To people who haven’t been to Aynhoe Park and seen its uniqueness for themselves, how would you describe it?
As a magical house of curiosities where you can make memories to last a life time hosting exclusive private events, from a big birthday party to a wedding of your dreams.
What state was it in when James found it?
It was an old people’s home for lords and ladies. It had been converted into apartments so we spent a lot of time converting it back into a home. Despite all that we have done over the last ten years it’s still an ongoing passion project and always will be. At the moment we’re restoring an additional 12 bedrooms. Someone who had their wedding here four – even two – years ago would find a very different house now.
From the beginning did you set out to do something different other more typically traditional stately-home venues around the country?
James has been an avid collector since he was a teenager. When he was 16, he bought a grand piano and said one day he would have a house to put it in. Actually, what we’re doing here is what many country home owners would’ve done in the past: go out, search the world and come back with weird and wonderful items to display alongside traditional features.
That said there are stately homes with ropes and posts where you can’t sit down or touch or feel anything and this house is the opposite. You see all the art; you can sit on a chair – you can sit on anything! If you’re here and you’re at an exclusive party for the weekend, it is your space. I think a house needs to be lived in and to be enjoyed. People who come and use this house respect the ethos; they respect the house and they look after it.
Do you have any rules for mixing the old and new?
There are no rules at Aynhoe! Aesthetically speaking however, there is a fine line between being messy and eclectic. If you ensure the pieces you put together have to mean something to you, then it doesn’t become a mess. Just putting stuff up you keep buying without much thought doesn’t work so well.
Where do you source it all?
So many places – it can be from a trip abroad to a seller on eBay. I love searching for 70s Hollywood regency stuff. But we also visit auctions, other collectors, antique dealers. We love to travel – the carved ladies at the bottom of the staircase are from a trip to Burma. James has always been a collector and I was an antiques dealer before we met.
You now sell some of the amazing pieces around the house…
We had a really successful Christie’s sale called A Modern Grand Tour. The whole catalogue was filled with things from around the house; as pieces were leaving the house, more things were coming in and it was a bit of a house clearance. The retail we now have on an ongoing basis happened because people kept asking us where they could get things you can see in the house. So we decided to evolve the idea of A Modern Grand Tour to a website store, you can buy new items like our incredible feather lamp or celestial globes but then we also have a moon painting that's an original piece of art and soon our bug lights we then mix it up with curiosities we’ve collected from around the world.
What’s your favourite part of the house?
The principal rooms that overlook the garden and THAT view and the kitchen because it is the hub of our home. It was the original kitchen to the house. We’ve sandblasted the walls, brought up the flooring and designed a kitchen based on illustrations of the kitchen in 1847.
Aynhoe is known for its Capability Brown-designed gardens – are you green-fingered?
Sadly I’m so busy on the events side I don’t have time to be out in the garden. But I desperately want to put in a kitchen garden because I love knowing where my food comes from.
What has been the steepest learning curve with the events?
We have to be hosts in this house, so I’ve learnt how to do that and what people want. It’s great fun, interesting, we meet amazing people and I love it. We’ve grown so much that we now have a great events team, but if somebody wants my help – as an event planner or an event stylist – then I’ll happily oblige. I’ve got clients I have always and will always look after.
For people reading this who want to create a really memorable event, what tips would you give?
I think food, drink and music are the most important elements. With food you can evoke a theme, whether with canapés or bowl food. You’ve got to have good drinks and they’ve got to be coming quickly. Generally as long as your guests something to drink, they’re happy. And as for the music, well it’s personal (although because of my husband’s career in the music business I’m going to have say I’m more into a DJ than a band) but it creates an atmosphere and that is key.
What are your favourite events that you’ve held here?
We do so many and they’re all different from weddings and children’s parties to immersive brand events. I think I’ve loved every one… For Unicef we did an amazing immersive Halloween experience where each room had a unique experience – we were so pleased to raise a lot of money for the charity. We have teamed up with The Rabbit Hole stage from Glastonbury for a "Who Stole the Tarts?" party, where lucky guests were given a carrot and taken down some secret stairs into a cellar and thrown into a private party.
We’ve had Gucci – it was an honour to design a table for them. Then there’s the VIP area we host for Wilderness Festival each year…. I could go on!
And your wedding?
Well I’d have to say that was THE one. It was a whirlwind. Ten years together and then 16 weeks to plan a wedding. We decided very early on we didn’t want to have a sit-down dinner, so there was no wedding breakfast as such. We had a late ceremony at 5 o’clock on the lawn and went straight into the food. We had a "Grand Tour of Food", so each station was something we love: pasta, risotto, curry, Thai, Mexican and then an English take too. And then we decorated the house in a way it has never been done before. We had arches of flowers by Amie Bones inside combined with streamers, balloons, swags of streamers, tassles that I designed with the Bubblegum balloon girls….
Rumour has it Noel Gallagher and Kate Moss have hosted parties at Aynhoe – can you share any other names with us?
There are names that have been in the press and that people talk about, but what happens at Aynhoe, stays at Aynhoe. It’s the motto – it’s painted in the library and we would never change it.