‘This house is a family home,’ says Alexandra Tolstoy of the beautiful six-bedroom Chelsea residence she converted from two adjacent artists’ studios. ‘I wanted it to be really comfortable — not to be stilted and too formal.
‘Everything we’ve got I feel is in its own right very unusual and special.’
With the help of Emma Burns and Daniel Slowik of London’s longest established interior decorating firm, Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, the Anglo-Russian author and broadcaster created an interior that was warm, welcoming and a reflection of her unique sense of style.
‘I’ve entertained in this house a lot,’ Tolstoy tells Christie’s during our video shoot at Glebe Place earlier in the year. ‘I think it’s very important that your house reflects who you are.’
Tolstoy’s happy working relationship with Slowik dates back more than a decade. ‘I think I first met Daniel two days before giving birth to my first child,’ she muses. ‘I was living at Claridge’s, which is just around the corner from where Colefax & Fowler used to have their antiques shop. I wandered in and fell totally in love with all these amazing antiques.’
Soon after, Tolstoy — a distant relative of the novelist Leo Tolstoy — called on Slowik, who was then head of the firm’s antiques department, to transform what she describes as a ‘white shell’ into an ‘incredible home’. The pair soon enlisted Burns’ help.
‘If you have that rapport and that friendship, you can understand the living space,’ says Slowik. ‘Obviously there’s her Russian heritage, so we loved the idea of pattern and colour.’
In the property’s light, lofty rooms, vibrant contemporary pieces sit in happy juxtaposition with 19th-century works of art, fabulous curiosities and treasures from Tolstoy’s globetrotting adventures. Her 1999 trek along the Silk Road by horse and camel is perhaps the most documented.
‘It’s not even like I was that good at riding,’ recalls Tolstoy of the nine-month, 5,000-mile journey from Merv in Turkmenistan to Xi’an in China. ‘But an experience like that opens your mind. It was so enriching and fabulous.’
It was also life-changing: a book deal soon followed, as did a brief marriage to an Uzbek showjumper. Later, while living and working in Moscow, she met Sergei Pugachev, with whom she would have three children. Their relationship ended in 2015.
Since then Tolstoy has launched a number of projects, among them an online pre-loved fashion business and The Tolstoy Edit, an online platform where she shares her style secrets for the worlds of fashion, interiors and travel.
Tolstoy has also partnered with Ampersand Travel to curate boutique tours of Russia, and garnered a loyal following across her trio of Instagram accounts. Amid it all she has continued to build her collection of vintage pieces from all corners of the globe.
After nearly 11 years, however, Tolstoy is moving on from the home she has so lovingly put together, and is now offering some of its contents for sale at Christie’s. ‘I feel we’re moving to a new phase and that’s exciting,’ she says.
Among the treasures coming to auction are an impressive group of botanical prints (above) sourced by Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, and a pair of George Smart felt pictures (below) from around 1820 that once hung in the children’s bedroom.
‘Their bedroom was like a little world of its own, full of imagination and toys and pictures and books,’ she says. ‘Like a haven from the outside world.’
An eclectic selection of furniture and objets d’art will also be offered — everything from a trio of decorated and painted lidded jars from the mid-19th century to a mid-20th-century English oak and brass desk.
A highlight is a 19th-century Russian painted pine model, below, of the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius outside Moscow. ‘We’re Russian Orthodox, which is why we have a lot of icons,’ Tolstoy explains. ‘It’s a very visually stimulating religion.’
One of her favourite pieces to be offered at Christie’s is a 20th-century North American ‘rag rug’. ‘It’s the colours, the texture, the natural ageing of it,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s so original and different. It also serves as such a wonderful background — any colour works against it.’
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Of the dedicated Christie’s online sale she says, ‘I would love these pieces to go to people who really appreciate them and love them. Now, I can be creative in a totally different way.’
Alexandra Tolstoy: An Interior by Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler runs 4-25 November, Online