From Concept to Completion: Restoring a 19th-century house to create Plaza 18 (part one)

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    Hotel Designs has vowed to follow interior designer Nicky Dobree as she works towards opening the soulfully restored doors of Plaza 18. In the first article in the series, Hamish Kilburn exclusively catches up with Dobree to establish the plans for her first hotel project… 

    Up until now, Nicky Dobree has been known and celebrated for her talent in restoring luxury ski chalets, villas and contemporary residential interiors. In 2003, her first chalet conversion, a 300 year old alpine farmhouse, was followed by Grand Designs Abroad and described by presenter Kevin McCloud as the “ultimate James Bond pad” and in so doing set a new benchmark for chalet design. Moving on from 007’s ideal alpine bachelor estate, Dobree has recently turned her attention to the luxury hotel design scene – in particular to one building in Andalucía.

    Inspired by the classicism of a heritage building and the surrounding Spanish region of Andalucía, Plaza 18 has become one of the most anticipated openings this year. Set in the historic white town of Vejer de la Frontera (Vejer), featured on, the hotel which will shelter just six luxurious, individually designed bedrooms is the conversion of a listed 19th Century merchant’s house. The project, a collaboration between Dobree and Vejer’s principal hotel La Casa del Califa, is expected to turn one of Vejer’s landmark properties into one of the finest boutique hotels in Andalucía.

    “There will be comfort and elegance through every door.”

    The building, which dates from 1896 and stands on the foundations of an ancient 13th C Arab house, is being restored using entirely organic building materials including traditional lime-based mortars, wooden floors and natural stone and marble. “There will be comfort and elegance through every door, a place to feel at home, a place to re-connect and re-discover,” says Dobree who describes her first hotel project as a home hotel’. “There is no one dominant material,” adds Dobree. “I have retained the existing black and white Andalucian tiles and mixed them with timber and stone. Large black doors with bespoke feature brass handles open onto the six individual bedroom suites, each of which has been personally curated.”

    “There are many challenges, but over and above the planning constraints, the space is disproportionate.”

    With the design world watching, and with just six bedrooms to play with, this project has been quite something, “There are many challenges, but over and above the planning constraints, the space is disproportionate,” explains Dobree. “It has a huge central patio and elegant sweeping staircase leading to an amazing roof terrace that overlooks the castle with views across to Morocco. It has meant that we have had to be creative with planning the space for the individual guest suites.”

    I have come to the conclusion that hotels are only at the edge of the curve when they bravely break the mould of what is considered, at the time, as being conventional. It is therefore a relief to hear that Dobree is planning on ‘Breaking the rules’ – her words not mine – in order to create this timeless, luxury hotel. “I want to add layers of soft furnishings to create a home,” she explains. “But above all, I want the hotel to be true to its heritage and I want it to retain its soul.” To do this, Dobree has worked to retain and repair original features using local craftsmen to restore the glass ceiling, stairs, balustrade and even the wrought iron gate. “I see myself very much as a curator of the building whilst making it comfortable for living in today,” she adds.

    Quick-fire round

    Hamish Kilburn: What’s your favourite colour this season?
    Nicky Dobree: Burgundy

    HK: Where’s next on your travel bucket list?
    ND: Lebanon

    HK: What’s worse, bad lighting or bad wallpaper?
    ND: Bad lighting

    HK: What is one item you cannot travel without?
    ND: An Adaptor

    HK: Can you give us one easy way to brighten up your interiors?
    ND: With cushions

    HK: What’s the largest misconception about you? 
    NB: That I am an extrovert


    “As with everything, it is all about timing,” Dobree says when I question her as to why she has waited until now to commit herself to the venture and step into hotel design. “I have wanted to design a boutique hotel for a while and was fortunate when this opportunity arose that we were able to embrace it.”

    As I learn more about the awaited Andalucían jewel, I can’t help but wonder how similar this hotel will be from some of Dobree’s previous projects. “There are similarities, Plaza 18 is all about elegance and comfort, using the local vernacular in the design and celebrating the local culture,” Dobree explains. “It is what I endeavour to achieve in all my projects.”

    And with that, Dobree’s task continues as she prepares to enter a new design chapter in her already celebrated career.

    Hamish Kilburn / 08.01.2019


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