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Floating the Furniture & Other Super Yacht Essays Ripples and tides in mega yacht interiors by Louis Postel. First published in Showboats International 2011 editions.

FLOATING THE FURNITURE

F

armer’s Wife: Rabbi, our cottage is too small. I’m going crazy. You have to help me! I can’t turn around without knocking something over. Rabbi: I will tell you what to do. Take all your chickens and put them in the cottage.

Farmer’s Wife: What? Take all my chickens and put them in the cottage? Rabbi: Yes now go.


Farmer’s Wife: Rabbi, I did just as you said. I put all the chickens inside. But now it’s even worse. Rabbi: Now put in all your goats. Housewife: I did just as you said. I put in all the goats and now it’s truly unbearable. Rabbi: And your cows and horses! Housewife: Rabbi – that was the last straw. I’m going to go insane! Rabbi: Ok – now go home and take out all the livestock. Housewife (returning): O, Rabbi, bless you. I did as you commanded: I took out all the livestock. What a miracle. We have more space than we could ever have imagined. Spaciousness at sea is much like spaciousness on land. It’s a feeling, an experience; not measurable in square footage. When we’re feeling cramped it’s a good thing. When we’re feeling isolated and disconnected a football field of interior space can feel vacuous. At that point we seek out a small, intimate space which makes us feel more at home. The challenge for designers of mega yachts is to make what feels too small feel bigger and vice versa without resorting to the rabbi’s drastic measures. Though the latest floating palaces have increased dramatically in size, it would be an exercise in masochism to compare even the largest M/Y aftedecks and salons to living spaces on land. The new 46,000 square foot neoclassic “cottages” going up in Beverly Hills dwarf everything around them except the local Costco. While ascending either of Calliope’s twin spiral staircases it’s possible to lose oneself in the vastness of open sea and sky, the fact remains that the standard measure on M/Y overheads of about eight feet prevails. To that one must inevitably return. With many an owner over six feet and growing every generation, the day may come when heads collide. “In the end it’s all a matter of comfort,” says Manhattan-based architect David Easton. Easton is best known by the interior’s he’s designed for Sumner Redstone, Patricia Kluge, Sid and Mercedes Bass and other billionaires. Now, in partnership with Hoek Design, Easton is winning equal fame for the M/Y Marie’s interiors, a 55’ Vitters sailing yacht launched last year. “The key to making a small space large is not only a sense of scale. It’s giving that scale a sense of excitement,” says Easton. “Soften the upholstery fabrics so they blend in with the surrounding walls. I prefer neutrals. They’re less jarring to the eye.” Too many jarring contrasts and interruptions make a small space cramped, Easton explained. But a few strategic breaches on Marie do catch the eye, contributing to the excitement. “Colorful paintings and pillows provide the accents. Mirrors on side panels bring the outside in, expanding the space. Think of the furniture pieces as sculpture. When they’re resting directly on the floor they will feel heavy. You can get them to ‘float’ by putting them on legs. Let air surround them. A blue-tinted ceiling


enhances the ‘float’ upwards. Eighteen inches is the usual seating height. Scaling furniture back to seventeen inches high makes a big difference, though not noticeable. “Marie’s anigre wood walls are a light, warm color blending in with the floating of the ceiling, and even the floors. However, none of the colors are an exact match. We also pushed the deck open at one point to alleviate the ceilings being low at all points. In the salon you can look up into that heightened space. And downstairs it looks double height.” “Most furniture is over-sized these days,” adds Newport designer Candace Langam. “On the Calliope, the owner’s wife and I ordered custom pieces scaled back to standard size and that worked.” She, like Easton used lighter colors combined with light carpets and lots of natural light. And just as mirrors expand the apparent size of the room, reflecting the outside in, Langam used high gloss reflective finishes to add light. In concert with those mirror-like effects, Calliope’s paired spiral staircases serve as lightwells through all three decks. They were designed by Langam’s late husband, the celebrated naval architect Bill Langam. Interior designer Glade Johnson based in Bellevue, Washington had the perfect solution for low ceilings on board the largest yacht ever launched or re-launched in North America. “We got rid of the walls as much as we could,” said Johnson of the 100m Attessa IV. “But this takes a lot of planning with the shipyard. Not only to use glass, but to make the glass itself disappear. Not every yard likes doing this. But they need to create a channel to hold the glass built right into the superstructure. It’s installed before the floor is installed. Once the glass is secure at the bottom of the bulwark, the floor plane seems to pass right through to the outside. Burying LED lights in the side combing and bulwarks allows this extending effect to be equally dramatic at night. And with granite or some similar material on the deck as well as bordering the interior space that wall-free, expansive feeling is multiplied once more. The only thing left to consider is the safety issue of people walking into glass which can be solved by etching.” “If you stand on one deck of the Attessa IV, you can see through the glass foyer to the handrail and port lights on the other side. Beyond that there’s the horizon. If you were to look down at the boat plan, you would see that the foyer glass enclosing the spiral staircase actually bulges inward, not outward. This alone added two and ½ feet of deck space. But at the same time the glass had the effect of making the interior volume feel larger. There are only a few places in the world that can make this curving glass, thick and strong enough to meet Lloyd’s rules. The folks with this kind of high technology first heat the glass then drape it into a curved mold. The rejection rate is very high. It really needs to be perfect: clear without waves or distortion, especially around the edges where the glass gets clamped. We framed the glass out with stainless steel panels. Glass walls are just one way to extend space. There are many others. For example, mirrors running all the way to the ceiling cause that ceiling to feel like it’s continuing ad infinitum. Frame the same mirror and it stops. Mirrors from ceiling all the way to the floor have the effect of expanding the entire room into the next,” said Johnson. Still, how do rooms in today’s flotilla of floating palaces ultimately compare to the behemoths on land? Will they always feel like the over-crowded cottage of the poor farmer’s wife, despite the creativity and


