A Case for Casual Elegance | Showboats

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Form, function & Fashion

A Case for Casual Elegance

From SHOWBOATS July 2004

By Louis Postel

It’s nearly become a cliché – especially among yacht brokers. But what, exactly, does the term “casual elegance” mean? And what does it have to do with the exquisite luxury of a yacht?

At sea: 12° NORTH, 82° WEST, sailing toward costa Rica. Here in our sea-going library, a man in a tux is consulting an atlas. He sits on a French window seat of carved fruitwood with cabriole legs in the courtly and formal Louis XV style.

Into this picture glides a bare-footed woman wearing one of those black lace jackets by Olivier Theyskens (pronounced THIGH-skins), created by the 26-year-old designer to turn around the faded house of Rochas. Between the hem of her luxurious jacket and her bare feet is a pair of strategically ripped designer jeans.

A formal tux, priceless antiques, haute couture and denims: these diverse elements will help us comprehend the current style dichotomy in yacht décor where the vernacular-laden period look has as many fans as the Post-Modern minimalist. On one side, there are yacht owners and designers who believe in obvious luxury all the way, from gold showerheads to Frette sheets. What, they ask, is this the so-called casual elegance? Why be shy about money when such shyness is simply a form of inverse snobbery?

On the other side, there is a sizable armada of yacht owners and decorators who reject exorbitant luxury in favor of a relaxed look. They don’t mind surrounding themselves with costly products and materials, but they want them to grace their living spaces in informally personal ways. For the denim-and-diamonds enthusiasts, relaxation is what yachting is all about.

Marty Lowe designing for the Ferretti Group’s Miami office believes casual elegance is the way to go. “As Yacht designers, we have a responsibility to create an interior for our clients that says, ‘relax.’” Continuing, she says, “These people own homes. Their yachts are for vacation purposes. Casual doesn’t have to mean not


luxurious. You can still surround yourself with luxurious materials that say, ‘Relax and be comfortable. There aren’t any rules on this vacation. Go ahead and put your feet up!’


Once I did cashmere slipcovers on the main salon’s sofas. I loved the twist of an elegant material used to suggest an informal, casual statement that says, ‘It’s okay if it gets dirty. They can be cleaned.’

“I’m not afraid to use a casual a casual woven-bamboo window shade with simple linen draperies. I try to do timeless design. The overall effect should suggest a certain refinement and sophistication. Too often,” Lowe adds, “I see yacht decors that are over the top with more piled on top of more. Just because it is multimillion-dollar vessel doesn’t mean it has to be glitzy. Good design is more about editing than adding.”

Those who get a charge out of extravagant displays of luxury wouldn’t buy Lowe’s argument. They might challenge her, shooting back, “Why shouldn’t we surround ourselves and our friends with the ultimate in beauty?” And they might even quote poet William Blake (1757-1827), who wrote, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Rather than take sides, let’s consider what some of Marty Lowe’s colleagues have to say. Seattle designer Glade Johnson says that a casually elegant interior should invite people in to relax, and, as much, it must be executed with craftsmanship and materials of the highest quality.

Take the lounge. A formal space more than likely would be based on classic European furniture in neat symmetrical arrangements. In a space designed for casual elegance, too, Johnson would use  classic furnishings, but he would select softer and not-quite-rigid pieces –large sofas and fewer pieces in the 17th and 18th century courtly styles. His choices would emphasize comfort without being frumpy.

One of Johnson’s projects, 164-foot Feadship Iroquois (see SBI Jan.’99), provides a particularly good example of design for casual elegance. Johnson used an unusual combination of materials in the joinery and woodwork to achieve a stunning effect. “We textured the wood, actually taking a wire brush to it to create a grain, deepen the existing grain, and make a rough texture. And then we contrasted that with panels that were smoothly finished, like satin. “This contrast inspired the entire Iroquois project, setting its mood.

Designer Claudette Bonville of Fort Lauderdale started designing interiors in the casual-elegance style in the 1980s, when the mood was inspired by a lot of disposable cash. Bonville says, “It was really about the new rich never having grown up with money and not wanting to appear too pretentious, their surroundings too formal.

“Casual elegance is a phrase we coined back then. To me it basically means a mix of expensive, good quality materials used on informal furniture.” Bonville’s design for 126-foot Big Easy (see SBI Nov. ’01) certainly fits in that category. Although the fabrics she used – chenille, silk and various weaves –are all luxurious, the patterns are informal, from the pillows covered in swaying-palm prints and garnished with silkbrush fringes, to the gold-leaf card chairs upholstered in red crocodile leather.

Casual elegance involves mixing rather than matching and providing unsual, even unexpected combinations. For example, says Bonville, imagine a dining room that features cherry cabinets with beautiful wood inlays, chairs with a touch of gold leaf, and a fabulous chandelier suspended over an inlay table. Now add black woven leather placemats, raffia-edged napkins with tribal napkin rings, and centerpiece of candles set into rocks.

J.C. Espinosa is another Florida-based designer who promotes casually elegant designs by using different measures of formality for different rooms. Rather than looking at style as a furnishing issue, Espinosa believes that a change of pace keeps the entire boat lighthearted and casually elegant. His design for the 147-foot Gran Finale (SBI Jyly ’02) foe example, features a skylounge the owners named the “Boogie Woogie Room.” It’s an explosion of vividly bold hues of turquoise, royal blue, fuchsia and taupe—colors inspired by a favorite painting. Call it boogie chic, it’s a far cry from the formality of the salon below, and that’s exactly Espinosa’s holistic, if you will, point. At the end of the day, casual elegance can only be described safely as that which is not very formal – the opposite of the tuxedoed man in the Louis Quinze chair.









Dakota Jackson’s Ocean Lines

An earstwhile dancer and magician who wears a lot of downtown black, Dakota Jackson might surprise some of the people who knew him “back when”. Jackson is one America’s top furniture designers, and when it comes to furnishings with casual elegance and sophistication this inveterate designer gets it.

Indeed, his furniture virtually floats. His antigravitational experience as a dancer takes form in the design of his ubiquitous PFM Royale Arm Chair (page 119) and Bump Wave Lounge and Ottoman.

His pieces imply both movement and stability. Yachts inspire Jackson, and he’s sailed on quite a few. The multi-functionality of a yacht – that it is at once a resort and a residence –creates creative tension in his designer’s soul. A table for a casual game of cards in the afternoon needs to serve also as a formal dining table in the evening. Achieving an exquisite solution for casual elegance takes a magician’s touch and a dancer’s grace.

Another of Jackson’s pieces –his award-winning martini glass that appears in ads for Bombay gin – works perfectly on either game or dining table. Cheers!