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How to decorate a rental flat

Forget trends — set your own with art, plants and preloved furniture given a makeover. Interiors expert Sophie Ashby reveals her top design tips.

“Pastels and pretty are not my style,” declares interior designer Sophie Ashby. However, Ashby is the epitome of pastel and pretty herself, in the rented Notting Hill flat she shares with her boyfriend, menswear designer Charlie Casely-Hayford, son of famous Joe, who was awarded an OBE for services to the fashion industry in 2007.

But Ashby, whose rise has been stellar since setting up from her desk less than three years ago, is clear on the distinction between catwalk and home, saying: “I don’t go in for trends, either. It makes more sense with fashion, but with your home, as soon as you follow a trend, you’ll soon be out of date. Just go for what you like. That’s how you create individuality and personality.”

Studio Ashby, which now has a staff of nine, is currently working on 12 projects. They range from a hotel in Robertson, just outside Cape Town, to a new-build mews house in St James’s on the Crown Estate, to Endless Love and new-season Poldark star Gabriella Wilde’s house in Somerset (“all roll-top baths”).

And shortly, Ashby will be working on a big development near Liverpool Street as part of the architectural design team doing top-end flats in this increasingly fashionable part of the City.

It’s a big mix but she’s clear-eyed about her style: old and new, antiques and modern, plenty of books, art, and a strong palette of muted accent colours — rusts, greens, smoky blues, yellow — nothing so overwhelming that people can’t live with it.

Make it personal: Ashby’s rental home is a masterclass in how to accessorise with books, prints, plants and antiques (Charles Hosea)

Like most Londoners her age, Ashby rents so she can’t go too wild with colour. She was allowed to paint her apartment so she went for a modulated grey in the hall, a good foil for numerous pictures. The rest is white, with a charming living/kitchen space featuring country-style cabinets, a simple bathroom with pretty pink handmade tiles, and a white bedroom with a wrought-iron bed.


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I was so tired of looking on my own searching blindly and scared, this was our first home and after our first couple of meetings with Diane Evans, I felt a huge relief that she was my agent and team-mate. Diane was meeting us sometimes two times a week and worked with our very busy schedule. She made us her priority and was very patient in my learning experience. We are both so happy in our new home and that we met Diane Evans. I would like to think at the end of it all we became friends.