genius of the world’s top designers? Or is there some other measure of living large? As David Easton pointed out – it’s a matter of scale. Scale is how one thing relates to another: at sea as well as on land. Get those relationships right and you feel good. Get them wrong and the feeling’s truly awful, though difficult to know why.

Fish Leather, Anyone? Some of you are probably familiar with Pete’s Coffee Shop in Harvard Square. And if you are, you’ll surely recognize our hero: gangly, slight of build, a composite of windblown sailor and perpetual grad student. He’s alone at the back where lavatory traffic becomes most intense, a laptop on his left and a pot of green tea on his right. He’s got three tabs currently open on his web browser: 1. His Prius owners’ forum, 2. an official-looking word doc regarding Rina’s Green Plus certification awarded his latest explorer, the 58 meter Summa cum Laude IV, and 3. A Bloomberg analysis of his company’s growing market share in Asia. “We’re seeing a new breed of mega yacht owner,” says award-winning naval architect Gregory C. Marshall of Vancouver, Canada. “These new owners are very conscious about recycling. In fact, on Big Fish we’ve done away with recycling plastic bottles altogether by installing bottling machines instead – everyone gets his or her own stainless steel thermos.” “Five years ago, folks had some inkling about green, three years ago green was ok if it didn’t cost more up front, but now owners are willing to pay extra. It’s a fascination, a new energy we’re seeing; a change in mentality that’s bringing new interest to the entire industry, which, frankly, in the pre-crash days was getting stale.


The challenge for Marshall and other leading designers is shape this powerful eco-consciousness into forms that are enduring, useful and beautiful. This means researching, testing, approving thousands of cutting edge green materials and techniques. After all, if a green “sustainable” product is so difficult to maintain it’s just going to get tossed, how sustainable is it? Right now, bamboo fabric samples await closer inspection at architect Luiz de Basto’s studio in Miami. “Bamboo worked well on Flamingo Daze – there’s now a wide array of crown moldings, veneers and tongue and groove flooring on the market. And so far, I am impressed by the bamboo fabric; it has a nice texture.” A former art student at Kent State, Iris Wang wanted to do something practical. In 1990, Wang and her husband founded a cutting edge ecofriendly firm called Brentano outside Chicago. Its bamboo drapery fabric is a world’s first. “After my parents fled the communist revolution, I spent some childhood years in Taiwan. There, I saw how the Taiwanese used bamboo there for almost everything, eating it, sitting on it as chairs, walking on it as mats, wearing it as cloth. To make cloth back then they had to be using the ancient method of just leaving the bamboo outside to rot to expose the fibers. But it must have taken forever.

Brentano’s Silhouette line of bamboo drapery is superior in feel from the more common varieties of viscose, rayon-like bamboo fibers on the market. She explains that while latter product is indeed the derived from the same highly sustainable bamboo, its processing into yarn is entirely different, having been reduced to mush by carbon disulfide. Carbon disulfide is a neurotoxin considered one of the most dangerous industrial fumes known. In the early days of the 19th century, in fact, rayon mill owners had to put iron bars on the factory windows because exposed workers were going mad. Brentano takes a more organic approach to its bamboo: braising it, crushing it, decomposing it, refining it and re-refining it. The result is a yarn with some miraculous attributes as well as “a nice hand” as de Basto says: lustrous, moisture-absorbing, micro-organism and sunlight-resisting, the material even acts as a deodorizer. The owners of the superyacht explorer Big Fish told Marshall right off the bat: “No teak decks!” M/Y owners get around a lot – many have witnessed firsthand the utter devastation of the great teak forests of Indonesia, the rapid disappearance of plants and animals. “No teak represented a conscious decision that cost the owners quite a lot of money. In its place, we used granite infused with resin so it won’t stain, and rough cut so you won’t skid. Big Fish has already gone 22,000 miles from Tahiti to Antarctica and Florida and the granite’s holding up well. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to clean it, however. We figured out the easiest way was to use a blowtorch. Photovoltaic paints and photovoltaic fabrics are eco innovations Marshall is very excited about. “They’re a big game changer. You know those jackets that can power your phone? Very soon the technology will enable us to turn the entire boat into a solar cell. When awnings are out, they’ll not only be providing


