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Art & Design

A PERSONAL TOUCH

"Watery reflections, wild grasses and swampy marshland are upheld in natural colour palettes and woody, earthy textiles and fittings."

The features of the apartments at No.3 Upper Riverside read like the wish-list of any discerning London apartment-hunter: Manhattan loft style spaces. Check. Views of the river and city skyline. Check. British craftsmanship. Check.

But checklists of any kind are rejected by the creative team at Studio Ashby, whose founder Sophie Ashby led the interior design of the riverside apartment at no.3, one of an enclave of five prism-like towers at Upper Riverside.

“It’s all about individuals and their homes and how these surroundings will enhance their lives,” explains Sophie. It can be seen in the small things, like Studio Ashby’s choice of flooring.

“There are a lot of knots in the oak flooring at the Upper Riverside apartments. The grains show quite strongly in places and there’s a natural unevenness to the tone,” says Sophie. “Developments are often newer and cleaner, so it was quite an unusual choice.”

The choice wasn’t taken purely for differentiation’s sake. It’s a subtle but deliberate nod to the landscape this building sprung from. Watery reflections, wild grasses and swampy marshland are upheld in natural colour palettes and woody, earthy textiles and fittings. The authenticity of such materials has an added benefit for the eventual owner: “If this were my apartment, I know my furniture, my art and textiles could move right in and that they’d work because the palette is rich and inspired by nature and that’s where you can’t really go wrong because everything just works together,” says Sophie.

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Ashby’s revolt against the mass produced and the expected continues in the bathroom. The choice of tiles are handmade and glazed in three different colours, one for each of the three bathrooms she’s designed. It’d be much simpler to work with big slabs of porcelain, which are cut to size and quick to install.

“In my riverside apartment, I’d make every bathroom different, not just make the first master bathroom really special, then make the other two bathrooms a repeat of the large one, but on a smaller scale,” says Sophie. “We were adamant they should all be different: to create personality and a change of pace and to try a bit harder. Something as simple as each bathroom being different has been revolutionary to this way of designing a new building. That’s what I mean by designing on a human scale.”

Scale wasn’t the only challenge in this project. Studio Ashby’s typical clients are real people with personalities and preferences, able to clearly articulate how they want to live in their spaces. In fitting out No.3, owners were a future concept.

“Interior design is as much about having a really good understanding of how people live and what’s important to them—where they want to wake up and have their orange juice and where they’d rather enjoy their glass of wine at sundown,” says Sophie. So, there’s an element to Studio Ashby’s work of profiling the types of people, couples and families that might live here. But for Sophie, the best approach is to simply imagine the space is hers. Casting herself in the role as ultimate owner has resulted in good amounts of wall space waiting to welcome personal art, where a less intuitive approach might have placed banks of sockets and switches interrupting the blank canvas. It’s evident again in the kitchen, where a deliberate sidestepping of minimalism favours a showcasing of personal objects. “It’s not closed off with cupboard doors everywhere,” explains Sophie. “The shelving is an opportunity to display your things—a salad bowl you love, a ceramic jug from your holiday. We’re getting away from this idea that everything has to be squirrelled away for a room to look good. I think we’re in a time now where people take a lot more pleasure and pride in the things they have.”

Pleasure and pride are good words to describe another deep-seated value on display in the apartments: Studio Ashby’s loving commitment to the best of British craftsmanship. “It just makes good sense to have things made in the UK where we can, rather than unnecessarily freight stuff in from all over the world.”

Good sense—both the common and the feeling kinds—are ultimately the best way to define these riverside homes, where practical needs and aesthetic value blend seamlessly. “They’re warm and friendly and calm,” says Sophie. “Life is going to play out in these spaces; our job is to ensure the interior envelope enhances those moments as best as possible.”

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