1 Designing the Perfect Ski Chalet With Nicky Dobree - The Battered Black Book

Designing the Perfect Ski Chalet With Nicky Dobree

By Anya Cooklin-Lofting

From exposed concrete to velvet-upholstered dining chairs, sleek fireplaces to rich, wooden panelling, Nicky Dobree’s portfolio of luxury ski chalets serves to prove that your home on the slopes can be as tailored to your tastes as your city pied a terre or your country pile. While Dobree has covetable experience working on a range of different projects, from villas to contemporary hotels, it is chalet life that has inspired her most.

This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dobree while she was on location in the Alps, orchestrating the seamless delivery of yet another luxurious ski chalet. We chatted all things chalet design, from the functional to the beautiful, so read on to discover Dobree’s tips and tricks to help make your piste-side property perfect.

What drew you to ski chalet design initially?

The joy of the mountains really changes your routine. You become so immersed in nature that it changes your day. It feels balanced and mindful, from the physical activity to the fresh air and the uninterrupted time spent with friends and family. It’s unsurprising that now, as people have negotiated more flexibility from their employers or are encouraging remote working as an employer themselves, they have begun spending more time in their ski properties, finding that the allure of the mountains beats the relentless thrum of city life. People have different priorities now, and there is a simplicity in living this way. Yes, ski chalets can be all-singing and all-dancing, but the implicit immersion in nature brings an unbeatable quietness and the luxury of discretion.

What are some of the aesthetic principles you work on when designing ski chalets? 

A more nuanced principle that I like to work on is that each chalet I design must have a sense of place. This often comes down to the materials we might use, including timber and stone. I like to let the local environment dictate the finishes we choose. 

Next, it’s time to add a sense of elegant composure, a timelessness that makes a chalet feel like home. This involves the introduction of layering up, from soft furnishings to art and lighting. I love the balance of the rough, earthy timers and stones with these elements, like patterned wallpapers and upholstery. 

On a broader note, I feel it’s important to invest in beautiful, high-quality, ethically made pieces in any property. It’s about building once, building well, and buying once, buying well. Working to this mantra, over my 20-year career, I have never had to replace anything in my clients’ homes.

How should you incorporate functionality into such a sleek and considered space?

Functionality is key, and environmental functionality is specifically important. Of course, you’re dealing with lots of snow around the peak season, so spacious boot rooms are crucial. When it comes to storage, it’s true that skiing is very much tied to the bulky, heavy equipment needed even at a basic level, so we often specify sleek, fitted cabinets for all the skiing paraphernalia. However, it would be the same for a house on the Mediterranean for a client who loves watersports, so ski chalets aren’t alone in these considerations.

I have always noticed the prominence of beautiful sitting rooms or lounge areas in your work – why are these spaces important?

The thing I love most about the living rooms I get to design in ski chalets is that they are often devoid of TVs. This kind of technology, from plasmas to game consoles, is relegated to darker, quieter spaces of ski chalets, from home cinemas to more modest entertainment rooms. Chalets are all about encouraging being together and lively conversation. I usually centre the living rooms I design on cosy-yet-imposing fireplaces, creating a warm environment in every sense of the term. This layout encourages loved ones to gather, treating these spaces as social hubs and hearts of the home. 

Any frequent client requests over the years? Home bars, cosy seating for informal dining, sound systems, lifts to the ground floors etc 

A good sound system, party rooms, home bars, cosy fireplaces and lifts are some of the most frequent requests I get when designing ski chalets. There is an enormous wellness element these days, too. A spa is no longer just a hot tub or a sauna, but a hammam or a massage suite.

We have also worked with clients on creating opportunities for different dining experiences within their chalets, including more casual set-ups for breakfast or quick lunches to exquisite rooms offering a semblance of private fine dining spaces in the world’s most luxurious restaurants and hotels. 

Dog showers are also becoming more popular. We install them in the ski rooms to ensure furry friends get a proper wash before they reenter the house after a day on the slopes or walking in the mountains.