URBANARA

Katya Shipster of Chalet de Soie

Ever daydreamed about doing a home renovation, only to shy away in fear of endless work and costly contractors? Rather than waiting to find an overpriced place in her local neighbourhood, London resident Katya Shipster set her sights on something much, much bigger for her first home renovation. Located in Morzine, this palatial chalet is close to one of Switzerland’s most popular ski areas and just a short flight away from London. For anyone plotting their own restoration project, let Katya and Darren’s chic chalet inspire you.

Renovating a simple home is a serious mission – what inspired you to renovate a chalet?

My husband Darren and I both live and work full time in London and have always rented our homes. Like most young professionals our age (32), we've been saving for many years to buy a place of our own. However, the property market in London has become ridiculously inflated in recent years, and for such tiny, grim, spaces.

Darren is interested in estate agency windows pretty much wherever we go – on a skiing holiday in Morzine he came back one morning with croissants and an impulse appointment to view a chalet that afternoon. Even before we went to see it, we definitely weren't expecting to buy it. That would be crazy! We spent an hour there, absorbing the bright orange pine cladding, the tiny galley kitchen, stepping over the huge dehumidifiers everywhere (drying out mass flooding after all the pipes had frozen and burst), and fell utterly in love with it and the potential it offered up.

The enormous, life altering challenge of taking on such a wreck to transform and bring back to life was really exciting and attractive. We’ve always wanted to do a big renovation at some point, but the plan was to do it later on in life. The other big life dream was to own a ski chalet when we were more settled and far older – we fast forwarded and combined both of those dreams instead of taking a more traditional life path.

we want our guests to have stayed somewhere that is even better than their home.

As this was your first renovation, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

It's been a dizzying and all-encompassing seven month process. The biggest challenge was definitely the language barrier. Most of the really difficult negotiations or practical arrangements were with tradesmen or professionals who didn't speak English so we had to forge on in French, come what may. The other massive challenge was doing the build at arm's length from London. We flew over to France most weekends during the renovation, but it was still not enough. We weren't there for some crucial moments, and many of the really stressful aspects of the build originated from being too far away, and this physical distance meant sourcing the correct items to be delivered on time or not being there in person to answer key questions and then make subsequent quick adjustment decisions that had further implications.

In terms of key renovation takeaways – one specific one is that we would recommend a clear electrical plan from the outset. A lot of our rooms changed size markedly through the renovation as we straightened walls and so on, and in some cases the lighting position had to be adjusted by as much as 10 centimetres, which is a big difference! Had we had something really clear from the outset, a lot of the stressful, confusing moments would have been averted. Another one is insulation, especially in an area susceptible to colder weather. It will pay dividends in years to come to keep heating bills down, as well as maintaining the building at a regular temperature in summer months.

Why Morzine? What do you like most about the location?

Morzine is astonishingly beautiful – the valley is stunning. After a fresh snowfall, just as the sun is coming up, there is genuinely no better place on earth. Second, it's as great in summer as it is in winter and there are such a huge variety of things to do here, from the usual famous winter sports to the summer activities such as horse riding, white water rafting, hiking, cycling, and swimming. Lake Geneva and the famous town of Evian is a half an hour drive from the chalet, and in the summer there are beaches to laze on. Third, it is a fantastically friendly and welcoming town, and there is a real sense of strong community.

How do you make your guests feel comfortable?

Our aim from the outset was to provide a holiday property that we would personally want to stay in as customers – to cover the basics with flair. Ultimately, we want our guests to have stayed somewhere that is even better than their home, which means that the holiday has been a real treat for everyone.

Everyone looks for Wi-Fi connectivity and a music system first off so they can bring some pieces of home with them on holiday. We also wanted to have a kitchen that had every possible detail provided for, even for real foodies with extremely high standards.

Linen was also a big priority for us – we’ve stayed in some gorgeous holiday places before that have used a centralised linen system, which then totally lets the property down, comfort wise. We knew we wanted really high end, luxurious linen for every guest, so that getting into bed after an active day skiing would be something to really look forward to. We’ve already had great feedback on the beautiful Lanton Bed Linen from URBANARA, and we’re still only early on in the season!

What is your secret interior tip?

Appropriate textiles and textures, especially in a property situated in a generally freezing climate. Real thought into how the different spaces are actually used, and therefore what would really enhance them in a sensorial way. All of our tactile textile elements complement the lighting design, as well as the interior décor, so that most of the senses are being stimulated in one way or another, contributing to the overall relaxation process.

What makes you feel at home?

An excellent night’s sleep, preferably in a comfortable bed. That’s when you know you’re truly relaxed.

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