Home Is Where The Heart Is: Ashberg House

SLIDESHOW: Ashberg House, a unique new-build mansion on Cathcart Road, London.

Psychology is the key to creating irresistible spaces, says Alex Isaac, head of design at consultancy Morpheus London.

If you’re spending US$35 million on a turnkey townhouse or superyacht, you should expect above-and-beyond attention to detail.

But while features such as hand-cut chandeliers, marble bathrooms, a 43ft swimming pool and a Crestron Technology System are sublime, what really speaks to an owner’s heart is less tangible — it’s a reflection of their own happiness.

At least this is the opinion of Alex Isaac, head of design at 26-year-old consultancy Morpheus London.

“Your home has got to make you happy,” he says. “It’s where you spend most of your time. Whether it’s your children, or your favourite holiday location, we have to incorporate that happy place into your day-to-day living.”

Isaac, the son of two successful interior designers, spent the last 15 years of his career first as a director at yacht designer Bannenberg, and later as creative director of Linley, before moving to Morpheus in 2014. His clients are the sophisticated international super-rich, including ex-international rugby player Ross Beattie, who now lives in Monaco and runs private members’ club Thirty Nine.

He recalls recently sitting down at a client’s home to draw up the interiors of a new superyacht. “We were showing them mood board after mood board but nothing seemed to work. Then we came across this yellowish fluffy fabric that they loved. Next thing you know, a Golden Retriever bounds into the room — this person absolutely loved their dog. So everything we designed became a nod to the dog.” Isaac incorporated soft fabrics into the yacht, in taupes, creams and beiges. “It wasn’t overly ‘doggy’,” he caveats quickly, “but it worked on a level for that person.”

Usually it’s even subtler. Isaac says that when he first discusses the design of a home he tries to get under the skin of his client. “Rather than asking them what they want the kitchen to look like, I ask them how and what they like to cook,” he explains.

But if you design a home without a commission, if you don’t know who your future client is, the project surely becomes a carte blanche. Not exactly, says Isaac. A strong believer in the power of Feng Shui, Isaac says the key to any good space is having a “natural flow”, as well as plenty of light. This is the design vernacular that informed his latest project at Morpheus, Ashberg House, a project that took three years to complete.

The US$35 million new-build on Chelsea’s Cathcart Road, London, is named after the famous Ashberg diamond, an amber-coloured, 101-carat diamond once included in the Russian crown jewels. The five-bedroom, five-floor home is characterised by an aesthetic of glass inside and out that gives an amazing feeling of space, maximising the flow of natural light around the rooms.

“The key to having good flow in a space, is defining the space first,” explains Isaac. “How do you get around the building, that’s the most important thing, then the areas and volumes almost design themselves.” With the open nature of Ashberg, there are vantage points where you can see into several rooms at once, he points out. “We wanted to capture these vignettes and focus on the artistry of the architecture, being able to see into spaces over five floors of the house. It all comes together as a home, instead of a little bit here and there as you might have with a conversion property.”

The property is centred around its staircase, an important consideration, says Isaac.

“Where you position the staircase is important as it dictates how many corridors you need. If you have it more centrally, as we do at Ashberg, you don’t need as many linking paths as you would if you had it in the corner of the building.”

In the central mezzanine is an enormous cascading chandelier handcrafted by glass maker Lasvit, which connects the ground floor with the garden below. Composed of over 140 glass ‘leaves’ in graduated colour, the ‘Falling Leaf Chandelier’ imitates the foliage of the trees in the garden. In fact, more than 90 percent of the furniture and fittings are bespoke designed by Morpheus. “It’s hard to find furniture of this scale that’s interesting,” he explains. The fitted cabinetry was made in Austria, the metal, upholstery and timber comes from the Far East, while the fine glassware hails from artisans in the Czech Republic. “At this level, nothing is off-the-peg.”

The swimming pool in the basement is arguably the home’s pièce de résistance. With undertones of James Bond, reminiscent of the sleek black oil spills in the opening credits of The World is Not Enough, the pool reflects the ceiling’s black-polished plaster. “In so many conversions you feel like you’re going into the bowels of the Earth when you go down to the basement, but here you’ve still got natural light,” says Isaac, adding that the pool was inspired by sculptor Richard Wilson’s 20:50, a permanent extinction at the Saatchi Gallery made from recycled oil.

As a counterpoint to Chelsea’s traditional red-brick Victorian villas, Ashberg House certainly challenges the neighbourhood status quo. “A lot of prospective buyers are saying they haven’t seen this before to this level in London; it’s the rarity and uniqueness that is appealing.”

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