By Caroline Thorpe
If homes could take selfies, this one would be at it all day. As it is, it is left to the current owner, French celebrity hair stylist Frédéric Fekkai, to capture every angle of the elegant Provençal villa, which dates to the 17th century.
In one Instagram post, Fekkai, who has coiffed A-listers from Renée Zellweger to Hillary Clinton, gives a haircut in the garden saturated with what he calls the region’s “golden light”; in another, he harvests fistfuls of lavender from beds so full of the shrub you can almost smell it. Then there is the view from a bedroom window: a pleasing stretch of Cyprus and olive trees.
The five-bedroom home was not always so easy on the eye, admits Fekkai, who grew up 10 minutes from the property in the city of Aix-en-Provence. It took three years to transform the house, currently on the market for €11.5m, creating “a 17th-century soul with a contemporary space”.
Set within nearly 11 acres, the property was built as the hunting lodge of the neighbouring bastide — a weekend home for a duc. Changes were made in the 18th century, and in the 1940s and 50s, but when New York resident Fekkai bought it as a holiday home in 2010 the rooms, designed to insulate in the absence of heating and cooling systems, were still small and dark.
Three years of refurbishment followed during which many internal walls came down. “We wanted to make sure that when you came in, upon entering the property you could see through the house,” says Fekkai, who is selling as he now plans to spend the majority of his time in the US. “All the doors and windows communicate to the back [of the property], which is amazing because, usually, bastides are very dark.”
In achieving this he and his wife, entrepreneur Shirin von Wulffen, employed some innovative twists. When knocking through from the kitchen to the living room they installed floor-to-ceiling glass wine coolers on either side of the new doorway. “We saw [the same thing done] in an article in French Vogue, on a mega-yacht,” says Fekkai. “We called the architect but were put on a waiting list for another year, so we called [bespoke wine cabinet makers] Provintech and we designed it ourselves.”
Subsequent projects have included a new pool house, designed by von Wulffen and inspired by the colourful, open-fronted style of the late Mexican architect Luis Barragán, and a separate six-bedroom guest house. “The [whole] property was designed for entertaining,” says Fekkai. Guests have included US domestic goddess Martha Stewart, US opera singer Renée Fleming and — here Fekkai is discreet — “major Hollywood stars”.
“Everyone makes fun of us, they call this a B&B,” says Fekkai. “There are many places [where] you can have dinner or drinks. The pool house has its own kitchen and bathroom, and the design makes it so that it is always in the shade.”
Last year, though, the pandemic revealed a major flaw: “a painful internet connection, a punishment!” Despite a study-cum-library with custom, linden wood shelving, Fekkai says the woeful WiFi rendered the property unfit for sustained homeworking.
Happily, for the new owner, the property was connected to speedy fibre optic broadband in March. All the better for posting those photos.
Photography: Knight Frank