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Designer Jo Aynsley on the inspiration behind new Northumberland hotel, The Tempus

The Design Director at Jeffreys Interiors and the mastermind behind the North East’s wackiest wedding venue, Charlton Hall, reflects on the opening of its new sister venue The Tempus yesterday.

Written by High Life North
Published 04.05.2023

By Diana Gilbertson

Jo Aynsley is not afraid to break the rules.

From George, the resident taxidermy giraffe who watches over proceedings, to the bright red lip urinals that adorn the walls of the ‘Looking Glass Loos,’ Charlton Hall is more than a testament to that.

 Taking her inspiration from other daring and innovative designers, such as Martin Brudnizki (the artistic genius behind Annabel’s private members club in London), it’s safe to say that Jo has her own, unique style.

Born and bred in rural Northumberland, Jo took an art foundation degree at Newcastle College, before going on to study Textiles at the Edinburgh College of Art. In 2014, she landed her dream job at the Edinburgh-based company, Jeffreys Interiors.

When the opportunity arose to buy the company in 2021, Jo and her business partner, Georgina Fraser, jumped at the chance. Thus, at the tender age of 29, Jo became co-owner and Design Director at one of the most renowned interior design firms in the country.

Famed for their work on the interiors of stately homes such as Yester House in Edinburgh and, of course, our very own Charlton Hall, Jeffreys has also contributed to various residential projects, too.

Jo describes her style as eclectic, favouring bright colours and playful imaginings, whilst also maintaining a classic timelessness in a nod to eras gone by.

This is perhaps most evident in the rooms of Charlton Hall – and now Jo has stamped her distinctive style on its sister venue.

Having just opened this month, The Tempus is an extension of the hall itself and offers a further 15 luxury guest rooms, along with a ground-floor bar, orangery, and restaurant.

We sat down with Jo to find out about the inspiration behind the weird and wonderful interiors of these two distinctive venues, as well as her tips and tricks for updating our own homes…

What led you to pursue a career in interior design?

I think it was my Mum! I grew up going to sewing classes with her in our local village hall in Harbottle, so from a young age I was into all things crafty. Even then I knew I wanted to do some kind of design.

I also remember, when my brother and I were about eight, my Mum let us choose the colour to repaint our bedroom walls. I chose sunshine yellow. From then on, one of my favourite things to do was to go to the local auction house to buy new furniture and move my room around, so I think that’s where it all started.

However, I didn’t really know that much about interior design. Back then, it wasn’t really thought of as a profession, and people had quite a limited view of what it was to be an interior designer. Usually, it was something that only the upper classes could afford, not something that was widely accessible.

Even now, it feels like there are a lot of barriers to break through: some people still assume that I just pick out pretty cushions and paint colours. But interior design is far more than that; we oversee the whole project from the word go, working with architects and orchestrating the whole thing, from the ground up.

Charlton Hall is known for its wild and wacky interiors. Were you deliberately trying to make a statement there?

In a way, yes. Northumberland has the most amount of wedding venues in the whole of the UK, and the majority of those are in stately homes. So, we wanted Charlton Hall to be completely different – even if that did mean we didn’t appeal to everybody. We decided to go all out and make it almost like a playground, with a theme that ran through the whole venue.

When we opened the doors, people were completely taken aback. And yes, I do think it helped people to realise that there is a lot more to interior design than choosing a colour scheme!

Walking into Charlton Hall – and now The Tempus, too – is like walking into a story, and that’s what I love to create, especially in a historic building like this.

What inspired the story you gave to Charlton Hall?

We wanted guests using Charlton Hall as their wedding venue to see it as an adventure playground, so Alice in Wonderland seemed like the obvious choice.

As the guests move from room to room – all of which are so drastically different to one another – it’s like they’re falling down the rabbit hole. Their journey throughout the house is akin to Alice’s: ‘curiouser and curiouser,’ the further she goes.

As a result, we were also able to breathe new life into the house. It had previously been used as a family home, but we’ve given it a whole new identity. However, we decided to name all the guest rooms after the children of various friends and relatives of the house, tying together the new identity with the old.

The Alice in Wonderland theme continues in The Tempus – was that a natural progression for you?

We always knew we wanted to amp it up again, to go even further into Wonderland, and to recreate that sense of each space being completely unique. I feel like we’ve definitely achieved that.

For example, the library is very dark and moody, almost like a gentleman’s club, while the back bar is very much a nod to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. So, it’s very much a continuation of the Wonderland theme, but with its own style.

It’s the kind of venue where you feel like you’re sat in a trendy bar in Newcastle, but then in the next instance, you’re in the Orangery, which is the perfect place to take your mum and your grandma for Sunday lunch!

Book your table here.

Can you give our readers any hints to help them recreate their own playground at home?

My number one tip would be, don’t be afraid to be bold. And, similarly, don’t be afraid to use wallpaper.

However, step AWAY from the feature wall! If you love a pattern enough to use it on one wall, then be brave enough to use it throughout the whole room.

That was something I wanted to do with Charlton, actually – to encourage people to be daring enough to go all out and use striking patterns and colours to make an impact.

I don’t expect people to go as far as we did at Charlton Hall, but hopefully, it will help people to take confidence that more outlandish styles and colours can look great if you dare to use them.

Are there any interior shops in the North East that you’d recommend for some statement pieces?

Susi Bellamy. She designs everything, from cushions to scarves, in all the eclectic and vibrant colours that I love!


Image credits: Zac and Zac

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