Cars, Bikes & Boats

The best of boat worlds

The newest luxury yachts are as multitasking as their owners, with discrete work zones that morph into leisure spaces whenever work turns to play. Helen Chislett reports.

October 08 2010
Helen Chislett

It was on a yacht – the Christina O – that John F Kennedy first met Winston Churchill in 1957. Owned by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, the 99m frigate also played host to leading Hollywood players, including Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, as well as politicians, such as Eva Perón. Onassis recognised 50 years ago that a yacht creates a unique environment in which to mix work and leisure, politics with partying. It is a private, controllable universe where deals can be struck at the highest level in the most relaxed of surroundings.

As Ken Freivokh of Ken Freivokh Design says: “A yacht is the perfect blend of business and pleasure. I have sat in meetings on yachts and found myself with the prime minister of one country to my left and a cabinet minister of another to my right. To many of my clients, the yacht is 90 per cent business and 10 per cent pleasure.”

Freivokh and other leading designers aim, therefore, to create spaces internally that can be reconfigured easily according to use. Dining rooms may double as acoustically sealed conference rooms; saloons may transform into presentation theatres; spaces may magically open up to allow 100 extra guests for a party. Traditional styles of interiors are often too fixed for this level of versatility. Increasingly, designers are embracing contemporary solutions that incorporate the latest technological and design advances: walls that appear or disappear at the touch of a button; furniture that, although not freestanding (too dangerous on a rolling yacht), can be repositioned according to function; guest cabins that can be merged with main reception areas to increase the public space when needed.

One of Freivokh’s most recognisable designs is the luxury sailing yacht The Maltese Falcon, an 88m clipper built by Perini Navi. Originally commissioned by venture capitalist Tom Perkins, it is now owned by hedge-fund manager Elena Ambrosiadou. As Freivokh explains: “The Maltese Falcon allows the integration of external and internal spaces. If there is a big event, the sliding doors that separate the two completely disappear – there is no trace of them whatsoever – so you have a totally open space the complete length of the boat. The dining room also doubles as a conference room. The skylight over the table has a mechanism like the shutter on a camera, so it can close for complete privacy.”

Freivokh is currently working on a 85m superyacht for a client which has a multifunctional arrangement of office and conference areas: “The conference room and owner’s office are two separate rooms with an adjacent room for a secretary. Sliding doors mean that the three rooms can turn into one big space or be closed off from each other.” The secretary’s space can either open to the office or to the conference room, so there is maximum flexibility. Freivokh adds: “There is also a private business terrace outside, at the other end of the boat from the more social terrace. It means business can still continue here without the need to mix with the pleasure guests.”

Donald Starkey of Donald Starkey Designs (based in Dubai) has recently designed the interior of the 115m Luna, the world’s largest expedition yacht, now acquired by Roman Abramovich. As well as two helicopter pads and her own private “beach club”, she features a large communications tower – clearly an asset for an owner ranked 50th in Forbes 2010 rich list. As Starkey says: “Yachts are commissioned only by people who enjoy their considerable wealth – the result is that they are an extremely pleasant place on which to do business.”

He too embraces a multifunctional approach, with previous designs including gyms that double as bedrooms, sitting rooms that double as cinemas, even swimming pools that double as helicopter landing pads: “Interior design on yachts has developed over recent years to optimise the variety of uses for the limited space available from a hydrodynamically efficient hull shape. You can’t just add a room – that would mean increasing the length or height, which might affect the whole performance of a vessel. Designers have had to become more inventive as owners’ expectations have increased in recent years.”

In collaboration with Feadship, Starkey completed Trident, a 65m yacht last summer, which is now for sale at €87m. It includes a bridge deck saloon with a bar where the semicircular sofas can be swung round to face the other way on specially designed tracks. Facing each other, they create a typical relaxed living room area. But when one is turned so they both face the same way and a concealed 50in television is lowered from the ceiling, the saloon becomes a presentation theatre. Blackout blinds mean this arrangement is also effective by day.

Luca Bassani, the founder of Wally, has made use of a similar idea on the 118 WallyPower superyacht. Here the dining room at first seems conventional – chairs around a rectangular table. However, the carbon-fibre table can be split manually into two and stored over teak cabinets at each side, allowing the room to become a presentation area instead. It is an elegant solution that Bassani believes is in keeping with today’s need for multifunctionality: “I started with an open-space concept. For too long, boats have been locked in their layout. I wanted to try to make design more flexible so that life on board would also be more flexible. This dining room is an example. Once you decide you want to make the table disappear, you have to find a way of doing it technologically – the solution is not only functional but also aesthetically very pleasing.”

