Few designers have the distinction of being luxury ski chalet specialists, but Nicky Dobree is one of them.
The London-based interior designer recently completed her 50th and largest chalet project to date, the Étoile du Nord, in the famed Val d’Isère ski region within the French Alps. The alpine compound, which recently won the World’s Best New Ski Chalet 2023 by the World Ski Awards, was a ten-year labor of love that was completed just last year. Dobree worked alongside And Architects to bring the owner’s vision to life.
More from Robb Report
The property is located in a small enclave called Petite Alaska, with stunning views of the mountains and town below. The two side-by-side chalets that comprise the compound are referred to as the East Wing and West Wing. While not available for sale, the privately owned chalet can be rented seasonally (and when the owner isn’t using it), either individually or together. The property also has a third, smaller chalet for staff.
“It’s more on the scale of a small hotel,” Dobree tells Robb Report. “It’s not a small home, but it still very much has that homey feel. The family gathers here with their friends to have special times, create memories, and enjoy their time in the mountains.”
The chalets that make up Étoile du Nord are immediately recognizable by their façades, which have a traditional pitched roofline and massive, 23-foot-high windows. Beautifully illuminated by night thanks to the large windows, each chalet is built with classic alpine materials (wood and stone) and finished with contemporary, clean-lined details. For example, each façade is clad in vertical timber fins that not only provide a dramatic design element but also help to control the internal temperatures and glare from the sun.
Dobree emphasizes that designing a second (or third or fourth) home, especially one that is also available as a vacation rental, is much different than designing a primary home. Striking the balance between universal taste, local flair, and the owner’s personal preferences can be challenging. The answer? Finding furnishings, textiles, and materials that offer a sense of familiarity and that feel like “home.”
“I have always believed that a good interior respects the important relationship between the environment and the architecture,” says Dobree. “When designing a chalet, it’s important to stay close to place to reflect the environment. We used local materials like timber and stone, which gives it grounding and gives it soul. It’s a slight twist on the traditional, as we treated the timber in a slightly more contemporary way. I think if you embrace locality and the local vernacular when you are designing and you mix that with modern elements, that’s when you get this wonderful balance of a project that is grounded in nature as it should be.”
The excitement starts from the moment you enter, which is via a dramatic stone tunnel. Similar in size and design, the East and West Wings are designed to be used together but can be separated for different groups. The homes are not exactly identical but are outfitted with similar furnishings, materials, and layouts that provide a relaxed sense of cohesion.
The East Wing spans 7,642 square feet and has seven bedrooms, including a bunk room, as well as oversized, light-filled living spaces, a modern kitchen, and a large dining area. The great room, located on the second floor, features high vaulted ceilings with 23-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the mountain landscape. There’s an ample seating area, wood-paneled walls, and a contemporary fireplace. Étoile du Nord’s unique branding—a star-inspired logo—can be seen on the bronze staircase.
The third floor houses the primary suite, which includes a hot tub on the terrace, while the first floor and lower levels contain the additional bedrooms. The first floor also houses a spa complex replete with a sleek hammam, sauna, massage room, relaxation area, and an indoor-outdoor swimming pool. Just outside is another hot tub, which is ideal on snowy winter nights. Elsewhere is a movie theater with a bar, a private ski and laundry room, a garage, and a professional catering kitchen for staff use. An elevator that connects each floor for easy access.
Meanwhile, the neighboring chalet—Étoile du Nord’s West Wing—spans 7,534 square feet and has an additional six bedrooms. Similar to the East Wing chalet, the great room has a large living space, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a fireplace. The bedrooms, while different in design, each offer incredible views over Val d’Isère’s stunning landscape. The West Wing’s primary bedroom also features a private hot tub.
“The bedrooms throughout the chalet are these wonderful, cozy retreats,” she says. “You have your own privacy with luxurious bedding and pillows. Everything in the bedrooms is bespoke.”
The additional bedrooms are on the first floor, along with another swimming pool, though this one is fully indoor, and another spa complex, which includes a hammam, sauna, and massage room. The West Wing’s lower ground floor also has a movie theater and a kid’s bunk room that’s complete with a whimsical, cloud-shaped chandelier, playful patterns, and a smattering of polar bear stuffed animals.
Each chalet has its own private ski room and an elevator that stops on all floors; they share a gym and the garage. A suspended walkway connects the homes.
“Each wing is separated by a large, but heavy door,” Dobree says. “You cross a glass bridge that goes over the swimming pool and links the two. What’s fabulous about the linking chalets is that it enables you to live in a lateral space rather than a vertical one, which most chalets are. When used together as one house, there’s a beautiful flow between the two spaces. You can have some very large house parties with lots of family and friends!”
The chalet, the largest in all of Val d’Isère, is available to rent for the current 2024 season and is fully staffed with a property manager, concierge service, a chef, a chauffeur, housekeeping services, and ski delivery services. Guests can also request, for an additional cost, private helicopter transfers, childcare, spa services, shopping excursions, party planning, and more. It’s just a three-minute drive or 10-minute walk to both the town center and ski lifts.
Val d’Isère is located at a high elevation compared to other French Alps ski destinations, meaning the winter recreation season lasts longer than most. The area is, however, breathtakingly beautiful at all times of year and offers plenty of outdoor activities during the spring, summer, and fall.
Click here to see more images of Étoile du Nord.
Best of Robb Report