In conversation with: Marta Nowicka founder of DOMstay

Marta is an unconventional property developer, preferring to describe herself as a property psychotherapist. Here she discusses her unusual business model and her love for an antique dining table

Please explain the DOMstay and DOMlive concepts? I came up with the name DOM in 2016, when staying at a stunning rental apartment in Warsaw, Poland where they rented individual rooms designed by different architects. They had a strong identity which reflected their brand and I realised that moment, as the designer and developer of 12 gorgeous homes, that I had a product with no branding.
DOM means ‘home’ in Polish and pertains to words like domestic, domus which perfectly describes our offer, which is then split into DOMstay, you can stay for a short time for a holiday or business and DOMlive, which are homes on long-term rentals.

We have four DOMstay properties, these are definitely the jewels in the crown which we offer for short stays, two in London and two in historic East Sussex. (Explore my favourite town in East Sussex with My Guide To Rye)

St John interior. A converted ambulance station from DOMstay
St John, a converted ambulance station in Rye

How much detail is included in the properties? Absolutely everything! A balanced curation for visual peace and harmony fused with ultimate practicality is found at each of the properties; designer furniture mixed in with vintage pieces, ceramics and impressive, original artworks from famous British artists like Bridge Riley, John Hoyland, Gavin Turk and Gillian Wearing. I also like to use objects found or reclaimed from the building process. So for example at St John in Rye, a former ambulance station, we have the original ambulance doors on the wall, making a stunning feature.

We have a fabulous book collection, yoga mats, smoothie makers, bath oils and Le Creuset cooking pans as each home is our home too so it’s exactly the luxurious way we like to live. 

We think of all the details for ultimate comfort and homeliness including our collectible branded umbrella and tote bags.

The Duplex, located in the heart of Clerkenwell

Do you live in any of your properties when they are not rented out? Absolutely – we do regular stays to check that all is ship shape and as we’d expect it to be. We’re constantly updating, maintaining and tweaking things at DOMstay to reflect trends and changes. After we have finished designing and building each property, we live in it – sometimes for years and then we move on to the next project to develop and share with our clients. So it’s a cycle of design, development, live or stay ….

What prompted you to rent out these houses rather than just sell them? These homes are so dear to me, that they are like a family. It takes a long time to find interesting properties to develop, then the planning process is challenging as all these properties were originally commercial buildings which I changed to residential. After which comes the build then the interiors and styling…. it’s a long engaging process as all projects as very site specific, unique and a real labour of love so to sell them would hurt.

Do you bring a certain handwriting to each property – what is your signature style? Yes indeed – I work with the context of the building and the location, so no cookie cutter approach here, every design is unique. The overriding signature is that it has to be well planned and spatial – maximising the use of space and natural light. I try to paint with light by using strategically positioned windows or openings, glass floors and skylights.

The material pallet has to be true to the construction, exposed brick, concrete or old plastered walls where historical wallpapers have made their imprint and this canvas is juxtaposed with minimal metal or wood work. 

The design is definitely minimal, with a textural twist which make the spaces warm and cosy. 

Warehouse property to rent from DOMstay
The Warehouse, a converted Edwardian building in Clerkenwell

You do not come across as the typical property developer – is this how you would describe yourself or do you prefer an alternative description? Exactly, I would never describe myself as a developer but more as a curator or a sculptor finding an old, disused object and re-identifying it into a new use for new life. Amusingly, somebody once said that I was like a psychotherapist for buildings, that I worked with the building to be a best possible new self. So perhaps I like that description or label, a building psychotherapist. 

What is your favourite possession? My most favourite and precious possession is one that has been in my life since I was three or four years old. It’s a medieval dining table from my childhood home when my parents were still together, I have very fond memories of us sitting around it sharing stories and good food.

It was then in my father’s architectural studio where I worked too and now it’s found a perfect home at our DOMstay Coastguard’s Cottage right next to the sea; it actually looks like a piece of washed up timber from the stormy sea. This table is steeped with happy memories, and like my DNA I could never part from it. 

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