Alexandra Tolstoy’s exuberant and elegant Chelsea house for House & Garden

AAlexandra Tolstoy’s London house was originally a pair of artists’ studios. Now, with the help of designers from Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, she has filled it with antique furniture and patterned textiles   By Susan Crewe

It is not surprising that Alexandra Tolstoy would very much like to continue living in her home in Chelsea. Converted from two adjacent houses that were built as artists’ studios, the lofty, light-filled space is where she has raised her three young children and created an interior that is exuberant, elegant and welcoming. However, the future is uncertain on account of there being some dispute about who the house belongs to. Her former partner Sergei Pugachev – the father of Alexandra’s children – is an absent Russian oligarch whose assets have been seized, leaving her with something of a problem…

Two days before the birth of her first child, Alexis, now aged nine, Alexandra wandered into the showroom of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, which was then still in Brook Street. There she encountered Daniel Slowik, who was looking after the antiques side of the famous decorating firm and has since become one of its eight interior designers. The pair hit it off immediately and Alexandra credits Daniel with helping her source nearly all the furniture and objects in the house. Over the years, they have gone antique hunting together many times, and besides having a lot of fun, she says that she has learnt a lot from him. Daniel’s instinct for what will work is most evident in the double-height first-floor living room, where a long and narrow provincial Italian table stands under the studio’s windows beside a glass-fronted cupboard made from Scottish oak. Both pieces are huge, but they do not appear so, as they are in proportion to the tall room. Another device to mitigate the height is a group of 30 or so botanical prints, arranged in two rows around the walls of the mezzanine and, above them, a display of celadon vases on mismatched plinths…

“The luscious teal curtains in the hall have exquisite embroidered panels at their foot, which are taken from Ivan Bilibin’s early twentieth-century illustrations of Alexander Pushkin’s fairy tales…”

Although the walls of this house are pale and the sofas are covered with neutral linen, everything else is a rich medley of vibrant hues. Woven, appliquéd and embroidered cushions jostle in mounds, tapestry covers chairs, samplers hang on the walls and colourful rugs zing underfoot. There are ruby red lampshades and mossy green tiles in a bathroom. The luscious teal curtains in the hall have exquisite embroidered panels at their foot, which are taken from Ivan Bilibin’s early twentieth-century illustrations of Alexander Pushkin’s fairy tales…

This gives a hint of what a child-friendly home it is. Although the photographs here show rooms on their best behaviour, on the day of my visit, Alexandra’s bed has a collection of the children’s furry animals arranged on it. In the first-floor studio, which encompasses the open-plan kitchen, dining and informal seating area, there is a delicious cake on the table that Alexandra has baked and the floor is strewn with toys. The children’s bedroom itself, on the ground floor along with the entrance hall, playroom and more bedrooms, is full of charming things to engage young imaginations, but free of the whimsy and bad design that so often characterises nursery furniture…

For the full article see House & Garden .

Images: Simon Brown

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