Interior designer Nicky Dobree’s chalet in Les Gets won praise from the Grand Designs presenter, Kevin McCloud.
Nicky Dobree’s first chalet project was the restoration of her 300-year-old farmhouse, Ferme de Moudon, in Les Gets, France. Channel Four’s Grand Designs Abroad programme filmed the process and, after seeing the results, presenter Kevin McCloud called it ‘the ultimate James Bond pad’. It was a total game-changer, not just for her own career but in setting the benchmark for a new style of luxury chalet design. ‘Up until that point chalets had a very cookie-cutter image, all gingham curtains and hearts carved into the balcony,’ recalls London-based Dobree of the project 13 years ago. ‘What I did was create a whole new aesthetic that used alpine materials but mixed them with a modern, contemporary feel. It caught everyone’s imagination. Kitchens used to be poky and relegated to the back but I opened up the space so there was a living/kitchen/dining room with big views. Suddenly a chalet became a must-have for people with a certain lifestyle.’
Ferme de Moudon, which Dobree bought with her husband James as a retreat for them and their two boys Fabian and Felix, had no heating or hot water and was divided into a hay barn above and a cow shed and home for the farmer below. ‘For three years we slept in our thermals while deciding what to do and working with the local council to get planning permission. In the end, we designed it as two separate apartments that could be linked together.’ After appearing on the television show, requests snowballed and soon Dobree’s reputation as the go-to chalet designer was sealed. Today she has completed over 50 chalets in the most exclusive resorts from Whistler and Verbier to Klosters and Megève (she still owns Ferme de Moudon and uses it as a base when she is working on other chalets in the area).
Of course, Dobree doesn’t only design chalets: her current list of projects includes villas in Munich and Ibiza, a hotel in Spain and a Grade II-listed residential home in London. ‘I have such a variety of projects because once I work on a chalet, often a client will then ask me to do their home too.’ She says that she relishes working on different styles of architecture because that, together with the location of a property, are two of the biggest factors to take into account when creating a look. ‘Houses need to relate to their environment so the materials you use are key. In a chalet that means a lot of timber and stone; in a Georgian townhouse it will be working with period detail.’
Then there is the personality. ‘Every home should tell a story about the people living there and reflect what they love, be it a collection of treasures from their travels or their passion for art. For example, in our chalet, a lot of the story is South African because that’s partly where my husband is from, so lots of the objects we’ve picked up over the years echo that.’
Dobree spent her childhood in the far East and initially studied French and Italian at Bristol university before working in publishing. She then decided to retrain in interior architecture and design. After a stint at Taylor Howes design practice, she set up on her own in 1998. ‘I loved the idea of creating a home, perhaps that’s why I turned to interiors,’ she ponders. ‘Now I’m lucky enough to be able to create hundreds of homes all around the world, travelling and using my languages at the same time.’ And what’s the strangest request she’s had over the years? ‘A panic room in a house in Bratislava – that was a first.’
Nicky Dobree’s French chalet sparked our imaginations; whether you live in a snowy alpine resort or central London, the chalet look is hot this winter. Dobree’s look is cosy and classic and breaks the mould of a traditional lodge; her style crosses townhouse elegance with winter chic. Nicky Dobree has given Casafina her top tips for recreating her look at home with this exclusive Tastemaker collection, on offer for just four weeks.