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In Conversation with Nicky Dobree: The Unique Art of Designing Luxury Ski Chalets

January 15, 2024  · 
In Conversation with Nicky Dobree: The Unique Art of Designing Luxury Ski Chalets

Over the past 25 years, luxury ski accommodation has undergone a transformation. Ever increasingly, we are seeing the construction of chalets of a staggering size, decked out with enviable amenities. Every need appears to be catered for, from young to old, skier to non-skier. 

Ski-in/ski-out, cinema rooms, wellness areas and the like… if you can dream it, you’re sure to find it somewhere in The Alps.

A pioneering force at the forefront of this metamorphosis is Nicky Dobree, an innovative, award-winning interior designer. Dobree’s appearance on Grand Designs Abroad in 2003 chronicled her first chalet project and catapulted her to a stage of wide recognition. The renovation of a 300-year-old farmhouse - the stunning Ferme de Moudon in Les Gets - won Dobree well-deserved praise, with Grand Designs host Kevin MacCloud describing the chalet as “the ultimate James Bond pad”.

Reflecting on her work on Ferme de Moudon, Nicky Dobree underscored its enduring significance in the landscape of luxury ski chalets. “Ferme de Moudon opened the eyes of the world to what was possible and the dream of an ultimate lifestyle,” said Dobree. “It fuelled the imagination and became a desirable item for many.

“The uber-wealthy turned their attention from their super yachts to the possibility of also owning a super chalet. Demand for the ultimate ski haven rocketed and, as a result, the number of luxury ski chalets in the Alps has grown exponentially over the last 20 years."

The interior of the award-winning Etoile du Nord in Val d'Isere, France. 

The changes and trends in the luxury ski industry have helped inform Dobree’s own creative choices. “Gone are the days when the most important aspect of a chalet was ski-in/ski-out,” explained Dobree. “Chalets soon became about size and the number of amenities that you could fit in.

“The downside, however, is that they often lacked personality, a sense of rootedness, the feeling of a home away from home.”

“With our ever more discerning global and international clients, it has been important to adapt and evolve chalet design into comfortable, elegant, and timeless homes that are not just holiday homes but places that have the potential to be lived in all year around,” said Dobree.

This ideology manifests itself in all of Nicky Dobree’s work. From Ferme de Moudon to Petit Chamois, each and every chalet that Dobree designs is illustrative of her desire to create a mountain retreat that can be lived in, not merely holidayed in.

Finding Inspiration Within the Mountains

There is, in these properties, a masterful combination of the old and the new. Rustic alpine features live in harmony with modern touches, the warm brown tones of wooden panels complimented perfectly by light greys and gentle creams: a breath of fresh air that offsets the comforting traditionality of typical alpine materials.

“The joy of designing a chalet is that it is not a house like any other,” Dobree shared. “It is a refuge, an escape from the city, a place in which to commune with nature and the mountains. It is a way of living, made up of shared moments with family and friends.”

“The inspiration for a chalet’s design can come from anywhere, be it nature, fashion, art or travel. However, at its heart, a chalet should always be grounded by its location. It should reference its surroundings, and be inspired by its landscape.

The exterior of Ferme de Moudon in Spring. 

This belief greatly influences the materials Dobree uses, and some of the unique touches found in each of Dobree’s properties. “I try to embrace local ideas,” explained Dobree. “I work with local materials, and source local crafts and antiques to give the chalet a sense of place and support a connection with its location.”

Hand-in-hand with Dobree’s emphasis on the use of local materials is a cognisance of the environmental impact that her work can have – as in anything we do, whether we’re constructing a chalet or simply driving a car. Still, actions can be taken to mitigate the effects of such an impact, and this is something that Dobree is mindful of.

“I have always believed that you should design once and design well, which is what we did with Ferme de Moudon and what I endeavour to do with all my clients,” Dobree said. “Use quality materials that last. Source locally, learn from the traditional methods of building, and work with local craftsmen who understand the art of living and building in the mountains.”

Challenges and Considerations

Designing the interior of a chalet is no easy feat. In our fast-paced, continuously developing world, there is a whole host of unique challenges and important considerations one must bear in mind. Nicky Dobree tells us that these factors have each had an impact on the layout and design of the chalets in her portfolio. 

“From the outset, Ferme de Moudon was designed not only as a family home but as a home for guests and as a place for discrete service,” explained Dobree. “This influenced the layout, the areas back and front of house – on and off stage as we liked to think of it.”

“Discrete service is an art, and being able to deliver this to guests requires great thought and the study of time and motion. Who will be where at what time of day, morning activities versus tea time or entertaining, etcetera. The flow of the spaces, the layouts and the materials used are critical to the successful running of the chalet.”

Beyond the operational nature of chalets, there’s the question of how to imbue a space with a sense of homeliness when ‘home’ so often means different things to us all.

“Large-scale residential chalets that can be rented offer a unique challenge, as we often do not know the guests who will be living in the chalet,” said Dobree. “We must therefore create spaces that are versatile, yet retain a sense of familiarity and feel like home.

Etoile du Nord - East Wing in Val d'Isere, France

“Chalets are invariably places where large groups of family and friends gather on holiday. They will need a comfortable sitting room space in which they can all gather around a log fire, their own private bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms in which to retire, each offering privacy, warmth and a sense of belonging that allows guests to fully unwind and enjoy the comfort of their surroundings.”

Interiors have developed along with our wants, needs, and priorities. “Bathrooms are no longer a cubby hole, but a space of indulgence,” Dobree said. “Many chalets today will have a spa area too in which to unwind at the end of the day, equipped with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, massage room and gym. For the evening entertainment, there will usually be a cinema and games room too.

“Often the chalets are fully catered, so areas such as the kitchen need to be able to work commercially, and yet not be too unfriendly when using it yourself domestically."

50 Chalets Later…

Over twenty years have passed since the completion of Ferme de Moudon in 2003. Now, with fifty chalet’s worth of experience under her belt, Nicky Dobree has firmly cemented her position in the industry as that of a pioneer. 

Looking back on that first chalet project, is there anything Dobree would change? 

“In many ways, I would not change Ferme de Moudon at all,” shared Dobree. “I still pinch myself every time I go through the front door. It is a magical and very special place, and nothing has changed in the 25 years that we have owned it.”

“The joy of timber is that it ages gracefully, and the spaces still work as well for us today,” she continued. “It is our refuge in the woods with extraordinary views of nature, our happy place, a balance of tradition and modernity, community, and isolation.”

Ferme de Moudon and many of the chalets in Nicky Dobree’s portfolio are available to rent for the 23/24 ski season. You can explore the collection here.

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