Marshall Dobry spent years as the ‘kitchen designer for the stars," and now he’s bringing his star-studded stories to Bellingham
|Marshall Dobry spent years designing kitchens for some of Hollywood’s most famous and influential players — but, along with his wife, was ready for a slower pace of life.|
Marshall Dobry has some stories to tell. The thing is, he’d rather hear yours.
“If a prospective client comes into the showroom, I want to hear their story,” he said. “Their story can be anything from their budget, to their personal needs, to their tastes. It really starts there.”
Dobry is a kitchen designer with a sleek-looking shop at the 12th Street Village in Fairhaven aptly called Kitchen Design Studio. He’s also a Hollywood transplant who has drawn up plans for the rich, famous and infamous.
Over the years, he said, he has worked on projects involving celebrities such as Robert Redford, Sting and Richard Pryor. At the heart of what makes Dobry tick, though, is designing kitchens — a passion he has had since he started three decades ago.
The man with the plans
As he walks around his studio, which officially opens early next month, he talks with ease about what makes a good kitchen — and his effort to do what he calls “lifestyle designs.”
“The first thing is to plan a good kitchen,” he said. “To figure out the layout that is right for each person.” The planning process involves asking the right questions, he said.
Where are you prepping food in the kitchen vs. cooking food? Where is the living room in relation to the kitchen? How big is the island? Will the kitchen be used everyday, or do you eat out most of the time? Is the kitchen an open kitchen? Dobry gathers all sorts of information from his customers to paint a picture of what they use the kitchen for.
“My background is architecture,” said Dobry, 62. “Because of that, I approach kitchen design as architecture — lifestyle architecture.”
After graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in architecture, he started working on kitchen design in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles, when a former design professor at USC, Paul Bailly, altered his architectural business to include kitchen design as a component.
“When he started the business, I worked for him — and I loved it.” Within three years, Dobry opened his own business in Los Angeles.
His old Hollywood showroom business — which he recently sold —was about two-to-three times bigger than his current, 800-square-foot showroom. But to Dobry, size and flashiness are not what is important in his industry: it all starts with functionality.
“Some people I do kitchens for, they don’t cook much,” he said. “They have nice kitchens. They are capable of doing things, but their lifestyle is such that they are not using their kitchens to prepare gourmet meals every day, all the time.”
Others, he said, use it more often so needs and designs would change accordingly.
“We want to design a kitchen for the way you live most of your life,” he said. Factors, such as orientation issues, appliances and spacing are all important, he said.
“I really think he’s one of the best,” said Bailly, who has been working as an architect since 1959 and owns an architectural firm in Los Angeles. “He brings together the two most necessary ingredients: design innovation and practical execution. He’s very detailed in his work, but it doesn’t wipe out innovation.”
Dobry’s showroom is both a showcase for his design style and the cabinetry products he encourages customers to use with his designs. He said he contracts with two cabinet manufacturers — a Toronto-based company and Hertco Kitchens LLC in Ferndale.
Caroline Poloni, the dealer manager with Hertco Kitchens, said she has worked with Dobry for the past six years, starting in California.
“He does some beautiful designs,” Poloni said. “He sets a high standard, both for design cabinetry products and for installation.”
“Designing a living kitchen is what it’s about,” Dobry said. “A kitchen that will live in your home the way you live. And there aren’t any real rules for that.”
Richard Pryor’s small island
Some of his clients don’t exactly play by the rules — at least outside the world of kitchen design. Dobry admits he doesn’t remember a lot about the celebrities he has dealt with — but he usually remembers their kitchens.
Many times, Dobry said, the celebrities wouldn’t even meet with him — home staff or celebrity associates would be his point of contact. This was especially true early in his career. As he got older and wiser, however, he realized the importance of direct communication — a philosophy he carries with him today for all his clients.
A good example of communication gone good was the late comedian Richard Pryor. Pryor’s personal background played a role in how his kitchen was designed, Dobry said — and only a personal meeting with Pryor could have given him this insight.
“I liked (Richard),” Dobry said. “He had some problems but he was a good guy.”
Before meeting with Pryor, Dobry drew up a preliminary design that included a large kitchen island.
“He didn’t like that I didn’t have (his table) in the kitchen,” said Dobry of Pryor’s wooden table, an old three-foot by three-foot square-shaped piece. “It kind of looked like something you might find at a New Orleans junk shop. It probably wouldn’t even be saved. It was not in great shape. (But) he didn’t want to fix it up.”
To Pryor, however, the table was important because it was his grandmother’s, and he wanted it included in the design.
“He wanted to leave it the way it was because he had very little continuity in his life,” Dobry said. “And this table obviously reminded him of his continuity. It was his grandmother’s breakfast table.”
Sting was another celebrity who liked face time. Dobry said he had one meeting with the celebrity’s home architect to discuss things before meeting with the performer.
“Sting was ready to have the meeting with us, and we weren’t quite finished with our meeting yet,” Dobry remembered. “We were sitting at a little table in the living room, and he came in.”
“He was really courteous. (He said), ‘You’re my guest. You guys do what you need to do. Just let me know.’ And he picks up his guitar and he’s sitting over there, literally on some stairs. It wasn’t a song I recognized. Maybe something he was working on, some licks. He was just playing there. And I thought that was kind of strange. Why wouldn’t he go into his own room? Why did he do that there? He wasn’t self-conscious at all.”
Originally, Sting didn’t want to meet with Dobry, but in the end he decided to.
“He was also one of those people who had originally told me to work with his (house staff),” Dobry said. “Sting did not cook, but the kitchen was an important room for him.”
He did Robert Redford’s kitchen, but never met with him. He said he also did work for a former Nobel Prize winner. In addition, his Los Angeles showroom was also host to many California personalities, although many didn’t turn into clients.
Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow. Former California governor Jerry Brown. And former O.J. Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro, who, “dragged his wife out (of the shop),” remembered Dobry, chuckling. “He literally took her by the arm and dragged her out. He didn’t want to spend any money.”
His first celebrity home belonged to Shirley MacLaine, who was selling it to Dobry’s client.
“I was that kid from (a small town) maybe. All of a sudden I was here in this star’s home and I saw the house exactly the way she lived in it. It was interesting because her kitchen had some money in the house,” he remembered. “You saw that here was somebody who could have what they wanted.”
Now, all these years later, Dobry is in Bellingham. His wife, singer/songwriter Diane Berglund, first bought property here in the late 1960s. In 2004, the two moved up here full time, just outside of Everson.
“We are terribly happy we made this change,” Berglund said. “We weren’t really concerned about the business aspect of the move … I would imagine anyone that wants to do kitchens will find him.”
Dobry said he is happy to be here, a million miles away from the limelight.
“I can’t think of anything I don’t like (about Bellingham). I like living out in the country. I don’t mind driving here,” he said. “I’m interested to see whether it works out. Because I’ve had people in the business here tell me that this is Bellingham, and we do it differently. But we’ll see.”