Countess Alexandra Tolstoy (pictured), 47, has shared some items of significance in her Oxfordshire cottage
1. GLAZED LOOK
My big passion is decorating and interiors, and I’m definitely not a minimalist. I’ve got lots of English porcelain and Staffordshire china, and my English roots are as important as my Russian ones.
I had to sell most of our furniture from my old life with the father of my three children – Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev – because we lost our London home and he refused to help us. I even sold a Cartier diamond necklace to buy a second-hand Aga. It was painful at first, but we’ve moved on.
2. ART IMITATING LIFE
This was a magical gift from my friend Octavia, who paints as Mushy & The Maker. It’s a painting on glass, and she’s amalgamated everything about me and my life. I’m in Russian dress and my daughter is walking towards me outside the amazing showman’s wagon we used to own.
One of my sons is in a tree with a bow and arrow; the other is swinging from a rope. In the sky is the swan goose from my son Ivan’s favourite Russian fairytale. I love it – it brings together all our different worlds.
3. ONE STEPPE BEYOND
I bought this Uzbek coat in the bazaar in Samarkand the first time I rode the Silk Road in 1999. It’s maybe 100 years old. I went with three girlfriends and it was a huge adventure. I was 25 and had briefly worked as an investment broker but realised it wasn’t the job for me.
I hope to resurrect my travel business, escorting riding trips to Kyrgyzstan – it’s so beautiful there with meadows of wild flowers and the world’s largest walnut forest.
4. IN STITCHES
This tapestry has been my lockdown project. Lockdown made life in the cottage very special, being cosy together with my children Alexei, 12, Ivan, ten, and Maria who’s now nine, playing cards and games together.
I’ve also been running my online business, The Tolstoy Edit, sharing my interiors style inspired by my Russian heritage and my travels, including selling beautiful quilts and Eastern European hand-painted furniture.
5. RESCUING RUSSIA
Children in every tiny Russian village have these dolls. I’m sad I haven’t been able to visit Russia this past year. It would be too much upheaval to go back and live there with the children, but maybe one day…
There are so many abandoned, beautiful old houses and estates there but they don’t have anything like our National Trust, so my dream would be to organise some kind of fund to save them.
6. INK IN OUR VEINS
I am distantly related to the author Leo Tolstoy, and this lovely painting of Cossacks around a campfire reminds me of my favourite of his novels, The Cossacks. My historian father Nikolai put huge emphasis on literature.
Tolstoy wrote lots of stories for children, and my father’s stepfather was Patrick O’Brian, best known for his historical seafaring novels, but who also wrote Beasts Royal, a book of animal tales that my children loved having read to them.