Another example of versatility in the Wally family is Esense, a 43m sloop with a vast continuous deck that is reminiscent of city loft living. The boat is designed to be one big open space from cockpit to bow, but various areas within can be partitioned off when required. A sliding bulkhead allows guest cabins to become part of the main saloon, making it possible to expand the zone hugely. Sleek, mirrored, sliding glass between saloon and stern allows the living area to be extended into the outdoor spaces. As Bassani says, “It is an indoor-outdoor design. Why should an interior remain permanent?”

It is a sentiment echoed by David Summerfield, senior partner and design director of Foster & Partners, who headed the design team responsible for the interior of Panthalassa, Perini Navi’s latest 56m ketch. The Foster approach was to try to express the inside and volume of the hull more than is traditional, as Summerfield explains: “In the main saloon area, we stripped everything out so that you can see from one side of the boat to the other, with only the staircase in the centre.

“However, you can close the space down in various configurations using curved glass sliding doors. The dining area, for example, can be part of the space or, at the touch of a button, the table lowers to become a lounge zone – there is a specially designed cushion to lay over the top. If, however, it is to be used for a business conference, the curved doors close around it and seal it acoustically.”

The sliding doors also make it possible to create little nooks and crannies, such as library areas, so that those onboard can enjoy moments of privacy as well as the social buzz. Summerfield believes this is the direction many of Foster’s clients wish to go in: “Panthalassa was designed for charter, and many people who want such a boat require that mix of privacy and sociability. This yacht fulfils both functions with ease; in fact, the flexibility to close things down or open them all up means you can use it in a multitude of ways.”

This year saw the launch of property developers and interior designers Nick and Christian Candy’s second yacht, Candyscape II (owned by Christian’s company, CPC Group). Whereas the first Candyscape was a smart rebuild, this 62m superyacht has been custom-made for them in Italy by Viareggio to specifications by the Candy brothers’ own design team. Heading up the project are Tim Murray, head of aviation and marine design, and Martin Kemp, creative director. From the beginning the brief called for a dual-function yacht, as Murray explains: “Candyscape II is first and foremost a home, somewhere to relax and get away from it all. But it is also a place to have meetings and to socialise with business clients. We had to make the whole yacht feel harmonious, so that all the spaces link together, but also find a way for its appearance to change from chilled out to very energetic.”

One way they have achieved this is through motorised panels that rotate to create different spaces, as with the reception room/dining area. This can either be one big open space, or the dining room can be divided off with the use of two-metre-high lacquered fins. The dining table can then become a conference table but, ingeniously, it is also a roulette table – so you can switch from boardroom to nightclub at the touch of a button.

Kemp says the design is an amalgamation of the Candy home in Monaco and the headquarters in London: “The yacht is ultimately a very lavish extravagance, but it is also a business tool. However, business conducted on board a yacht is done in a very relaxed manner and this is reflected in the luxurious materials we have used and the signature attention to detailing. Lighting here was incredibly important, because it is key to changing function and atmosphere. We commissioned some phenomenal chandeliers [in crystal and stainless steel by Otoro for the dining room, and in crystal by Eva Menz for the formal reception], but we have also made it possible to change the light from a relaxing warm yellow to a brighter, cooler light, which is far more energising.”

As you would expect from Candy & Candy’s first totally custom-made yacht – available to charter when not in use by them – Candyscape II is full of cool and quirky touches: a sunbathing platform that automatically turns to track the sun; an orrery on the media-room roof; a rare Perspex Schimmel piano in the main reception room; a transparent glass lift with floor panels that change from clear to opaque, guaranteeing the user’s modesty if glimpsed from below. There are 12 guest berths in six cabins, but space for over 150 people should the Candys wish to party. The high-tech office spec means the brothers can work as well on board as in London or Monte Carlo.

The beauty of this new approach to yacht interiors is that it shows it is possible to create something very cool, individual and contemporary without losing any of the glamour and luxury synonymous with superyachts. By comparison, traditionally opulent designs – fixed into permanent layouts of rooms – look positively clunky. As Summerfield says: “When we looked at other boats, we realised that they were all about privacy. Design on this level gives you the option of privacy, but you can also choose one-space living and experience a wonderful huge space with light and views all around. This is certainly the way we intend to push yacht design for the future.”

See also

Yachts