• Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

From Russia with love: a couple design their dream house | Interiors

When husband-and-wife design duo Alexander Kozlov and Anastasia Blagodarnaya acquired a plot of land bordering a pine forest to the south of Moscow, she initially suggested they build a wooden house on it. “I said, ‘Never, never,’” recalls Kozlov. “When I’m in a traditional dacha, I don’t feel comfortable. I have the impression I’m going to be attacked by mosquitoes or something!”

He’s not much of a fan of nature either, in sharp contrast to Blagodarnaya, who cultivates a vegetable garden. “In the evenings, I go there to get herbs for the salad,” she says. She also loves wandering in the forest and hunting for mushrooms. “The surroundings are still very unspoilt, which is becoming more and more rare around Moscow. We don’t even have any paths in the forest.”

Work and play: the surprisingly peaceful landing-hallway office and studio space, and the spiral staircase leading to a toy-filled attic. Photograph: Stephan Julliard

The couple met in the mid-2000s at a design firm called Vozrozhdenie, which means “renaissance” in Russian. Its signature style was extremely classical and Kozlov (known to those close to him as Sacha) still remembers the very first project on which he worked – a 300sqm house in Moscow, replete with red velvet, gold and heavily decorated wallpapers. When he set up his own company in 2010, he continued on a similar traditional path. However, by the time he and Blagodarnaya came to build their own house on the forest property, he’d become eager to work in a more contemporary vein.

The result is very much a joint venture. “Sacha was the brain, I was the heart,” Blagodarnaya says. “Most of the decisions we made together. I trust him and his style 100{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb}. If he’s certain something will work, I know it will.” She dreamed of a home with large windows, flooded with natural light; he wanted no curtains and an open flow on the ground floor. The rest of the process was quite organic. “We did it step-by-step,” Kozlov says. “We did one thing, analysed it and then decided what to do next. It was quite different from working with clients, where you have to make a presentation at the beginning – then, if things change, people are not happy.”

The practical and luxurious master bathroom, with a tub to convert bath-haters.
Super soaker: the practical and luxurious master bathroom, with a tub to convert bath-haters. Photograph: Stephan Julliard

Kozlov originally thought of installing wood panelling, and decorative wallpapers in the bedrooms. “That was my classical background coming back to haunt me,” he laughs. “Each time, Nastia said no.” Instead, they agreed on all-white walls, concrete floors and sleek walnut millwork. Blagodarnaya compares the snaking bookshelves on either side of the fireplace in the living room to caterpillars.

Throughout, the look is fresh, graphic and dramatic. The entry hall is dominated by a striking zigzag-shaped staircase. “I didn’t want a banister; I wanted it to float,” says Blagodarnaya. It leads up to a landing, where Kozlov has installed his office. Current projects on his drawing board include a 600sqm multi-brand store in central Moscow, a minimalist lake house about 90 minutes away, and the renovation of a house in Dundee that dates back to 1831.

The house is full of bursts of vibrant colour, like these beds and the artworks in the childrens’ room.
Green dreams: the house is full of bursts of vibrant colour, like these beds and the artworks in the childrens’ room. Photograph: Stephan Julliard

“During the recent lockdown, I spent most of my time at my desk,” he says. “People may think there’s not much privacy as they imagine it’s like being in a hallway. But actually, our two young sons are in the playroom on the ground floor the whole time and there’s nobody up there.” The office also has a special meaning for Blagodarnaya. Some of the books on its shelves used to belong to her great-grandparents.

A concealed door in the middle leads to a guest bedroom, while a spiral staircase serves a space in the attic, which is used to house the boys’ train set and also for family Lego sessions (in the past, they have constructed a mini version of the Taj Mahal). To one side of the landing, the master bedroom is accessed via a super-chic walk-through dressing room with a pair of burnt-orange modernist slipper chairs; to the other is the boys’ room, dominated by a couple of neon signs above each bed. One lights up in red to read “Always Follow Your Dreams”; the other declares in blue that “The Future Is Now.”

Anastasia Blagodarnaya and Alexander Kozlov by their zigzagging modern staircase.
Anastasia Blagodarnaya and Alexander Kozlov by their zigzagging modern staircase. Photograph: Stephan Julliard

One space that was of particular importance was the master bathroom. “We wanted it not only to be practical, but also enjoyable,” Blagodarnaya says. Some elements of its decoration would not look out of place in a sitting room. To either side of the freestanding bathtub are two walnut niches, fitted with a pair of almost identical monotypes by Russian artist Tatiana Laponkina, and the space is also home to an armchair. The shower, meanwhile, is equipped with both sauna and hammam functions. “When I suggested having them, Sacha said he’d never use them, but he does,” Blagodarnaya laughs. “And before we moved to the house, he didn’t take baths. But now, he’s in there every weekend.”

The palette in the bathroom is distinctly low-key, but vibrant colours abound elsewhere in the home – the tomato-red amorphic chair in the office, the bright yellow painting in the living room and the adjacent multi-hued image of Hollywood Boulevard, taken in 2017 by the Australian-born photographer George Byrne. And both Kozlov and Blagodarnaya’s favourite objects in the house are equally striking in tone – the pair of emerald green sofas, designed by Vincent Van Duysen for Molteni. “I always dreamed of having green sofas,” she says. “It’s really my colour.” Yet, their appeal stretches beyond chromatic considerations. “They’re so deep they’re almost like beds,” she adds. “They’re perfect for taking a nap.”