Christie’s is putting up for auction 130 lots from the Chelsea townhouse of Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, designed by Daniel Slowik and Emma Burns from the renowned interior-design practice Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler.
The former presenter of BBC Horse People, Countess Tolstoy has led a life that reads like that of a heroine in the novels of her celebrated distant cousins Leo and Alexei Tolstoy. Married first to a penniless horse rider, she found herself catapulted into a life of luxury when she started a relationship, now ended, with Sergei Pugachev, once known as Putin’s ‘banker’, with whom she had three children.
The Chelsea townhouse, whose interiors are up for sale, was the couple’s London base from 2009 onwards. Converted from two artists’ studios – it was once home to Walter Sickert and Sir William Rothenstein – the residence is a wonderfully airy space that blends English and Russian features.
“I wanted to make it a real family home – formal and yet informal, with no areas where the children couldn’t go, but also spaces smart enough to entertain in a grown-up way,” says Countess Tolstoy. “I tried to attain a bohemian, eclectic feeling, and I also wanted to reflect my travels and love of Russia, as well as the English antiques that I grew up among.”
Quirky pieces such as a primitive model of Noah’s Ark, a Linley ‘chalkboard’ height ruler and a model of the Monastery of St Sergii in Russia are up for sale, alongside George Smart felt pictures, a large group of botanical prints and japanned furniture and lighting from Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler.
Also in the auction are pieces that have a special sentimental value to Countess Tolstoy, such as a pair of fronded white lamps. “I think they were the first gem I spotted when I originally went into the Colefax antique shop on Brook Street. I was due to give birth the next day and hadn’t even signed up to Glebe Place, but I bought them then and there!” she says.
But perhaps one of the most intriguing lots is the doll’s house from Chatsworth, which, although little used, was a well-loved purchase that once dominated the interiors. “I was wonderfully surprised to be having a girl after two boys,” says the Countess, “so I bought this for my daughter, Maria. I didn’t know that she would prove to be a huge tomboy and prefer to play bows and arrows with her brothers! In the end, we used the doll’s house to store the children’s Lego creations, but it was still a huge part of our lives – we saw it every time we entered the house and it was like an old friend.”
‘Alexandra Tolstoy: An Interior by Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler’ runs online at Christie’s until 25 November.
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