Me and my home: Heart of the empire

Olivia Dawson checks out how Annoushka Ducas, designer of contemporary jewellery, added sparkle to a Georgian mansion
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The Independent Online

Annoushka Ducas, the founder and creative director of Links of London, lives in West Sussex with her husband, John Ayton and their four children, Marina, 11, Oliver, nine, Chloe, six, and Oscar, three

Annoushka Ducas, the founder and creative director of Links of London, lives in West Sussex with her husband, John Ayton and their four children, Marina, 11, Oliver, nine, Chloe, six, and Oscar, three

We have lived in West Sussex for the past seven years. We're two miles from the sea, which I love, and the Downs are on the other side. It has to be one of the most beautiful bits of England. We can go sailing, riding and walking the dogs on the beach. Before, we had been living half in London and half in Kent, which is where I was brought up. But it's much more beautiful here.

Densworth House is Georgian, set over three floors and standing in about 20 acres of land. We've been decorating on and off since we've been here. The people who were here before us had changed it all around and carved bathrooms out of bedrooms and yet there were no guest bedrooms at all, so it's a question of getting things back to their original state.

Some of the corridors had been taken out: we've put them back in because it allows better circulation around each floor. The design of these old houses were very clever in the way they allowed people to move around the house, and taking out the corridors had made it hard to get from front to the back without walking through rooms.

We started with the top of the house - because that was the most derelict - and began working our way down. The final bit of decorating will, we hope, be finished in time for Christmas. The decor is quite eclectic. It's not chintzy or anything easily categorised like that, and everything is done on quite a big scale. In the hallway, for example, there's a big 17th-century Italian desk with a bronze head on it, and a French, 6ft high, 18th century mirror. My grandfather, who was Russian, was a great collector of antiques, and we have a great many interesting pictures and pieces of furniture which were his.

The kitchen used to look like a farmhouse kitchen all in pine, which we hated. Now it looks quite contemporary, with glass cabinets which I designed. It's big and practical with thick teak worktops and it feels as if it has always been part of the house.

It is very much the hub of the house, though as a family, we tend to eat not in the kitchen but in the breakfast room, which is between the kitchen and the walled garden. In the summer, the doors are open from the kitchen right through to the garden, and everything seems to happen at this end of the house. The other end of the house is cosier. That's where the fireplaces are, so we spend more time in that part of the house in the winter months.

The big walled garden, which is off to one side of the house, has been a real project for us. Originally, it was a vegetable garden and it has had to be completely re-landscaped. It has an unusual feel to it -- it's on two levels with a gravel path around the outside. I designed it with a friend called Alastair Martin.

We started from scratch and brought in French gardeners and they have created fantastic walls and several different levels, with old bricks and limestone. It has a clever structure to it. I designed a fountain for the garden, which was a challenge, although I'm quite practical. We wanted a fountain because we wanted the noise of the water. The basin is seven or eight feet across and on the plate at the back, there is a pair of fish, entwined, which refers back to the time when I took over my mother's wet fish business, before I started Links. I needed to give the chefs who I worked with a Christmas present, so I designed a pair of fish cufflinks.

I had them made up abroad and had some spare, so I took them to Harvey Nichols, who loved them, but wanted a whole collection. At first, it was a bit of a laugh: suddenly, I was a jewellery designer. My drawing is not that terrific but I've always had a feel for design and enjoy working with a model maker.

When I left school I worked for Mark Birley, my godfather, and I learned a lot from him about design. He has tremendous taste and very good ideas, and always had a very firm view about the way things should look. From the very start of the business, I was keen to create shops where people felt comfortable to come into. At the time, other jewellery shops made you feel you had to whisper and not touch things. I wanted people to feel that the shops were somewhere they could feel at home.

Our newest store on Sloane Square is comfortable, practical and welcoming although quite contemporary - it's designed by Tino Zervudachi, a childhood friend, and international interior designer.

At the moment, I work three days a week - as the children get older they need me more - so now I have a team of four designers. I oversee the design as well as the look and the feel of the stores, and spend my time between the shops in the UK and abroad - I've just been in New York because we have a shop that's due to open in SoHo in October.

Links of London is still very much a family concern, although we now have a managing director, Gareth Morris, who came from the Richemont Group. I set the company up with my husband John, and it was his night-job for years, but he joined the company full-time six years ago. The children are very good about being photographed for the catalogue. They love showing off.

When I'm designing, I take inspiration from everything and anything, whether it's my surroundings or a car boot sale. The "Sweetie Bracelet" was inspired by those sweetie necklaces with dozens of small sweets strung on a piece of elastic, which you used to get when I was a child, and which you can still find.

This season's collections are inspired by nature, shells, leaves, objets trouvés. Whenever I get back home, I'm swamped by children and dogs (we have two dogs, a Labrador and a French bulldog). It's always nice to be home. It's a complete retreat.

Links of London have recently opened a flagship store in Sloane Square