ben Penreath English country home sits in contrast to an opulent Humbert & Poyet Monaco apartment, and an opulent Parisian apartment by Italy’s Studio Peregalli contrasts with the pared-back restraint of Denmark’s David Thulstrup.
One of the designers featured is Sophie Ashby, founder of Studio Ashby in the UK. Called the “poster girl for millennial interiors”, Ashby has quickly risen to acclaim since founding her design studio in 2014. Her husband is fashion designer Charlie Casely-Hayford (himself of British fashion royalty being the son of the late acclaimed British designer Joe Casely-Hayford OBE) and last year she co-founded United in Design, a charitable organisation established to tackle the lack of diversity within the interiors industry.
Sophie Ashby says art has been a constant love throughout her life and is often the starting point for her interior design projects. She and her husband are in the process of building a collection of contemporary African art.
“With each project, we start with the art and take off from there,” says Ashby. “We always start with the art – sometimes literally taking an artwork and building an interior around it and, other times, more figuratively using art as the start of a narrative.”
Ashby grew up between South Africa, London and Devon and studied art history at Leeds University and interior design at Parsons in New York.
“My different experiences have each fed my understanding of design, its power and its possibility: from the vast, awe-inspiring nature of the South African landscape to the grand rooms of a Georgian house in London, the urban intensity of New York to the red, rolling hills of Devon,” she says.
“As a result, I am fascinated by our sense of place and the idea of home. My nomadic upbringing and love for travel, combined with my artistic sensibility, has given me a deep-rooted curiosity in our sense of place, both how we respond to it and how it shapes us in return.”
The Studio Ashby projects selected for Phaidon’s book include her former residence in Television Centre (London’s old BBC HQ), her design of the Robertson Small Hotel in South Africa, and a private residence at Holland Park Villas in London.
Art, texture, the use of colour and of organic forms is apparent in each of these spaces, and Ashby says she feels consumers are moving towards a more “meaningful form of consumption”, towards more unique, crafted, artisan pieces – something that is echoed in her new online interiors store Sister.
“For my interiors shop Sister, this is definitely true,” she says. “I think the magic of the brand is closely tied to the values of mindful consumption it upholds. The Melting Pot Table by Dirk Van der Kooij, for example, is gorgeous living proof that circular and sustainable design practices can not only be the genesis for beautiful design but can turn the ordinary into extraordinary. From scraps to heirlooms.”
Private client homes are often more rewarding experiences, because of the inevitable challenges you overcome, while also learning about their unique set of personal quirks and passions
Ashby says commercial projects often grant freedom to a designer but that private clients’ homes can be more rewarding projects to work on.
“Commercial projects often grant more freedom – for an apartment we dressed in King’s Cross, for example, we created an aesthetic based on a totally imagined inhabitant – a purveyor of taste with a discriminating eye and the passion to search for something real. Private client homes are often more rewarding experiences, though, because of the inevitable challenges you overcome, while also learning about their unique set of personal quirks and passions.”
Indeed, Studio Ashby takes a very personal approach to projects and it is essential that, when working with private clients, Ashby understands what they like to do, their taste, how they spend their time.
“Interior design and taste is such a personal and specific thing to each individual that we tend to really get to know clients from day one – it matters to us how they spend their weekends, where they like to sit for that morning coffee – all these small decisions play into how we will shape their space.”
Focusing on the character of the client is important, she says, in order to create a space with “integrity” and “soul”.
“We tend to steer away from the passing dictates of ‘trends’ and instead focus on the character of the client and the context of the project in our designs,” says Ashby. “This is ascertained through immersive conversations, mood-boarding and lots of back and forth.”
One favourite projects, and one which epitomises this personal approach to design, has been her husband’s shop: Casely-Hayford on Chiltern Street in London’s chic Marylebone.
“A small but perfectly formed space, we created a home away from home and it gives a glimpse into all our favourite things complete with art, books and objects we’ve collected on our travels together. It was a family affair through and through. I have lovely memories of the whole family weaving/ knitting the staircase in the store to create a balustrade installation out of recycled fabric.”
The location of a building, its age and style are important considerations
Ashby is also especially proud of the diversity initiative launched last year with Alexandria Dauley in response to the Black Lives Matter protests and the Blackout Tuesday social media protest, which saw black squares appear on social media feeds.
“Although not a client project, launching United in Design with my co-founder Alex Dauley has been the most rewarding, humbling and inspiring milestone for me,” says Ashby.
“We’ve just launched a competition with KLC School of Design, where the winner will receive a sponsored place on a full or part-time certificate course starting in September 2021, while a one-week or part-time introductory course will be given to the runner-up.”
When it comes to her own practice, Ashby says the location of a building, its age and style are important considerations.
“Our hope for every one of our projects is that you’re greeted with an undeniable sense of home, history and soul – all undeniably tied to the building,” she says.
“I am obsessed with fabrics and textures – whether it be a rug as a wall hanging, gorgeously eclectic patchwork cushions or a striking abstract headboard. I love the richness and depth they bring to a space. We like to use fabrics from makers local to the projects, with references to homegrown architecture or landmarks.”
Ashby says the pandemic has undeniably changed what we expect from our living spaces, many of which have had to perform multiple functions over the past year.
“Now more than ever, in terms of constant change and uncertainty, home is everything. We are spending time in, and really living in, spaces that we once just moved through as part of our busy routine.”
For those of us trying to navigate our home interiors projects with the help of books like By Design, it’s about going with our gut, says Ashby, who is adept at combining styles and eras in her work.
“It’s all about the mix – bringing old together with new, juxtaposing antiques with contemporary pieces to achieve true eclecticism,” she says. “My advice to you would be to trust your instinct and have fun with it. Personality emerges from chaos and a characterful, layered look is far more interesting and homely too.”
By Design: The World’s Best Contemporary Interior Designers is published by Phaidon, €59.99. phaidon.com