There is a strong sense of family history in Charlotte and Tom Gaisford’s home in Northumberland. It is the place where Tom was born and the house and farm have been in his family for several generations.
Furniture inherited from both sides of the family grace the rooms and Charlotte’s bold and bright textiles are evident throughout the house, which was once two cottages and a barn.
‘We moved here to Northumberland when our sons were born and long before I was a fabric designer,’ explains Charlotte. ‘Before that we had lived in Lancashire and then in France, but we decided we needed to be nearer to family.’
Following a period renting one of the houses on the estate, the couple decided to take on a longer-term project converting a barn and two adjoining cottages into a permanent home. ‘It was all a bit higgledy-piggledy so we had to figure out the best way to organise the space,’ she explains.
In the old cottage, characterful beams were left exposed, while in the barn the issue was how to break up the space without losing the sense of scale and the possibilities that offers. ‘Like most barns, it was quite narrow and there was a tendency for it to become a bit of a walkway,’ says Charlotte. ‘So we worked on creating corridors so you didn’t have to walk through the children’s playroom and such; we also moved the entrance to create a more practical entry point.’
The space now flows beautifully with the open-plan kitchen-diner and living area in what was once the barn, while the more formal rooms, such as the drawing room and bedrooms, are housed in the old cottage. The fireplace in the kitchen is new but is made from reclaimed stone including a gatepost repurposed for the lintel, the bolt holes still visible. ‘Oh my, that was so heavy,’ laughs Charlotte. ‘We had to drive a tractor into the room through the arched window to lift it up, and about six men shunted it into place.’
Charlotte not only designed and project managed the renovation, but she also rolled up her sleeves and did much of the painting and decorating too. ‘I figured if I had to be here to manage the trades, I might as well do it with brush in hand,’ she laughs.
Although the renovations took place before Charlotte launched her own fabric and wallpaper business in 2015, she has always had a good eye for design, as well as a nose for a bargain. ‘In the early days I bought ‘seconds’ from a heritage textile printer,’ she says, explaining that she put her money into getting curtains made up for every window in their home. ‘To be fair, I’ve slowly ‘unmade’ most of them and replaced them with my own fabric,’ she admits. ‘But it was still a good investment.’
Furniture has been perhaps more straightforward, with both Charlotte and Tom inheriting key pieces from family. ‘I do buy,’ she adds, ‘but I’m definitely traditional. I like things with a lot of character, and I like an eclectic mix.’
She looks for antiques and second-hand pieces, which she can reupholster with fabrics from her new collections. ‘People like to see the fabrics in a lifestyle setting and I like to try them out for myself and see exactly how they are working,’ she explains. ‘I would never bother to reupholster a new piece.’
Charlotte finds inspiration in quintessentially English designers, especially Vanessa Arbuthnott and Nina Campbell. ‘I love the way Vanessa Arbuthnott organises her collections. Her patterns are really appealing and her colour choices are often really quite daring, but somehow she gets away with it, and it all looks lovely and comfortable,’ she says.
The same could be said of Charlotte, who is quite daring in her approach to layering pattern and mixing things up. ‘Oh gosh,’ she laughs. ‘I think I counted how many patterns there were in the living room at one point and it was something like 17 different designs. Anyone who’s afraid of mixing pattern should come to my house!’
As well as plenty of pattern, each room is dotted with antiques. The grand piano belonged to Tom’s grandmother – it was her 21st birthday gift. While Charlotte inherited many pieces of sentimental value from her father. Her great-grandfather was the ambassador to Japan in Tokyo during the First World War, so there are some unusual Asian pieces in her collection. And a lovely royal link too: the display case in the kitchen is a touching homage to Charlotte’s family and includes an OBE given to her great- aunt, as well as a brooch her aunt gave to her grandmother.
‘My great- grandfather was based in Switzerland for a while and there is a sweet story of King George and Queen Mary coming for lunch and giving my great-aunt that little brooch. It really is very special.’ The couple are delighted to have a space that allows them to display such precious family treasures. And it’s clear that the scale and solidity of the house provide the perfect canvas for Charlotte’s creativity all year round.
But it really comes into its own at Christmas, when, true to form, she layers up the decorations, as well as the fabrics and trims, adding scent and texture into the mix with seasonal flowers and foliage. ‘We have made this house really work for us,’ she says. ‘I like the fact that the barn is a kitchen in one big room,’ says Charlotte. ‘It mirrors what I like most about living here in general – it is familiar and there is just this great sense of openness and freedom.’