shade, they’ll be generating power. And the next generation of glass will have rheostats built in; you won’t need curtains. As the boat turns to the sun the windows will be smart enough to dim, thereby lowering the heat load as well as the AC requirements. With LED‘s, by the way, lighting energy requirements on a forty-five meter, 2000 bulb boat are reduced by an average of thirty kilowatts. Solarpowered water makers will have a social as well as ecological impact. Plug it in on an island in the South Pacific where there isn’t much fresh water and you can supply the whole island. ” Countertop material of recycled junk made to resemble stone can look pretty junky. “But, actually, any material can look good if used for what it is and not as a fake,” says de Basto. “You have to take advantage of its characteristics. If you want an all-black surface, for example, you don’t need black marble. You can use a composite, especially for a single color. It’s only when you want veins running through the black that you have to have the actual stone.” Resilica, for example, out of the UK has quirky, light reflecting characteristics marble can’t match. Made of recycled glass, ground and polished by hand, the resin holding it all together is solvent-free. Who needs to confront off-gassing chemicals while charging the ocean waves? No need preaching to the choir at this point. It’s well known the production and dying of most fabrics relies heavily on toxic flame retardants such as PDBE’s as well as formaldehyde, arsenic fungicides lace many a “heavenly mattress”, formaldehyde and polyurethane stewing furniture and pressed wood, with some heavy shakes of arsenic in decking for good measure. The effect on health of this chemical bath, its adverse impact on immune systems has been well demonstrated, especially in children. Paints, lacquers, strippers and cleaners with low to zero VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) are becoming increasingly available. One interior paint and mosaic palette takes this eco consciousness a step further. Colorist Barbara Jacobs of Boston recently teamed with Ellen Kennon Full Spectrum Paints in Saint Francisville, LA to create the Eco-Hues line Eco-Hues has no black or “dead space” mixed in. For the same reason the Impressionist painters banned black as an abstraction outside of nature, Jacobs’ Eco-Hues is a truer reflection of sun, sky, waves and sand. “Most commercial paints use black to tone down or mute color; we don’t,” she says, “one of the major advantages for designers are that our color palette is so easy to integrate because each color is a mix of many.” Now let us return to Harvard Square where we find our intrepid yachtsman still ensconced at Pete’s. One neat site appearing on his web browser is Inventables which offers samples of high tech and eco products for designers to try out. A sampler pack of genuine fish leather skins catches his eye. How perfect for upholstering the bulkheads of the Summa cum Laude 1V. Offered in braided, ½ strips of suede, silk, pearlized, and scratch and stain proof glazes, the skins are “the second strongest skin in the world next to kangaroo,” says Stanley Major of Sea Leather Wear in Calgary. Along with his carp, salmon and perch inventory, major is selling the intricate fish skin churning, soaking and vacuum drying technology that enables fish leather makers around the world to render “Proofs of Odorlessness”. One side benefit for the eco-conscious: the toxic acids and limes used to remove animal hair in tanning are foregone with fish.


There is, of course, so much more. “Green is evolving very quickly,” says Greg Marshall. The key now is to get up to speed, find out what’s out there that’s formaldehyde-free, or can power your boat while shading your guests. Whatever green product you happen to find, resist the temptation to make it fake something else less sustainable. Be true to its characteristics, as Luiz de Basto says. Even if it costs extra.

Going with the Flow M/Y designers are hard at work simplifying the complexities of modern day traffic

Steven G leans into the gentle motion of the yacht. His elbows rest against the rail. “Could there have been a more perfect day,” he wonders. As if on cue, a midnight breeze plays across his chest. “Perhaps the crew arranged for this sea-borne caress, along with everything else: the discrete attentiveness to his wheelchair-bound guest, his super clean stateroom, caricature drawing lessons for the kids. As though reading Steven’s thoughts, his friend Janice R says “How did the crew figure out how to make a path of moonlight over the water just for us?” But then the magic begins to fade! Here’s why. Steven would like to celebrate the beauty of it all with a beer. Janice would like to join him, but with another one of those blueberry margaritas. This calls for a decision not easily made. Steven can easily get the beer from the mini-bar. But they’ll have to press “Service” on the console to obtain the margarita. A crew member will cheerfully deliver it on a silver tray. But that would involve waking her up. It would involve a third person, no matter how pleasant. Now let’s leave this endangered tryst to consider the design ramifications.


