When you think about traditional English stately homes, it usually brings to mind crumbling ceilings, leaking pipes and rugs ground down with a century or three’s worth of dust and spilt port. Aynhoe Park is anything but. Set amongst 250 acres of Capability Brown-designed Cotswolds countryside, the 17th century house has been restored by former music industry mogul James Perkins and his partner (in life and business) Sophie Taylor into an excitingly modern treasure trove of art and design that manages to remain sympathetic to the building's heritage.
Its rooms and spaces are audaciously decorated with finds from the couple’s travels, whimsical taxidermy, and one of the world’s largest plaster collections. It’s a uniquely characterful mix that has helped make Aynhoe a venue renowned for fantastical parties and weddings.
As we’re rather fond of weddings and eccentric interiors ourselves at Papier, we just had to collaborate with Sophie to transpose Aynhoe’s unparalleled taxidermy and plasterwork into an illustrated collection of personalised stationery and wedding invitations. Sophie chose artist Victoria FitzRoy to capture the spirit of Aynhoe Park and imbue the statues and sculptures of the house with their own fun, painted personality.
Here, Victoria and Sophie proclaim their love for Aynhoe and how they set about capturing its quirks for the new collection.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the house, Sophie?
Sophie: Aynhoe Park was originally built in 1615, but it has been rebuilt, remodelled and embellished many times since then. In 1707, the great architect Thomas Archer was instructed to enlarge the house and then Sir John Soane remodelled it in 1788. James bought Aynhoe in 2006, and was determined to restore the house. The glorious landscape it overlooks was designed by Capability Brown and we are still realising his vision today, having just added the white deer park to the parkland.
How would you describe the house now?
S: Just as the owners before us, we are improving and adding to the house; this year we launched our outside terrace area, perfect for alfresco dining but also now licensed for outside ceremonies. The nightclub in the basement has been extended to accommodate our own bar and wine cellar – for further late night dancing! Houses like Aynhoe were meant for entertaining and we (and others!) are enjoying the house as it was intended.
How did you decide on Victoria to illustrate the collection?
S: Choosing Victoria to illustrate the Aynhoe collection for Papier was very easy – I was just so lucky she said yes. I had admired her work from afar for a while and dreamed of working with her on the right project. Her illustrations are classical but with such personality.
Victoria, how did you feel when you first visited Aynhoe Park?
Victoria: Pure joy! It’s like stepping into a beautiful dream world in which your imagination can run wild. Colours, animals, feathers, beautiful design – what more could a girl want?!
What were your thoughts when Sophie asked you to illustrate the collection?
V: Excitement! I had been a fan of the house for a while. Romantic visions of me riding a zebra with sketchbook in hand quickly turned into hurried sketches to get all the initial ideas down. I also couldn’t wait to draw the flying giraffe!
Let’s talk about the taxidermy collection then. How did it start, Sophie?
S: We fill the house just as the owners before us did, with items that mean something to us – whether it be art, items from our travels, plaster, toys or taxidermy! Each item has its place and we like to give them their own personalities by adding the hats, glasses, clocks and even pearls. They take on a persona in this house and people know us because of them.
Which are your favourite taxidermy pieces?
S: I think the unicorn will always have a special place in my heart as it is the epitome of whimsical – we spent a lot of time perfecting her but I do love our zebra!
V: The unicorn! I am so drawn to this! Fantasy and childhood mixed with playfulness and magic.
How did you set about creating the designs?
V: I visited Sophie at Aynhoe for our first meeting and we straight away found we wanted two collections – an animal and a classical range. Double the opportunity to show the delights of Aynhoe off! Each room has a myriad of inspiration, so to start with we selected roughly what we thought would make a complimentary collection. I then went home and started sketching. I love drawing animals on safari so I had fun giving the taxidermy animals life. I love classics and research is key for any historical project. So lots of looking back at my classical notes and ploughing through old books with Aynhoe's plaster images.
What did you want to capture in your illustrations?
V: Beauty and happiness. So all things Aynhoe really! The plasterwork has this clean cream colour we really wanted to capture. It is an amazing collection of classical artwork which makes you feel like you are stepping back in time. I would love to live among these ancient beauties.
Would you be able to pick a favourite part of the house Sophie?
S: I can't pick just one part of the house that is my favourite – I love the seat at the foot of Hercules and the Soane staircase because the lighting is beautiful in the day and it’s a nice spot to pass people and to catch up with everyone in the house – and at night it’s great for people watching at parties! I am obsessed with the view: from every window of the house on the south side you can see the incredible Capability landscape that looks almost unreal – so perfectly stunning in the sun, like a painting.
It seems like Aynhoe parties and weddings are quite special. How would you describe them?
S: An Aynhoe event is whatever the hosts want it to be! We want the host to feel that this is their home for the weekend; they have full butler service and our events team are so wonderful they help and advise to make everything tailored to their wants! I love to see couples or those celebrating a special occasion adding their own personality to the house in the way of large floral installations or balloons. We've had everything from a festival wedding on the lawn to a Great Gatsby party with a big band and girls dancing in vintage Rolls on the turning circle.
What’s the most memorable party you’ve had there?
S: I can't answer that and specify only one – I think it's an honour anyone chooses Aynhoe to celebrate their special day or event!
If you're planning your own big day, take a tour of our new Aynhoe Park wedding invitation and stationery collection – it's a beautiful touch for wherever you're tying the knot.