The jewellery designer’s country retreat in Normandy, France is a refined play of rustic comforts and artistic endeavours. Usually a space for disconnect and recharge, the 150-year-old home has instead played host to Valérie’s studio for 2020
There are few among us who, if we’d had the chance, wouldn’t have wanted to spend the recent lockdown holed up at Valérie Messika’s French country retreat. Located deep in the woodlands of Normandy, the founder and creative director of luxury jeweller Messika Paris says this was the only place she could imagine hibernating during theglobal retreat.
“My father bought this house when I was a teenager,” reveals the jeweller as she speaks to MOJEH from the garden of her beautiful family home. “We didn’t know anything about the property’s previous owners, but we do know that the house is around 150 years old. When my father bought it, around 40 years ago, the exterior was completely covered in paint, which had been absorbed into the stones. The first thing he did was remove the paint to free the stones in order to give the house its soul back.”
Giving stones soul – be they the ones that cover her beloved country home, or those that became the focus of her career – is something the Messika family were born to do. Renovated in 2015 by Valérie and her friend and colleague, Sophie Reulet, the pair made some big aesthetic changes to the property at the beginning of the project. “It was truly a ‘four hands’ job,” laughs Valérie. “Sophie is a fabulous artist and a creative genius, so she really helped me shape what I had imagined.”
Despite its undeniable raw beauty, Valérie knew her plans would make the property shine even brighter. “There were red shutters and clay tiles all over the house,” she explains. “We wanted to create something far simpler, and more elegant, so we painted the walls in calm, neutral colours, and the wooden features black.” She also decided to replace the existing windows to bring more light into the building. “Light is a real obsession for me,” says the designer. “I think it came from my childhood. I used to look at my dad searching for light to look into diamonds, because in all diamonds, you have so many varied reflections of light. So light took centre stage in the design process of the house.”
Installing huge windows on every floor, Valérie imagined them more as picture frames than traditional window frames. “With the view of the outside, I have the sensation to see ‘photos’ of the beautiful landscapes on every wall, which of course, changes according to the weather or the perspective. I love this element of the house.”
Surrounded by sprawling gardens and woodland, the Messika country home is Valérie’s favoured bolthole when her busy schedule allows her to take some much-needed time off, and was the obvious choice of where she and her family would stay during the Covid-19 enforced lockdown. “When we were renovating, I wanted this house to be very comfortable and not too precious – the perfect place to live with children for a few weeks,” recalls the designer. “But this is the first time we’ve actually been here for such an extended period, because ordinarily we only ever come for weekends or holidays. It’s been a really grounding experience for us to spend so much time here.”
Oozing period charm and offering a vast amount of living space, Valérie’s innate laidback style is evident throughout the house. “I really love creating a minimalist space that is modern, pure and contemporary, with a touch of colour and art,” she says. “Although I don’t have one specific, preferred interiors style, the atmosphere here is warm, with a mix of ancient and modern pieces throughout.”
With soft cream, white or grey walls, simple wooden floors and those vast picture-frame windows looking out onto lush gardens and a lake with woodland beyond, the air of calm and elegance is palpable. “I am particularly sensitive with decoration and design. Since I was a child, my father raised my awareness for art and has taught me to recognise beautiful artistic pieces,” says Valérie of the inspiration behind the interior aesthetics. “For me, every decoration project has a history. I like to make moodboards to organise and create atmospheres, de ne colours and furniture. A little like Messika, each piece you’ll find in this house offers a form of modernity, but also a certain timelessness. They all represent something that lasts, and that has to last. But I didn’t want the interior design and furnishings here to be overly precious. The house has been designed to live in, just like my jewellery.”
Citing her favourite piece of furniture as the custom-made oak and metal table in the living room, Valérie admits buying pieces for her homes is a never-ending process. “I am constantly on the lookout for things!” she laughs. “I love to bargain hunt at the Saint Ouen flea market in Paris on Sundays. And since I travel a lot, if I have some free time when I’m abroad I like to shop for the house, because I always like to buy something unique to the country’s culture. Last time I was in Dubai, I bought a book about its architecture. I love collecting things that remind me of places – that’s really special to me.”
With artworks passed down by her father that include a stunning collection of African masks in the TV room, and some historic sculptures in the living room, while Valérie loves buying pieces from art fairs such as Miami and Basel, her most treasured piece is far more personal. “I have a portrait of the sculptor César Baldaccini in my bedroom, created by my dear friend Sophie,” she smiles. “I love César, and have so much respect for his talent as an artist. Sophie managed to give him such realistic facial expressions, so we can really, truly feel him. But it’s not just the aesthetic that I love. It’s special to me because it has such strong sentimental value.”
As far as her favourite room in the house goes, despite spending most of her time in the multipurpose living room or in the garden with her family, Valérie’s private bathroom is her sanctuary. “I just always feel so relaxed and comfortable in there,” she laughs. “Each of the walls has a window, so I really feel like I am outside, but I’m indoors. We’re lucky enough to be hidden in the middle of an incredible natural landscape. During spring, the fields have the most amazing colours, and it’s a joy to take a bath and enjoy the beauty of our surroundings as you soak in the tub.” But it’s not just the view that Valérie adores. “I also love the décor in there; it’s a contrast between ancient and modern style. I have painted an outline of gold around the windows to match my favourite gold mirror, which is an original piece from the house.”
Having spent so much time in the house during the coronavirus pandemic, while Valérie doesn’t usually work when she’s there, recent weeks have allowed the designer to be inspired by her surroundings. “I don’t generally work here, because this is where I come to disconnect and recharge my batteries. Saying that, sometimes the best ideas and inspirations come from being relaxed!” she laughs.
“Above all, this house represents time with the family and putting life on pause. You wake up on Saturday mornings with the chickens and the peacocks. My daughters are six and four, and everything becomes magical when seen through their eyes. I usually design jewellery when I’m on the move, but when I’m here, I allow myself to switch o , and open up to new ideas. You could say being here inspires me naturally – nothing is forced.”