Just a few strides from the bustle of Brick Lane in London’s East End—where the sweet, spicy scent of the street’s famous Bangladeshi curry houses fills the air—hides a gorgeous Georgian-era gem of a house that British interior designer Sophie Ashby and her husband, fashion designer Charlie Casely-Hayford, currently share with their daughter, Gaia, born last May, and Casely-Hayford’s seven-year-old daughter Rainbow when she comes to stay on weekends.
Having outgrown their one-bedroom apartment in West London, the family rented this place in February 2020, just weeks before the world went into lockdown. “We could have bought a house, but I knew it wouldn’t have been one I was happy to live in for the next five to ten years,” Ashby says. Instead, they decided to “sit tight, plot and plan,” she explains, while testing out the area for a potential permanent move.
Cosseted by a verdant courtyard garden of magnolia, fig, and bay trees, the former brewer’s house they now call home adjoins a small pub and 19th-century brewery next door, currently being converted by art duo Gilbert & George into a gallery. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when we walked in,” Ashby recalls. The simplicity of the walls, ceilings, and floors, washed with cool neutral hues by the current landlord, alongside the “ancientness,” as Ashby describes it, of the house’s original clean-lined, generously proportioned bones, was “so sophisticated,” she gushes. “I just thought, We’ve got to make this work.”
Part of the house’s charm, including fireplaces bordered with pretty Delft tiles and kitchen cabinets recycled from old iroko-wood chemistry labs, owes much to the eclectic touches left behind by the late Jocasta Innes, author of the seminal ’80s guide to DIY specialist painting effects Paint Magic, who rescued the house from dereliction in the late ’70s. “The combination of Jocasta and our landlord’s good taste created the perfect backdrop,” Ashby says. “It just spoke to us.”
So, aside from “tiny tweaks” like repainting a few cupboards and a floor here and there, Ashby was free to focus on the furniture, lighting, and art. Into a high-low mix of reupholstered vintage chairs and antique cabinets, affordable high-street buys and bespoke sofas, the designer injected
vivid brights such as fiery orange and banana yellow alongside sophisticated shades of fuchsia, sea green, and gold, all inspired by the paintings and photography, mostly by emerging artists, the couple have hung on nearly every wall.
“It’s how each room begins,” says Ashby of the couple’s long-held mutual love for art, since both studied art history during college and Casely-Hayford interned at London’s prestigious White Cube gallery. Works by the likes of London painter Tomo Campbell, South African artist Lunga Ntila, and Spanish photographer Salva López draw a connective thread through each space. Even the large family bathroom, where a gallery-style installation of framed drawings and exhibition prints, combined with vintage furniture and contemporary lighting, feels “more like a living room,” she says.