On a charming little London street, just a stone’s throw from the exclusive enclave of The Boltons – named as one of Britain’s ten most expensive addresses – all is blissfully quiet. We may well be in the heart of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, an area usually besieged by buses, school children and the occasional celebrity, but all around us is peace, harmony and the hum of high tech security. Outside, the first rays of autumn are beginning to be felt, leaves idly fluttering to the ground. But inside, in the warmth of Ashberg House, it feels like eternal spring, the temperature a golden glow, the light shimmering in the early evening and the fragrance of a thousand irises scenting the air. Actually, it turns out to be Tom Dixon’s Earth diffuser, but you get my drift.
The full sumptuousness of Ashberg House is only really revealed once you step through the vast bespoke gates that surround it. Like a medieval fortress, refusing entry to unwanted visitors, a three-metre high bronze and basalt wall guards the property and is the only oddity in a street otherwise lined with pretty pastel houses. It is also a sure-fire sign that something spectacular lies within. “Come on in,” booms a clipped, English voice over the intercom and next thing we are all being ushered into a slate grey courtyard and through giant glass doors by Andrew Murray, owner of interior design firm Morpheus London
, which is responsible for the house.
An exterior view of Ashberg House. Photography by Ben Sage
Murray is actually a very softly spoken, but very steely-gazed, design aficionado as well as a cunning property developer. A trained cabinet-maker, he founded his interiors firm in London in the early 1990s during the boom times and is now a go-to for clients from Mayfair to Monaco who are looking for something sophisticated, elegant and all-out luxurious. Ashberg House is his latest project and, arguably, his most ambitious to date.
Work began in 2014, when Andrew first came across a mid-century building for sale just off the Fulham Road. Edifices of any decent size are rare to come by in Chelsea and Murray was quick to spot the opportunity to buy the building, raise it to the ground and create something entirely unique in its place. Planning permission took months, but appealing to the local community was, it turned out, to be the greatest challenge that the Morpheus team came across in a project that was otherwise quite straightforward. “The building that once stood here dated from around the 1960s and, to be honest with you, wasn’t terribly attractive”, explains Alex Isaac, head of design, who joined Morpheus shortly after construction work began. “Replacing it made quite a lot of sense.”
Eschewing the current trend in London to build ‘iceberg’ properties – some of which conceal up to eight floors beneath the two or three that are visible from the pavement – Andrew, Alex and their architects decided on a more modest two and a half floors below street level to ensure that there was a sense of space and light all the way through the house. In the end, taking into consideration the split-level gardens and foundations of the basement swimming pool, builders dug 20 feet down so that the current property is now arranged over five levels, each one accessible by lift, and enjoys privacy from every angle. On the very top floor are three guest bedrooms that could, if the new owners wished, be knocked through to form two bigger bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. The master bedroom, with its capacious bath, dressing rooms and study, takes up the whole of the fourth floor; while one level down is the most formal of three entertaining rooms. Cleverly concealed from the main entrance by rotating panels, the formal living room commands views over the garden and the dining room below, allowing it to be both private and a part of the action at the same time. Down the stairs again and the more relaxed, open-plan kitchen and dining areas share space with the TV room, that leads out into the garden lounge. And finally, in the basement, past the most impressive of cellars, can be found the gym, the pool and the cinema.
The living room replete in soft colours and aligned by transparent glass walls
Named after the famous Ashberg diamond, which once formed part of the Russian Crown Jewels, Ashberg House is, indeed, a rare gem. It manages to retain an aura of quintessential British charm and restraint without any of the draughty windows and dodgy plumbing so often a feature of Victorian terraced housing. The house was actually built around turn-of-the-century principles, with a separate service entrance, staff quarters and even a dumbwaiter that can shuttle a hot meal up to the master bedroom at any time of day or night. But it has also been designed to meet 21st century standards of living and to reflect its namesake, with multiple facets and layers built up to create a sense of unrestrained luxury. “We used lots of glass in the project to create a light, precious, diamond-like impression,” explains Isaac. “We also liked the idea of gemmologists peering into their eyeglasses to assess the value of a diamond, so we inserted lots of panels and spy holes that create great vantage points.” Glass walls, half-floors and mezzanines therefore reoccur throughout the property, with the dual benefit of flooding the house with light and ensuring that every room is visible from various angles. A reticent host can oversee downstairs proceedings from the top floor, while a curious guest can peer into the dining room from the drawing room or the garden – although neighbours, thankfully, can’t.
The dining room and Lasvit chandelier that hands in the entrance hall
Around 90 percent of the furniture within Ashberg House was made to order by Morpheus’s team. “When it comes to furniture, people are often put off by the word ‘bespoke,’”says Isaac. “The word ‘expensive’ immediately springs to mind. But actually, it’s a cost-effective way of furnishing a home, not only because you can ensure that everything will fit and work together but also because you are not paying extra for somebody else’s design”. Items that were commissioned by specialists however, include the staggering five-foot Lasvit chandelier
that hangs in the entrance hall, with a mini version dangling over the dining table, and the beautiful wall panels in the master bedroom that are by Fromenthal
. The state-of-the-art audiovisual elements were all taken care of by Icon Connect
, which specialises in super-yacht technology while much of the table lamping is by Porta Romana
The sumptuous bedroom set out in soft colours and lavish fabrics
The Morpheus team are reluctant to give an exact price on the house, but will concede that it is “upwards of £30 million.” With the sterling at a record low following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, now may well be the time for a foreign investor to snap up this prime piece of real estate. It is also, with its ambient temperature, plush furnishings and exceedingly comfortable disposition, more than adequate for those of us used to living in the Middle East. For now though, it remains a little tranquil bolthole, here in the heart of Chelsea, a place where the sun always shines.