Stuated in a quaint commune north of Paris, amidst the enchanting French countryside, is the charming home of Emirati Salama Khalfan. The founder of jewellery label Alezan by SK, inspired by equestrian heritage and exquisite craftsmanship, Salama’s home opens the door to her refined dream world – where beautiful interiors marry intricate jewels, art, cuisine and her fervent love of horse riding. A typical old style three-floor French country home made as a residence and for entertaining, as soon one enters they will confront a beautiful mosaic floor coloured in limestone beige with leaves in shades of teal and flowers in hues of peach. “The whole house, inside and out, has a feminine feel to it,” says Salama. “The colours are all pastel, from the bricks on the outside to the roof and the inside furnishings. The material that was used to build the house was done in shades of pastel, which for me was very attractive. Not only do I love these colours but they are like something that you see in a dream.”
Upon entering the house one will find a wooden staircase that goes upstairs, three main entrances to the dining and living rooms, and a smaller den. “It is really interesting because these three spaces are connected by hidden sliding walls so that you can separate them for more intimacy, but when you have a big dinner party you can open them up for one big space,” explains Salama. On the floor is Versailles Chevron parquet that creaks when one walks over it, giving a sense of the home’s history. The elongated windows soar up through the high ceilinged spaces and are cupped at the top with an attractive arch. “They are square-round – soft on the eye when you behold them.” For Salama, it was very important to renovate and decorate the home within the parametres of its original French design. “I did not want to take away from the spirit of the place,” she underlines.
The colour of the walls of the kitchen were inspired by Salama’s trip to Portofino in 2011. The upholstery of the chairs is toile de jouy, a typical French pattern. Salama built the fireplace and floor tiles from scratch
When Salama first visited the house the rooms where packed with different pieces of furniture from the eighties to the nineties. “I fell in love with it instantly from the outside,” she smiles. There were also a number of chairs and sofas grouped together that made the space look much smaller than it actually was. “I didn’t see the house for what it was; I saw the house for what it could be,” says Salama. “I looked at the structure and the materials – that is what mattered to me the most. It was one of 800 houses that I looked at all over France.” Salama notes that before she decided to buy the home in 2009, she needed to decide where and in which surroundings she wanted to spend her time. “I bought the house because I needed a place for myself and my horses for when we train.” The house is a few hours from Belgium and two hours and 45 minutes from Aachen, an equestrian capital in Germany. It’s also a four-hour drive to Knightsbridge and Sloane Street in central London, as well as Amsterdam. “It’s very convenient. I could go for a competition in the morning and come back in the evening without getting tired,” she says.
While there was much to be done, Salama knew that everything was workable. “I just could not wait until all of the pieces that were existing there were out so that I could have a blank canvas for the home’s original materials – wood flooring, walls and moulding on the ceiling – to work with.”
Salama with her son Mohamed
For one year she worked to redo and decorate the home. With just one domestic helper and her dog – “He was the only one who had a bed!” she exclaims – she set to work sleeping in the only room that had a carpet on it, using a blanket that she bought for a temporary mattress. For one week she lived like this while she waiting for her bed and other items to arrive from the Emirates. The other more authentic design pieces Salama would take time to buy in France. She and her helper cleaned the parquet with a type of wax and oil in circular motion. “We could have hired a cleaning company to do so, but I felt this was an important process for me to do in order to familiarise myself with the house.” Working on her home in this way was not only a physical process – it was meditative. “I learned, for example, how light entered into a room and what kind of colours I wanted to have and what was missing in it – all the little corners and elements,” she says, stressing the importance of knowing all the details of the home.
Salama with her horse Titdames seated on a chair from the antique market in Saint Ouen
The first room Salama fully decorated was the bedroom. “I selected a room with a specific view over the courtyard. I felt at home in the house, but emotionally home in this room.” Old wallpaper lined the walls, which Salama removed, and there is a quaint fireplace which she reopened. “In that first week I began ripping off the wallpaper from the walls,” she says. “I really wanted to see the house for what it was – it was like something from the movies. It was an action that was more emotional than physical – I was as if I was saying ‘I don’t want to delay you any further, I want to see you for what you are and for what I can create.’” Salama was trying to find the true being behind her home – a being that she worked to cultivate and nurture, transforming it into her very own. She did the same with the carpets – yanking them off the floors and throwing them out the window. “Only then could I see the room.”
The guest bedroom features a bed which Salama bought from the flea market
Salama’s days are calmer here. The countryside provides much respite from hectic city life and serves as inspiration for her creative work. “There is something about the countryside that puts us in a slower mode than what we are used to; no matter how much we want to slow down in the city, it’s in the countryside that I reset,” she muses, dreamily. “And that in itself it puts me in a state of reflection. I wake up early in the morning when I’m in this home – it is more of an independent approach to living rather than having everything ready for you.” She wakes up goes for a run in the countryside and breathes in the fresh air.
Salama brews her coffee on the fireplace in the Tack Room
It is also the perfect nest for her family, her husband Khalid and seven-month-old child Mohamed. An ex-racing driver, Khalid loves driving classic cars with Salama throughout the countryside. Now, one of her most cherished moments is when she is riding her horse and she looks back and catches sight of Khalid holding little Mohamed. “Sometimes,” says Salama, “It is the simplest things that make the most difference.”