Designing the interior of a yacht is as different from designing a house as a tiny waterfall is from Niagara. The traditional house, for example, never rolls, nor does it need protection from engine vibration, plus boats have challenging room sizes and shapes. Most houses, barring a calamity, are never faced with corrosive salt air and high humidity, nor do they have to meet maritime codes and U.S. Coast Guard regulations. Interior designing a yacht is not for the faint of heart.
Tampa-based interior designer Susan Winchester, of Susan Winchester Design, underlines just one of the challenges: “Every inch counts.” Among other nautical projects, Winchester has designed more than 30 yacht interiors for Marlow Yachts of Palmetto, which builds yachts from 49 to 86 feet.
Another Tampa designer with an extensive yacht portfolio, Angie Wetzel, of InterLux Interiors, agrees, adding, “Yacht design has a lot of constraints and minimal flexibility.”
An award-winning interior designer for large yachts (as well as homes and business jets), Patrick Knowles, of Patrick Knowles Designs, loves originality and finds boat designs to be a creative challenge: “When I’m talking with a new client, I’m always thinking, please, please ask me to do something I’ve never done before.”
Where do boat owners go wrong with interior design?
Wetzel is clear: “Boat owners over-personalize it. They want to put their stamp on everything and see their initials or monograms everywhere. When you own a yacht, you want to make it unique and exclusively for you. But consider the balance between what you like and what the market might like when you want to sell the yacht.”
Winchester is equally succinct: “Too much of anything. Color, novelties, décor and furniture. The antithesis of calm. You need room to breathe.”
What are the trends in yacht interiors?
Wetzel picks two areas. First is transparency: “Glass is a trend in superstructures that creates the feeling of wider spaces, evoking a harmony between interior and exterior.” She also points to mid-century modern styling, with “materials such as wood, brass, leather and velvet adding a mid-century touch, creating a soft and gentle atmosphere for owners and guests.”
Winchester takes another slant, “Performance fabrics, inside and out. They have come a long way and are more livable, comfortable and colorful than ever. They aren’t just flat weaves anymore; they are sumptuous velours and velvets that can stand up to almost anything you dish out.” She adds, “Outdoor spaces have been a bit of an afterthought. Today, we need those spaces for the restoration of our mind, body and soul. Outdoor living is front and center, regardless of the climate.”
For Knowles, new types of LED lighting can create drama. “A room will continue to evolve, from the use of space and how the lighting changes from day to night. Lighting can become art — but so can shadows. I like to play with both to find the right aesthetic for the space.”
He paints a picture: “Imagine that perfect moment when you awaken in the morning and light beams of diffused natural sunlight are coming in through the windows. You can see the warm tones as they interact with the wood. The space feels maximized, light and bright. Yet 12 hours later, as natural light dims, the aesthetic changes. The shadows make the space more intimate. Strategic mood lighting can change the entire space.”
Any hot colors or materials emerging right now?
Winchester is clear: “Richer, brighter, jewel tones. I like to keep things calm, clean and cozy, so I use the bolder colored fabrics as accents with more organic, neutral, grounded colors.”
Knowles notes, “I love natural stone. However, maintenance can be a bit challenging. I sometimes reserve applications that are less demanding for natural stone and specify quartz materials on surfaces that take the brunt of harsh compounds, such as toothpaste, aftershave and body gels. The combination of man-made durability with that of the incomparable beauty of nature is nothing short of stunning.”
As for Wetzel, “I’m inspired by different things every day. I embrace different styles and see every project as a blank canvas. I often go for modern and monochromatic, with simple clean lines and rich details. I love using strong, natural materials and matching them together.”
What are your favorite projects?
When we asked our designers about their favorite projects, there was some serious hedging. For Winchester, “That’s like asking which one of my kids is my favorite.” Knowles picked his latest, a 94-foot sportfisher from Rybovich named III Amigos.
Wetzel went with a recent Sanlorenzo SL88: “Every element – bespoke furniture, furnishing and finishings to lighting and architectural structures – was built from scratch. As a designer, it was very important to keep pushing the creative vision, as well as the technical boundaries. I was able to be as creative and as innovative as I could, and the collaboration with Sanlorenzo Yachts was phenomenal.”
What has been your most difficult yacht project?
Winchester pointed out a problem area: “When clients are not on the same page with each other. But it’s most rewarding when I can bring them together to create their sanctuary.”
For Wetzel, it was the redesign of interiors: “Working around the existing can be challenging, especially when the expectation is high and the budget is low. Was it fun? Always.”
Knowles offers excellent closing advice: “Remember that the yacht design process should feel like a luxury and not a stress on the owner. The right designer will guide you, listen to you and work with you as a partner to develop and create the ideal yacht for your needs.”
Chris Caswell is an award-winning writer and the former editor of several yachting magazines. He has appeared on Oprah as a boating lifestyle expert and hosted the Marine Voyager series on the Speed Channel.
Based on his experience as an internationally award winning designer, Patrick Knowles Designs (PKD) offers two sets of questions for owners considering interior design or redesign.
5 Questions To Ask Yourself
1. Have I set a proper budget I would like the designer to meet?
2. Have I done some research to consider styles and designs I may like?
3. What will be the main use of my yacht? Is it mainly for family travel, long-range expeditions, charters, easy luxury travel or other uses?
4. What components of the yachting experience are most important to me?
5. What specialty items, like high-end art or a wine collection, will be housed in my yacht?
10 Questions To Ask The Designer
1. Why should I hire a yacht designer instead of an interior designer?
2. What is your design process and how will the project management be structured?
3. How often will we be in touch regarding the process and design?
4. What if I don’t know what design style I want at all? Are you able to help guide me?
5. Do you have vendors and contractors you have worked with previously and will you provide examples of their work before adding them to a project?
6. Can you provide photos and videos of your previous projects in a similar style to what I am looking for?
7. Are you able to show me examples of storage innovations, technical innovations and creative space planning from your previous projects?
8. Can you integrate a specific furniture piece or certain accessories into the design?
9. Beyond interior design, what other services do you offer? (PKD offers designed and manufactured custom furnishing, hardware, china and flatware, crew uniforms and more.)
10. What does the budget look like and how will additional purchases for the project be handled?