English tradition meets Russian romanticism in Alexandra Tolstoy's London house

After having to leave her house in Chelsea, Alexandra Tolstoy has established a new base in London for her family and a workspace, which she has filled with furniture, textiles and folk-art pieces that celebrate her Russian heritage and travels in Central Asia

Supporting Alexandra was Emma Burns of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler: ‘She’s brilliant and has decorated all my houses with me – as well as a yacht. Here she helped, as a friend, with advice on paint colours. She also managed the cutting-down of all the curtains, originally designed by her for other windows. She adjusted so gracefully to my rather different budget.’

Unpacking was done in record time, thanks to Susanna Hammond of Sorted Living, who specialises in organisation and is described by Alexandra as ‘a godsend to a frazzled mother moving house’. Meanwhile, the antique dealer and framing specialist Benedict Foley worked with Alexandra on the hanging of paintings, textiles and more. ‘The children’s bedrooms were each an Aladdin’s Cave – it’s wonderful to see these old friends in a new light,’ she says.

This extraordinary collection, coupled with the abundance of pattern running riot over furniture and furnishings alike, is what gives the sense of being between the illustrated pages of a book of tales by Alexander Afanasyev or the Brothers Grimm. In the dining room, walls painted in ‘Pimlico Green’, by Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler for Fenwick & Tilbrook, provide a gingerbread backdrop to Orthodox icons and folk art. Chairs covered in Lewis & Wood’s ‘Joseph’ velvet contrast with a Luke Irwin rug and an antique Swedish painted cupboard.

In Alexandra’s bathroom, a 19th-century Russian commode inspired the wall stencils by Taruga Creaciones. In her bed-room, the antique bed, dressed in linen and fabric from Volga Linen and Robert Kime, is placed in the window to make space for a 20th-century Irish wardrobe and embroidered Uzbek coats, which recall the allure of the Central Asian steppes.

MAY WE SUGGEST: Alexandra Tolstoy's fairytale Oxfordshire cottage

‘At my Chelsea house, those coats were hidden away, along with painted furniture that I’ve collected since my twenties, which Sergei was not keen on. I feel that I’m able to be truer to myself in this house. We’re so happy,’ says Alexandra.

She has conjured magic from mettle, giving a masterclass in starting again, downsizing and decorating within the limits of a rental contract, while creating a beguiling home for her children full of treasures valued for reasons that do not relate to their cost. The best houses reflect the lives of those who live there; this is one of them.

The Tolstoy Edit: thetolstoyedit.com
Alexandra Tolstoy Travel: alexandratolstoy.co.uk