Portrait © Cristian Barnett
Annabel Astor, the well-connected co-founder and CEO of home furnishings retailer OKA, came up with the idea for the company when she was in her late 40s and looking for a fresh challenge after her children had grown up.
It was her second business after her successful jewellery shop Annabel Jones, which she set up in Knightsbridge in 1967. She was also a consultant for Smythson of Bond Street, a role she passed on to her daughter Samantha – the wife of the former Prime Minister David Cameron – in the 90s. Samantha is the eldest of her two children from her first marriage. Her title is from her second marriage to the 4th Viscount William Astor. Annabel now runs OKA, which has 14 stores across the country, with partners Sue Jones and Lucinda Waterhouse. Clients include Judy Dench, Eddie Redmayne and the Duchess of Cambridge. She divides her time between London and country life in Oxfordshire.
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What inspired you to set up the company?
The idea for OKA came when I was trying to decorate a house in Vero Beach, Florida, in a very limited timescale and found myself really struggling to find what I wanted. It became obvious that there was a gap for beautifully made, well-priced furniture and accessories.
What makes a house a home?
I think it’s all the personal things that you put in it, whether on your travels or closer to home. Those are the things that have memories and which reflect your personality.
Is it possible to have a truly exquisite home without fabulous heirloom pieces?
Absolutely! My house is full of pieces that I’ve collected over time, things that I’ve seen and loved – whether from junk shops or antique markets or designers. If you love antiques then there’s no better time to be buying, as ‘brown’ furniture seems to have fallen out of fashion, so if you hunt there are still bargains to be found.
Where are you favourite places to shop?
One of my favourite places to go when in France is the Sunday Clignacourt flea market in Paris, which has fantastic furniture and wonderful antique linens.
Do you have many items from OKA in your own home?
Everything that we sell has been designed or selected by us and I love each and every piece, so yes, you will find many OKA pieces in my home.
Do you have a favourite room at home in the country?
My favourite room is my library at home. It’s quite a big room and the decoration is fairly traditional. The walls are lined with books and it’s divided up into several sitting areas so that you can have small groups of people each doing different things – playing cards or talking or reading, for example. It is a calm and relaxing place.
What is the first thing you consider when deciding how to decorate a room?
Before starting look at the bare bones of the architecture of the room. How that space will be used and lived in is crucial – a beautiful but impractical room sometimes ends up just not being used.
In your opinion, what single thing has the power to transform a room?
I think lighting is very important as it can have such an impact on the mood and it’s something that should be considered from the outset. I think it’s particularly important to get light into the corners of a room.
Do you have a favourite interior designer?
Historically I have huge admiration for John Fowler, I would love to have met him.