The great luxury of privacy and the great luxury of service: how do leading interior designers of megayachts help us navigate gracefully around what seems to be two mutually exclusive, competing requirements? How does technology play a role? What can be learned from other structures: from modern hotels and cruise ships to relatively ancient Victorian piles with their armies of live-in help? How to choreograph the endless comings and goings on board; the exits and entrances, the dreamy flow for some and the precision drill for others: the slow migration of guests from saloon to dining room, for example, concurrent with the rapid loading of provisions from dockside to galley. “You don’t want staff milling about to offer you a Kleenex or making Origami with the toilet paper. But it’s awfully nice to be handed snorkel and flippers on the beach platform, and a towel when you come out,” says megayacht designer Carl Pickering of Lazzarini Pickering Architetti in Rome. “With twelve guests and thirteen crew members you can easily feel trapped with everyone’s movement monitored like a high security jail. How I would hate to hear a walkie talkie squawking about how ‘Mr. Pickering’s gone for swim.’” Pickering recalls how pre-existing staircases on the 52 meter Sai Ram made for some complex crew paths. His firm’s latest project, however, the 50 meter Regina D'Italia for Stefano Gabbana, represents the ideal scheme for controlling traffic between crew and client. A simple stairs for crew runs four floors from lower deck to sundeck right behind the owner’s. Food lifts and laundry lifts are likewise synced up in one centralized, vertical area. If the crew needs to come out to the corridor there’s a connecting door; the laundry is right behind the guest staterooms. As in Lazzarini Pickering-designed hotels and restaurants, “Now instead of ‘back of house’ as they say in the States, you have ‘back of boat.’ In either case, we try to eliminate every unnecessary movement; to make a functioning machine invisible to guests. ” The 67.75 meter Archimedes by designer John Munford sets another high standard for traffic control. From its port side, crew can board a special supply deck at its lowest level. This crew-specific deck affords access to full under deck storage, supplies and crew mess. It also enables them to move from one end of the yacht to the other without bumping into a single guest. Inside, Munford recommends what he calls a series of “airlocks” between crew and owners which are the pantries. “Let’s say you have a bar on the bridge deck. Ideally, that bar would have direct access to a pantry and that that pantry would connect to stairs leading directly to the rest of the supply system. Likewise, in the dining room you have a galley on the same level, and a pantry between them, or on larger boats, a double pantry. The small one gets closed off after a while, while the larger one stays open for a help yourself type guest area. Munford recalls how much technology has decreased the need for help. “In the old British houses, they had secret passageways where staff could pop out at various places. On the old steam and sailing yachts, if the captain needed to call a member of the crew, he had to have a runner for the purpose. It used to take twenty-eight sailors just to put on the main halyards. Today, in the case of day charters, an external crew can do the cleaning with just a handful staying overnight.” Less crew, however, doesn’t mean less planning. In fact, it means more. As crew decreases in size due to miniaturized electronics and hydraulic lifts, expectations and options increase in inverse proportion. For example, can a crew


member come right away to load the camera on the submersible? The division between crew and client is a precise calculus; though there’s always a certain pressure to throw a designer off the mark. “Especially when designers get to the shipyards,” says Munford, “The yards are inevitably going to want more technical space – usually at the expense of the crew.” Architect Martin Francis is known in part for his high-speed, jet-like motor yachts: the 175 meter M/Y Sultan, the 118 meter Yacht A (in collaboration with product designer Philippe Patrick Starck), as well as the classic 75 meter Eco. But he has also consulted extensively on the design of Solstice, the first of a new line of Celebrity cruise ships. It’s from these behemoths that Francis feels M/Y designers could learn a lot about the proper choreography of passengers and crew. The sheer complexity and scale of the 122,000 ton, 15 deck Solstice means very little can be left to chance. It’s got to flow. Imagine 3,000 guests migrating from dinner to the casinos, to the theatre, the martini bar, all while the galley crew carves ice kangaroos on deck. Regrettably, says Martin, M/Y designers generally ignore lessons learned from the burgeoning cruise industry. They’re so “convinced that cruise ships are junk designed for geriatrics. The average age of a Celebrity guest is actually about 45.” Which brings us full circle to Steven G and his friend Janice R, both a youthful 45. They’re still in a quandary about hitting the Service button. How not to break the mood? How to balance privacy and service while leaving intact the moonlit path over the water so thoughtfully set out by the staff before turning in? Then suddenly it dawns on Steven: the second pantry, that very second “airlock” of a pantry John Munford included in his very first sketches. It’s open all night, fully stocked with beer along with rows of frozen margaritas. “Janice, my dear, we’re in luck!”


Floating The Furniture & Other Mega Yacht Essays