A sacred dialogue: The value of collectible design in the contemporary home

Anya Cooklin-Lofting | 29 Mar 2022


For interior designer, Nicky Dobree, collectible design brings uniqueness to her projects and a sense of connection to her clients

“I draw a distinction between art in the traditional sense and collectible design,” says interior designer Nicky Dobree, against a Zoom backdrop of books and lamps, arranged unfussily on simple, wooden shelves. “Art’s value is aesthetic and not entirely functional, while pieces of collectible design are individually crafted, generally unique and always functional.” It is the latter that we met to discuss; the process of discovering makers and galleries she loves, the courting period between her clients and her industry contacts, and the value that design collectibles lend to the homes in her portfolio and beyond.

Nicky Dobree 

For Dobree, whose interior design firm specialises in both residential and contemporary interiors and most famously, ski chalets, enjoying collectible design at home is about “living with and using these pieces every day.” For the designer, they are not for display purposes alone, but for a life of daily service and interaction. “There is a certain magnitude about the presence of something sourced from a gallery,” she says, “and while some clients want the piece to assimilate into the home environment, others want it to stand out on display. All the same, I want all my clients to embrace the piece, not be frightened of it. Its use always is implicit in its joy.”

Dobree’s emphasis on the unmitigated and unpretentious use of such rare, often highly prized items stretches their value beyond that of a piece of art or purely aesthetic thing. The way a piece is used defines its very essence in the home; its existence precedes its essence.  Although this cheerful anthropomorphism goes to misinterpret Sartre’s more general points about human freedom (clearly, the piece of furniture does not decide how it is used or how it is involved in its owner’s life), it serves as a rather intuitive interpretation of our very human approach to the special things we keep in our homes. 

Villa in Munich project

And special things they are indeed. “Collectible design has an elevating effect in any room, it’s so transforming,” Dobree says. “To buy a piece for myself, I have to be drawn to it emotionally and it must spark a dialogue, resonating beyond the aesthetic and the financial.” These pieces make her clients feel special, and apparently, “most of them are susceptible to this same feeling of discourse.”

We speak in terms of objects as living beings worthy of dialogue and connection. For Dobree, it’s essential that her clients feel this, too. She involves them early in the sourcing process and connects with them throughout the eventual purchase. “It’s part of the journey the client must go on, building their trust in me and the designer, increasing their interest in the piece and driving their emotional attachment,” she says. This is all part of Dobree’s wider vision for each of her clients to feel a deep affinity with their homes. They must know the stories behind each object Dobree sources and feel comfortable regaling visitors with their tales of workshops and materials.

Villa in Munich project

“I love to watch my clients engaging with collectible design items,” she says. A natural empath, Dobree notes their responses and is sensitive to what moves them while visiting galleries together. “I watch, listen and observe in the same way I would when working with clients on an entire interior. I’m looking for which pieces trigger emotional reactions,” she tells me, likening the process to shopping for future heirloom jewellery that will adorn your home instead of your body. 

Creating the atmosphere in which her clients feel completely comfortable and free to respond in the vulnerable and honest ways that they do is part of the experience of working with Dobree’s studio. “Chemistry and connection between me and my clients are crucial,” she tells me. “If, on first meeting, potential clients and I don’t connect, I don’t take the job on. The process is so collaborative so it’s important to establish a strong, trusting and friendly relationship from the beginning.”

Plaza 18 - Vejer, Andalucia project

In fact, relationships are the driving force behind so much of Dobree’s success. “My network of galleries, makers and artists is so important to me,” she says, noting how vital it is to work with galleries at the top of their game, “sourcing and vetting the most incredible pieces, and guaranteeing quality.” Underpinning her creative connections, she explains, is an “appreciation of similar aesthetics and values,” which is true of most interior designers that rely on galleries or contemporary design platforms. Alongside Artegian, Dobree tells me that Carpenters Workshop, The Invisible Collection and 1stDibs are amongst her most treasured. 

“When it comes to sourcing pieces on Artegian,” says Dobree, who sits on the platform’s advisory board, “there is so much to choose from and a wealth of makers involved.” Of her preferred design houses represented on the site, Aguirre Design comes out on top. The New York-based, family-run studio specialises in contemporary furniture that draws inspiration from the natural world and architectural minimalism. “The Malagana dining table is one of my favourites,” she says, “combining cast bronze and ebonized pine to create a hugely characterful piece.”

Malagana dining table by Aguirre Design

Another firm favourite of Dobree’s is Louise Liljencrantz K.F.K. Master Cabinetmakers. The Swedish designer conceptualises each piece of unique wooden furniture in her collection that is handcrafted by the master cabinetmakers at K.F.K Snickerier, or joiners, in Stockholm.

SKL01 Coffee Table by Liljencrantz Design

“In truth, though, I love it all,” says Dobree, who, although discerning, doesn’t discriminate. “I use lots of pieces of collectible design in my projects and I feel they lend so much value to each space.” It’s the vast diversity in shape and material that draws her in, and these pieces, such as Ingrid Donat’s textured bronze coffee tables for Carpenters Workshop or Nendo’s Farming Net lamps, “always drive compliments.”

TABLE TRIBAL by Ingrid Donat

There is also an undeniable moral consideration for Dobree when it comes to collecting. “The craftspeople behind these noteworthy, valuable pieces are highly skilled and very passionate,” she says, “so I feel a commitment to supporting them. They bring such uniqueness to our homes and its vital for our design community to promote and encourage innovation like this.”

In the same vein, Dobree advises we should all be buying once, buying well, and cultivating an appreciation for handcrafts, materials and the atmosphere we choose to create in our homes. In a closing statement, she tells me, “the presence of a piece of collectible design in a room says something about the person who put it there.” And I tend to agree. From the gallery that keeps you lingering a while to the piece you fall in love with, and from the light it catches in the morning to the way it seems to greet you in the evening, collectible design pieces certainly do say more than we might believe they do, even if only their owners partake in that sacred dialogue.