Speaking with the charming and ever-chic high jeweler Walid Akkad is like a breath of fresh air. The subject of this discussion is not his gemstones but rather, his castle. Named the château d’Outrelaise, it is nestled in the Calvados, a French department located in Normandy. When asked why and when, he answers gently, “It’s all about falling in love. For love, for a person. That’s why this house. That was 27 years ago; a long time ago.” The castle stands at nearly 280 square meters and lies on a property of 33 hectares. The house itself was first constructed between 1584 and 1604 by Gaspard Le Marchant, a wealthy heir, who acquired the property in 1569. Work continued until the end of the 19th century and parts of it – like the central staircase and the main salon – are now protected as historic monuments. Akkad recalls that when it was acquired, it was in fair condition. The castle had never been abandoned but was in the same family for centuries and in the end, it was left to five sisters. “They didn’t get along and it was brown and dark and depressing,” he recounts.
The opposite is true today, with light-filled rooms and movable furniture – nothing heavy, either in color or design. With 51 rooms, of which 20 are bedrooms and seven are bathrooms, it is quite some feat to keep the house from feeling too big and grand. Yet, the interiors feel comfortable and easy. All the floors are original to the property, either in Pierre de Caen, which is a local limestone, or wooden parquet. There aren’t any carpets to weigh down the space and an abundance of white upholstery keeps everything fresh, simple, and pretty.
The property is approximately two hours from Paris, and Akkad returns to the city for a few days each week to work. His showroom is in Paris, but his creative studio is in the country. This is where he does everything – drawings and making the wax models. “My studio is in the main house, in the former chapel,” he shares. “The original owner, Le Marchant, had his private apartment in this part of the house. In the 19th century, they built a chapel in his apartment. We decided to return all this to the way it was, and it is now my studio.” Akkad’s fellow chatelain, the artist, decorator, and photographer Jean-Louis Mennesson, has his studio on the other side of the house, and they meet in the kitchen in the middle.
The château is kept warm with more than 20 fireplaces, which are scattered throughout, along with radiators, and indoor wooden shutters.
Akkad affirms, “We decided to live everywhere, throughout the entire house. Some of our friends have big houses and they live in just a few rooms, like an apartment. Not us. When friends come to stay for the weekend, we have every meal in a different room. We love it and the kitchen is the heart of the house.” Entertaining all year round, two dining tables can be set for 40 people each. “We also constantly change the colors on the walls depending on the celebrations at hand,” he shares. Most of the lighting is from built-in floor spots, as Akkad explains they are not keen on overhead lighting. There are, however, a few lanterns and hanging figures with old-fashioned light bulbs. During the day, rooms are flooded with natural light as there are no window treatments, adding to the open and airy feel throughout.
The jeweler smiles, “It’s quite social around here. In July, very much so. We always have people over. It’s a big, open house. More people in the summer of course and we have dinner outside and take walks around the park after the meal as it stays light out so late.” With regards to the antique furnishings, most were sourced at local vide greniers (vintage markets) on Saturday mornings. “We used to find such beautiful things, but sadly, not anymore.” The chatelain notably collects glass cider carafes, which are typical to the Normandy region.
Outside, the grounds feature a landscaped park, a river, wooded paths, and expansive views. The garden was first in the French style – manicured and geometric – and in the 19th century, it was transformed to the English style. Revealing one of his passions, Akkad notes, “I love to cook, so I have a vegetable garden, and a corner just with peonies, with more than 100 varieties, and one for roses.” In addition to the landscaped garden, there is a forest with deer. Akkad has a donkey he received as a birthday gift from a friend. Although very happy here, Akkad shares that they do consider moving. The castle and property demand constant attention and Akkad says he thinks about the house every day – there is always something to be done, a tree to be moved; and they don’t maintain a large staff. Akkad admits he does so many things himself, and can’t ever be away for very long.
When Akkad and Mennesson were searching for a place outside of Paris, one of the driving reasons behind finding a château was the desire to create a big home. “My family had a house, which was destroyed during the war and Jean- Louis also had a family farm in Picardy, but it was sold. We have now built our own childhood family house together. It’s a home, not a castle.”
Originally published in the September 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia