It may look like your average incredibly charming Chelsea cottage, but Annoushka Ducas’s London house is SECRETLY an oh-so modern LA-style hacienda crash-pad. By Georgina Blackwell
We are in a secret nook of Chelsea: a storybook Georgian cottage accessed through an alleyway that in spring is thick with wisteria. The cottage is a sedate two-up two-down — until you get inside. Pass through the front door and the period exterior morphs into a sunny Los Angeles bolthole.
This is the London crash pad of Annoushka Ducas and her husband John Ayton, the founders of Links jewellers. You might be surprised to hear that Annoushka was a fish merchant in a former life. Her glamorous Russian mother Patricia died aged 52 and Annoushka inherited the family fish business, which supplied the likes of the Connaught, Harry’s Bar and Annabel’s. (Mark Birley was Annoushka’s godfather.) The story goes that Annoushka designed some fish cufflinks for her employees and sold the extras with such success that she just kept going. In 1990, she and John married and founded Links, with John tunning the business side. (After selling the business in 2006, Annoushka and John took time out before launching a new jewellery line, Annoushka, in 2009). The family’s main home, in Sussex, is a traditional country house, totally ‘mad’ with four children, dogs and all the inevitable clutter. ‘This place is the total reverse and I absolutely love it,’ says Annoushka, perched on a rust-coloured velvet sofa.
She first saw their London house four years ago but did not show it to John because it was too expensive. A year later it was still on the market, still singing to her. She couldn’t resist any longer. When they moved in, ‘it was very minimal,’ explains Annoushka. ‘Like a doctor’s waiting room.’ But the big sell was all the lateral space — soon harnessed for entertaining. She called in the services of Tino Zervudachi, Paris-based interior decorator and a childhood friend, whose clients include Nat Rothschild, Marie-Chan tal of Greece and Ivor Braka.
The design studio and shop are very close to the house, so Annoushka often gives rollicking dinners at home that serve as afterparties for her new jewellery launches. Light explodes into a modern annexe, a bright white box of brick and glass where you’ll find the kitchen, which is where all the fun happens. Sliding glass doors open onto the garden and, when Annoushka needs to fit in more people, she puts up a hot-pink Indian tent over the terrace. Last year, she and John hosted an Olympic-themed party, with ‘Come as your favourite Olympian’ fancy dress. Modern pentathlete Katy Livingston arrived armed with an air rifle and guests took shooting practice in the garden.
But the real wonder is the art. The house has enabled John and Annoushka to indulge their contemporary tastes. A Jo Barrett still-life hangs on the floor-to-ceiling glass wall and a triptych of a nude pressed up against glass climbs a wall. In the sitting room, a brightly coloured Craigie Aitchison portrait hangs on the Pollockesque gold-, bronze-and black-splattered wallpaper, which continues up the stairs. A pair of duelling bronze figures and a sculpture of three cows in a pile sit on side tables.
A Bouke de Vries installation in the kitchen is the real showstopper. The artist took Annoushka’s great-aunt’s collection of New Hall china and perched each piece on small Perspex shelves mounted on the wall. ‘People don’t display china in the traditional way any more, and I think this makes it really modern,’ says Annoushka.
Traditional and modern, mixed with a dash of madness and a whiff of wit. Just like the house itself.