The company evolved from one of the first department stores in Leith, opened more than 100 years ago.
Some 45 years ago, Jeff Laing started as the “curtain boy” in his family’s store, which by then was located in Lothian Road. When Jeff took over the business in the early noughties, he spotted a gap in the market for an interior design service and Alison Vance joined the company.
They became a husband-and-wife team and have since built up Jeffreys Interiors with a move to Stockbridge, where they developed a retail space, showrooms and a design service housed in a classic Georgian townhouse.
But the company changed hands this spring in a management buyout. Jo Aynsley and Georgina Fraser have taken on the roles of head of design and managing director, respectively. Both worked their way up through Jeffreys Interiors under the tutelage of Jeff and Alison, who have now retired but retain a separate business in Jeffreys Dunkeld.
Jo says: “The changeover has been seamless, we are not making any grand changes. Jeff and Alison created this wonderful brand and we want to carry it forward.”
Jo studied textiles at Edinburgh College of Art – her interest was sparked by her mother who is a quiltmaker – but wanted to apply her talents to interior design.
She explains: “In fourth year at college, I did a graphics course. I learned how to make a website and had a portfolio ready to go to get into the industry.
“I researched designers that I wanted to approach, but thought that the most they would be able to offer was shadowing a professional or a Saturday job just to get a foot in the door.”
But, after a chance meeting with Jeff, she impressed him with her portfolio. However, at the time, the only position that was open in the company was an interior design assistant to Alison, who preferred someone with experience.
Jo recalls: “Jeff fought my corner – it is now a running joke that it was the biggest argument they’d ever had – but I got the job. In the beginning, Alison was quite tough on me to make sure I could do the job, and I think that has absolutely been to my advantage. I learned a lot in a very short time.
“That was seven years ago, and from there it has been a natural progression from the bottom of the pile to completing my own projects.”
One of Jeffreys Interiors’ biggest projects of late was Yester House, a four-year restoration of an A-listed stately home in Gifford.
Alison led the design team, but Jo relished the experience of working alongside her and learning the craft. The clients, Nicola and Garreth Wood, remain friends. Indeed, Jo adopted one of their Yester-bred puppies during lockdown.
At the start of 2018, she was made head of design on Alison’s retirement and preparations started for the management buyout.
Plans were put on hold when Covid-19 hit, but the new team has now taken over.
Jo says: “It was natural – because Jeff was head of the business and Alison head of creative design – for us to take on those roles.
“Although Georgina is a very talented designer in her own right, she has an excellent grasp of business development while I am head of the creative side.”
Jo is 29, Georgina is 31 and they have 12 employees in total.
The new head of design says that typical projects grow over time. “People come to us with a couple of rooms to start with but, if we click, the process is fun and we end up with a whole house project.
“We get a lot of townhouses in Edinburgh, and I suppose if you have spent money on one room, the temptation is to go ahead and do the rest to the same standard. It is also easier to continue living in situ if you redesign one room at a time.”
A self-confessed maximalist, Jo uses vibrant colours and mixes modern style with traditional.
She says: “We are all well versed in creating what the client wants, rather than our own personal style. At the moment, I am working on a house in the Grange and the client loves [London design house] Sophie Paterson, which is neutral, cream-on-cream, but textured.
“Working on that is out of my comfort zone, but it looks so sophisticated. Different styles keeps the job interesting.”
Post-lockdown, Jeffreys Interiors’ designers are now splitting work between home and studio. The townhouse HQ on North West Circus Place has five display rooms, changed twice a year and customers can browse them on a Saturday.
The showroom reopened in April with just ten days notice, and it was a mad dash to get the Christmas displays still up replaced in time.
The design studio is busier than ever. Jo explains: “The main challenge was that all the projects were ready to go at the same time in May, as all the preparatory work had been done leading up to opening up. It is also a challenge to juggle trades, which are in high demand at the moment.”
The very buoyant housing market is bringing new clients, particularly those investing in Scottish property from abroad and the company is already fielding enquiries about the apartments in New Eidyn – the St James’ Quarter – due to be handed over next March.
Jo says: “People who have been at home for the last year have really worked out what changes they would like so we are getting lots of enquiries there too.
“But we are phenomenally lucky to be in this industry, and are certainly not complaining that we are busy when we look at other sectors who have been so badly affected.”
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