Client-as-muse: The portraiture of interior design

Anya Cooklin-Lofting | 06 Sep 2021


Behind the gently sweeping frontage of Regent’s Crescent, interior designer Olga Ashby has evoked the very essence of her client with a scheme devoted to the luxury of a high-end boutique

The scene is Regent’s Crescent, a staccato colonnade of stucco columns accouplement, arched windows and a long, curving balustrade. The elegant swathe of the property hugs the parameters of Park Square, a private appendix to Regent's Park, London. It is the home to 68 Grade I listed apartments and nine garden villas which are concealed behind the striking Regency façade originally designed in 1820 by the architect to the Prince Regent, later King George IV, John Nash. CIT, an independent private equity estate investor, was appointed development manager in 2016 and instructed award-winning architects, PDP London on the meticulous reimagination of the exterior. The restoration honours Nash’s unrivalled architectural prowess with Regency-style fanlights and traditional railings and chimney stacks, punctuating the Marylebone skyline.

Regents Crescent’s sweeping frontage is a reimagination of the original 1820 design by John Nash

Today, however, it is what lies behind the gently sweeping frontage that catalyses my conversation with Olga Ashby, the Creative Director of the eponymous London-based interior design studio. We met digitally in early August to discuss her recent project within the prestigious walls of Regent’s Crescent for a client, Josephine, who Ashby reveres as one of life’s most memorable characters, committed to “kindness, happiness and sparkle,” in the designer’s words.

Olga Ashby, the Creative Director of her eponymous design studio

Josephine, a Chinese food blogger, came to Ashby at the dawn of the pandemic to discuss the objectives for her new, first-floor apartment in the imposing and esteemed development. “She wanted a space that felt like a Jimmy Choo boutique, hence the chandelier,” Ashby tells me, signalling to the floating mosaic of distressed gold leaf frames, hung with pale crystals by Wired Custom Lighting. I can’t help but notice the many elements of the home that present ‘boutique’ as I scan through the pictures. The undulating antique sofa upholstered in a Pierre Frey fabric, the mirrored, crittall-style cabinets and the serene colour palette of silver, white and dusky pink. 

The living room is filled with art and texture, with Marc Quinn’s Chromosphere, Pool Studio chairs, amethyst coffee tables and a Wired Custom Lighting chandelier

“It’s amazing to work with a client who has such a clear vision,” says Ashby. “Josephine has a lust for life. She loves luxury, glamour, travel and art, and this project is entirely a reflection of her personality,” she adds. It becomes evident on our call that Ashby is charmed by Josephine’s open mind and her infinite capacity to live life to its fullest. “I recently went back to visit her at home,” she tells me. “Nothing has changed, as if we had only just finished dressing the rooms,” she adds, and it occurs to me how thrilled Josephine must have been with the studio’s execution to have made no changes at all. Suggesting this to Ashby, she is modest but tells me that discussions are already underway for Josephine’s next project, although no further property has yet been purchased.

Within these high, wainscot walls, Ashby has created a home that channels and supports the essence of her vivacious client. One of the most important elements of the studio’s brief was to ensure the rooms were fit for frequent entertaining; it may not surprise readers to learn that Josephine is a keen and generous host, often throwing elegant soirées and cooking classes with top chefs in her very own kitchen. “A home suitable for entertaining must be at once open plan and zoned to encourage little gatherings of people throughout the living area,” says Ashby. “Josephine’s exquisite Carlo Scarpa dining table can accommodate eight people perched on the Dedar-upholstered Gallotti&Radice dining chairs. Four may linger at her contemporary black marble bar, several can lounge on the sofas and armchairs, and even more can enjoy the evening breeze on the balcony overlooking Regent’s Park.” 

Josephine’s exquisite Carlo Scarpa dining table can accommodate eight people perched on the Dedar-upholstered Gallotti&Radice dining chairs

The living room, in particular, looks as if it must be accompanied by a constant underscore of some effortlessly cool bassline, shot through with the effervescence of popping bottles. Willowy figures holding coupes of Champagne could very well appear at any moment, leaning into one another in deep conversation or catching the attention of some other, stylish guest from across the room. This was Josephine’s vision, according to Ashby. She says, “Josephine wanted to achieve the look and feel of a modern French salon, filling her home with interesting people - writers, artists, the intelligentsia. She wanted wonderful young ladies scattered about her home, wearing Dior and drinking her Champagne.”

Side tables can be found by each seating option for guests’ drinks

But this level of seemingly effortless style is only possible with a few simple tricks that Ashby devised to ensure her client could maintain a boutique, clutter-free feel every day. “Most of the walls in the living room feature some kind of concealed storage,” she divulges. There is sleek, inconspicuous storage of the chicest kind behind mirrored cabinetry for her cases of Champagne of course, but also for the paraphernalia of life, and believe it or not, childcare. A second, perhaps even less visible device for seamless socialising, is the ample table space for each seat in the living room. For Ashby, making sure guests always have somewhere to rest their glass is a luxury felt keenly only in its absence.

The same can be said for natural light, from which Josephine’s apartment benefits greatly. “The architectural features like the floor-to-ceiling, arched windows were valuable sources of inspiration for the project,” Ashby says. She adds, “we wanted to exaggerate the levels of natural light in each of the rooms, so left the majority of the walls white.” The high ceilings, too, which reach over four metres, informed the scale and size of the furniture. “Josephine’s high ceilings paired with the low furniture creates a dynamic contrast in the extreme scales,” says Ashby. The decision also lends a sartorial edge, which is the juxtaposition between the ultimate formality of the architecture with the cool irreverence of the contemporary furniture.

The master bedroom is a sea of warm greys and metallic accents

Artist, photographer and filmmaker, Alison Jackson’s Marylin Undressing for JFK (2000) hangs provocatively in the minimalistic bathroom

Where contemporary furniture is concerned, the marker of considered, elevated luxury as we move deeper into the 2020s is texture. “For me, the focus was always on textural pieces that would make this home a haven for Josephine,” says Ashby. The boucle chairs by Pool Studio are cloud-like and nebulous, slipping like Dali’s clockfaces from their rose gold cubes. The gnarled, blackened coffee tables are encrusted with glowing, violet amethyst inside, weighing 700 kilos each. A bespoke silk rug from Riviera, draping cashmere curtains and a veined, marble fireplace that echoes the limbus rings in Marc Quinn’s all-seeing eye, Chromosphere, coalesce to bring about a scheme flush with competing textures. “I’m obsessed with materials and texture,” she tells me. “For the duration of this project, I carried fabric samples to inform other stylistic choices. You will never catch me approving any fabric before seeing and touching it.”

Boucle, subtle metallic accents and soothing soft furnishings make this bedroom a haven

A home designed by one, completely and utterly for another, the result of Ashby’s dedication to this beautiful apartment is a love letter to Josephine, a celebration of her life and her style. Ashby has produced a portrait of her client, capturing a likeness to ignite recognition in all that know her. The final flourish of Ashby’s thoughtful composition is a portrait in the more traditional sense. The painting in the master bedroom is by London-based artist, Bianca Smith, titled Josephine Dancing with Feather Fans on the Hills with a Glass of Champagne. “The way Bianca works is unique,” says Ashby, adding that “she simply asked Josephine to tell her two things she likes. The answer came quickly: Champagne and heels. This was very much for her, of her, about her. There is no child in the painting - it’s a celebration of her femininity as an independent, life-loving woman.”