A rich palette and modern furniture and accessories give this family house in Saar its unique, vibrant quality
It’s always fascinating to visit cookie-cutter compound houses and find something unexpected and interesting. The house in which Valérie and Alexis Haessler and their children live is such a place. One of the popular so-called “Palace-type” villas in Saar, it is a traditional-style bungalow that the Haesslers have transformed with bold, moody paint shades and modern furniture into a vibrant and playful family home.
Valérie’s interest in sharp design is evident throughout. There are Eames-style rocking chairs here and a Magis puppy by Finnish designer Eero Aarnio there. She has replaced all the elaborate gilt chandeliers – “like something from Versailles” – with crisp, mostly white pendant lamps from Ikea. Even her plant choices are bold and graphic. An enormous rubber plant angles one limb out across the sitting area, and there are cactuses chosen precisely because they are sculptural.
Her wall paint selections are equally striking. The large hall is painted dark grey to give it a feeling of intimacy, while the wall of the dining area is rich, petrol blue. “My sister Juliette helped me choose the blue petrol colour,” Valérie says. “When we first looked at this house, it was like the United Colors of Benetton – purple, yellow and blue everywhere. I wanted to tone it down and simplify. Colours can evoke harmony and energy. The ones I selected here are not what I have at home in France, but they look good in the strong Bahrain light.”
References to their homeland are visible all over the house. Valérie has created her own Eiffel-inspired wall installation of photographs, and there are cheery French posters on the walls. There are other cultural influences, too – Alexis formerly lived in New York and Japan, and treasures found there, including a collection of antique Japanese dolls, have made the journey to Saar.
“In my life in France, I love to mix antique and modern pieces with things from abroad,” says Valérie. “When we came to Bahrain four years ago, we couldn’t bring everything with us. Most of it went into storage but each of us brought just one or two precious things. My elder son chose his pillows and Tintin posters, for example, and I brought my Magis puppy. We also brought one thing to remind us of our parents, siblings and close friends, but everything else we bought here.”
Besides Ikea, Valérie’s source book in Bahrain includes IDdesign and H&M Home, plus Capital Mall for baskets. Nevertheless, much of the house’s charm and personality come from Valérie herself. She found a pallet stamped “UAE” and had it made into a coffee table for the sitting room. In the kitchen, which has a graphic, retro feel, Valérie has covered the twee, dated tiles with French pictures and phrases. She painted the blue units grey-white and replaced the finicky knobs with simple black ones from Ikea. The simple, black and white table and chairs pull the room together.
As in the hall, grey forms the backdrop to the main bedroom, and there’s more colour in the children’s bedrooms – one has a wall in teal. A local carpenter made all the beds to Valérie’s designs. Outside, she and her husband followed the suggestion of a designer friend, François Lemaitre, with a starry web of fairy lights over the terrace. “We set two posts in concrete within two planters, and then strung 200 metres of fairy lights round the posts and across to the house,” she says. The lights overhang a wooden table and chairs and cuboid, colour-changing stools. It’s a quirky but appealing mix – not cookie-cutter in the least – and for Valérie, helps make this house a sanctuary.
“If my house is not good, I don’t feel good,” she says. “I love that it’s welcoming, a place to share happy moments with lots of kids and friends and family. It’s our happiness house.”
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