There is a paradox in world of luxury yachts. On the outside, they are sleek and modern but inside they are often all about classic design and traditional craftsmanship and materials. This is in contrast to their owners’ other possessions – multimillionaires tend to have houses with the latest in interior design and supercars with the most modern materials and technology. Their yachts, on the other hand, are often as traditional as it gets as far as interiors are concerned.
There are extremes, such as the designs of Gill Schmid, Otam and Sinot, as well as collaborations involving automotive companies like Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, but on the whole, the beautifully sculpted exteriors of most luxury yachts envelop a conservative interior.
Wanted spoke to Andy Lawrence, director of design at Princess Yachts in the UK, who says the market is full of yachts with interiors stuck in the 1980s and ‘90s. He says the reason for that is customers are often reserved and like the understated. This might seem a contradiction – after all, what is reserved about owning a multimillion-dollar luxury yacht? But you need to bear in mind that, for many owners, their yacht is a place of tranquility, a space to escape from the stresses of the world. Yes, there are some who live the party life on board but that’s not all you’ll see at the Monaco Grand Prix.
“We are all trying to figure out how to re-invent the industry,” says Lawrence. “There’s more of a Porsche approach to design. It’s about evolution. We are probably taking it two steps at a time now rather than just one step.”
Owners still appreciate the warmth and texture of traditional materials, with mid-tone oak and walnut the most popular for interiors. However, there is a move towards new ones. Lawrence and his team have been researching eco-friendly materials over the last few months. These could include those which are recycled, a move we are seeing in the luxury automotive industry, or vegan-friendly, such as faux leather.
Re-inventing materials is a challenge says Lawrence. Yacht customers don’t like to have changes thrust upon them and the same is true when it comes to technology. They might have massive smart televisions in their homes, colour-changing LED lighting and massaging seats in their cars but, Lawrence says, in-your-face technology is not appreciated in the world of luxury yachts.
Lighting is one area where things are changing but it’s about creating scene lighting, which highlights the craftsmanship in the interior, as well as providing ambience. Lawrence says they have introduced lighting that changes as you move through the cabin. For example, when you enter from the aft deck, the lighting is bright to ensure the interior doesn’t seem dark when you walk in from the sunlight. Move to the galley and it is dimmer. The lighting can be adjusted to suit the mood, from relaxed dining to entertaining.
“It’s important to keep the interior as calm, but as interesting, as possible,” Lawrence says. It is also vital to ensure a yacht has longevity, especially for those who will be looking to get millions back when they come to sell the vessel. He says interiors designed to match the specific style and needs of an owner can be difficult to sell.
Where does Lawrence see yacht design going? “It will evolve and keep evolving,” he says. “It will be tradition with a twist; doing clever things with joinery and upholstery.”
He would like to see designs that “break the mould”, though, adding that things can become formulaic, if you’re not careful. However, designers have to be cautious, changing one feature at a time to see how well it is accepted.
Again, there are exceptions. Gill Schmid’s recent design for a super-yacht to be built in Germany features traditional elements in its whisky bar and cigar lounge but much of the rest is about ultramodern living. There is a gym and a party space that can also be used as a garage to store your supercar. The ceilings contain LED projections to make passengers feel as if they are in a tropical rainforest or sipping a cocktail under a Caribbean sky. It’s all very modern – very hotel, if you like.
That design approach won’t appeal to everyone but this is the balancing act for yacht designers, particularly those who are not designing one-off commissions. While they are not exactly appealing to the masses, they know what their customers like and how to meet their needs.
It is gentle evolution in an industry that epitomises tranquility and escapism and nothing expresses those desirable commodities quite like the traditional craftsmanship of a luxury yacht.