The recently unveiled refurbishment and redesign of the Falcon Hotel, an old coaching inn on the Castle Ashby estate in Northamptonshire, tell the story of an impressively talented designer from works just over the Herefordshire border, and suggest a lifetime working in interiors.

Hereford Times: Jackie Blakey

But the designer responsible for the transformation, Jackie Blakey, of Leigh Sinton, is, in fact, a relative newcomer, having spent the majority of her career working for British Airways, where she managed teams responsible for the delivery of high-end customer service on both Concorde and the European operation.

Her life in the air though was counterpointed throughout by a passionate interest in interior design, a passion that led her to a range of courses on colour theory, upholstery, curtain making, technical drawing and other disciplines.

Then, after 21 years in the corporate world, Jackie decided it was time for a major career change, and enrolled at the KLC Design College to gain the qualification that would enable her to launch her design career.

"I finally decided that it was time to do it properly," she says.

"It was a very intensive, fast track course that made you more professional from an employment point of view."

Jackie's life changing decision paid off, and her first job was with the renowned furniture and accessories company OKA, where she joined the interior design team.

But having had the courage to leave one career already, after seven years Jackie began to think that perhaps it was time to take flight again ... this time to start her own company.

"I had been thinking about it for a year or two, wondering whether to make the break," she recalls, "and I did feel very nervous, having never run my own business, so it was a real challenge.

This train of thought and a happy bit of networking then serendipitously coincided with the commission for the Falcon Hotel.

"I had know Tracey (Lady Northampton) when we were both involved in providing counselling at British Airways and we had stayed in touch.

Hereford Times: Mark Brown Photo

"She and her husband had decided to restore the coaching inn on the estate, but were finding the design element challenging, and Tracey initially asked if I would go and have a look and offer some advice. I went, gave them a few ideas and left it at that."

It was while she was at another course at KLC – appropriately as it turned out in setting up your own practice – when she received a phone call offering her the job."

Looking back, Jackie credits her previous career and experience with giving her the courage and skills to take on a 22-bedroom hotel project. "So I went and had a look at it with different eyes, in more detail.

"I structured it and organised it so that I could work on the project as an independent designer, which meant that I became a designer/specifier, detailing the products and leaving the builders to procure them."

Jackie reveals that she approached the job in seven phases, and though you may not need as many in your own home, it's a trick that can be useful if you're tackling a major project in your home.

"The clients knew they wanted colour, and the design had to sit well with the Castle Ashby estate, so I took my inspiration from the history of the estate and the landscape – Capability Brown had designed the gardens, so I did a lot of research about him, and ultimately took the colours from the landscape as the main concept.

"I chose three colours – green, ochre and sienna – and used them in different ways throughout the whole hotel to create a line of synergy.

Hereford Times: Mark Brown Photo

"Everywhere you go you see these colours, but you see them translated in different ways – with black added, for example, in the dining room to create a darker, more intimate atmosphere, and with white added to create lighter iterations of the palette."

Hereford Times: Mark Brown Photo

"Our first priority was to find an interior designer who could turn it in to something very special and who could design an interior based on our ethos and theme of wellbeing and nature," said Lord and Lady Northampton as the hotel finally opened its doors post-lockdown.

"We knew Jackie was an interior designer who had worked for many years on large and interesting projects both in England and abroad.

"When we met her to discuss our project, we were impressed by her knowledge on colour and how the psychology of colour can influence interior design.

"In the two years that followed her appointment, Jackie worked tirelessly to source individual items and finishes to complement her creative ideas.

"She also introduced us to talented artists and contractors, the end result being an interior that flows beautifully throughout the hotel and that is focused on our passion for wellbeing and nature.

"The end result is more than we could have hoped for and everyone comments on what an amazing job she did.”

And it was to ensure that the wellbeing ethos the client wanted was central to the scheme that the colour palette was so carefully chosen.

Biophilia (a love of nature) is something Jackie finds herself increasingly drawn to.

The term was popularised in the 198s by American biologist Edward O Wilson, having observed how increasing rates of urbanisation were leading to a disconnection with the natural world.

Hereford Times: Mark Brown Photo

As a design ethos, biophilia contributes to a sense of wellbeing in interior spaces, and, naturally, green is a key colour. Jackie explains how to introduce a lot of this calming colour without overwhelming your interior.

“When you want to use a lot of green, creating a tone on tone effect with different greens can be very successful giving a harmonious feel to the room.

"This, combined with a different texture like brass hardware in a bathroom, along with adding a contrast colour such as white will give you a successful result.

"Not surprisingly, as green is the colour of plant life, it looks great with all tones of wood and natural stone in interiors helping to create a nature inspired restful setting.

"Adding white is a perfect complement and adding black helps to ground the scheme.

"There are lots of different greens, olive can be quite drab and lacking in vigour if it’s not lifted by a complementary colour such as dark rose pink or a mustard yellow.

"Emerald is difficult to use successfully due to it being harsh, where as greens that have a yellow undertone such as chartreuse can add an energising accent making the whole room ‘sing’.

"It’s also a colour that does not sit too well when placed close to our skin tone so avoid using green lamp shades on table lamps that are close to seating areas or green walls in bathrooms around strong lighting and mirrors.

"Styling with plants, foliage and flowers often adds the pop of needed colour or texture to space and gives it that final finishing touch that makes it accessible and welcoming.

"A number of studies have shown that an interior filled with plants has been beneficial to peoples wellbeing by reducing psychological stress and the presence of flowers having a notable effect on creativity and mood.

"One successful way to style is to create a grouping of plants in different ceramic containers or flowers in different glass bottles and showcase them in one area like the top of a console or down the centre of a dining table.

"You can also create a focal point on a kitchen island using foliage leaves and a natural stone container or again group with books and beautiful objects."

Reflecting on the completion of a project that faced the challenges of the pandemic and an opening date that was unclear, Jackie says that it is lovely to see it completed, open and being enjoyed by guests.

"And I have learned a lot doing it!"