Interiors & Design

Ski Chalet Chic: Redefining the Alpine Aesthetic

No one knows alpine style like the interior designer known as the Chalet Queen, who has taken après-ski interiors to dizzying new heights

“I will never forget installing a chalet by helicopter in an avalanche zone,” says interior designer Nicky Dobree nonchalantly. While lesser designers may balk at such a prospect, this is all in a day’s work for the so-called Chalet Queen. Dobree has been creating dream chalets across the French and Swiss Alps for two decades. She still returns to her first project—Ferme de Moudon—as often as she can. “It is our family hideaway, our escape from the city, our home away from home. It is where our children grew up, where we spend summer vacations, and many winter weeks skiing.”

There is something so magical about being in the mountains. You feel as if you can breathe again, you feel alive—Nicky Dobree

Portrait of designer Nicky Dobree wearing a white shirt against a white wall
Nicky Dobree, an award-winning interior designer, describes her style as “elegant and timeless”. She specialises in ski chalets, contemporary residential interiors, and hotel design.

Dobree describes how she retained the traditional Savoyard farmhouse aesthetic on the outside of Ferme de Moudon, while opening up the inside space for modern living, including creating two vast picture windows to allow light in. “We installed a contemporary Italian kitchen, mixing lacquer, colored glass, and wenge to sit against the backdrop of the traditional timbers. The furnishings are contemporary classics, too, with a dining table from Christian Liaigre and Italian sofas to sink into at the end of the day. We fused modern lines with traditional vernacular, and introduced contemporary details to timeless effect. In so doing we created a fresh new Alpine aesthetic and opened the eyes of the world to new possibilities in chalet design,” she says.

A great chalet should have a sense of place, be grounded by its location, embrace local ideas, celebrate the mountains, and frame the views so that the landscape is revealed at intervals through the space—Nicky Dobree

Unsurprisingly, many of the motifs Dobree incorporated into her own home are found in those she creates for others. “When designing a chalet, it is important to work with local materials such as timber and stone,” she says. “What types of materials these are and how they are used within the chalet to complement the space are key to how the interior will feel. Too much and it can feel oppressive, too little and it can feel bland.”

Wood panelled dining room with 12 blue chairs and chandelier lighting
This stunning wood panelled dining room, the perfect backdrop for entertaining, is in Nicky Dobree's Ferme de Moudon chalet, her first chalet renovation, and beloved family holiday home. Credit: Philip Vile

She adds that good lighting is key—“timber absorbs light”—and suggests that you should never underestimate how much storage you will need. “I think that a great chalet should have a sense of place, be grounded by its location, embrace local ideas, celebrate the mountains, and frame the views so that the landscape is revealed at intervals through the space.”

Of course, no chalet is complete without a roaring log fire. “For me there is nothing better on a winter’s night than to light a fire, watch the flames dance, listen to the crackle and pop of the logs, feel the warmth, and enjoy the smell of the fire. It is instantly welcoming and brings a chalet alive.”

Of the mountains, Dobree says, “They are the perfect escape from the mad rush of everyday life. There is something so magical about being in the mountains. You feel as if you can breathe again, you feel alive. Ever since I was a child, skiing has had a romantic elegance to it—the James Bond lifestyle, the adventures of exploration, the juxtaposition of cold winter nights and warm log fires, the log cabin, the art of living in the mountains. To be able to create a world for my clients that brings them all of that is pure magic.”

Spacious lounge with modern beams and contemporary open fireplace
In this impressive sitting room, the monolithic stone fireplace is the focal point surrounded by plenty of comfortable seating. The outdoors is ever present thanks to the large picture windows which frame the views. Credit: Philip Vile

Dobree grew up between Paris and Vietnam and briefly worked in publishing—“I got to travel the world, opening up markets, and being immersed in many varied cultures”—before training as an interior architect and designer, a career that worked better for her when she was bringing up her children.

While chalet design still remains at the heart of her business, “my style has evolved tremendously in 20 years, not only in the types of properties that we work on, but also the locations and countries, too. It is constantly evolving from chalets, townhouses, country homes, and Mediterranean villas to a recent boutique hotel in Andalucia, Spain. Each one requires a different aesthetic, yet they are all based on my founding principle of being grounded by their location and reflecting a style that is quietly elegant and timeless.”

Double bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and an open fireplace
A welcoming bedroom suite, designed by Nicky Dobree, featuring her signature style of timeless elegance and providing a restful sanctuary after a day on the slopes. Credit: Philip Vile

Looking ahead, to this fall and into 2023, Dobree describes a “busy schedule”, and says she will be working on interior design for chalets in Val D’Isère, Megève, and Villars, all in France, as well as a Hamptons-style house on the Sussex coast in the U.K., a London family house, a central London mews, and a villa in the South of France.

Dobree cites travel as a major inspiration for her interior design work. “The world is a source of myriad treasures and travel is a voracious source of inspiration for me,” she says, describing how Ideas could be sparked by “a doorknob, or a stately home, the curve of a wall, or the silhouette of a mountain, the color of the sea, or the pebbles on the beach.” Asked about a dream commission she replies, “It would be wonderful to design an African safari lodge. For me there is a synergy between chalets and lodges.”

Banner image: A chalet designed by Nicky Dobree. Credit: Philip Vile