Mega Yacht Design Focus as first seen in Showboats International | by Louis Postel
A cloud bank morphs into a herd of bison. An island appears to float above the sea. On the upper deck one morning, you have a chance encounter with a guest that makes your whole day. Yachting and magic have a lot in common: the world is in a constant state of delighting us. Nickels constantly appear in the flat palm of the voyage, but where did they come from?
Yacht designers and naval architects set the stage for this magic act — like the revolving stages of Kabuki theatre, it all happens seamlessly. And because the best designers are part magicians themselves, they’ve designed every space on the yacht to just feel enchanted, whatever the weather, or time of day. The mysteries of scale (how every space relates to the yacht as a whole) and proportion (how objects in the space itself relate to each other) have all been worked out.
And now there’s another piece of magic designers are pulling from their bag of tricks — M/Y spaces that not only feel just right one way, but can change, can transform themselves as desired, and still feel right. “Owners are calling for convertible spaces more and more, even on large vessels,” says designer Gregory C. Marshall reached at his studio Canada’s West Coast. “Part of it is the cool factor and another part is simply practical. Boats over sixty meters aren’t being allowed in to ports like St. Tropez and St. Bart’s. They know this trend will continue — which is all the more reason to create flexible spaces now.”
Marshall just completed a large yacht he cannot name in which a huge transom for a forty foot tender garage gives way to a second, smaller door. Once the speedboat has taken off from the wet marina, owners can use it as a swimming pool. Nothing too unusual thus far. But here’s the cool part: they can also cause large panels to drop down from the ceiling to make a spa, a dance floor, a home theatre, or a track cycling arena (“We call it a virtual vélodrome,” says Marshall). “We didn’t want the empty garage looking like a Formula One pit stop,” says Marshall about the multi-million dollar project.
“The important thing is to make the conversion invisible. You can do that now with sophisticated computer software. In the old days you could be at it for years with pencil and paper and still not get there.”
Designer Luiz de Basto wields his magic wand to transform many a space, even the entire yacht. His award-winning design for Top Deck converts into an island once it’s at anchor or has reached its destination. “There’s even a palm tree on top,” he says. “Inside yachts, so much changes from day to night. A dining room is formal at night, but in the day people are wet and active. It’s best to have doors that disappear during those times, opening the dining room to the aft, saloon and decks. People don’t want to go through a lot of doors — no is it necessary to have a lot of separate areas for every single activity. For example, on an Explorer we just did for a family going around the world, the helicopter pad converts to a dining room table for twelve — or, because the sizes match, a Ping-Pong table. For the twelve year old daughter, the boat lines are high. We made her a lounge at window height, a little platform and mattress she can flip-down from one of the stateroom lockers. Now she can read or just look out whenever she wants.”
Reading, dreaming, playing, feasting, embarking — all these spaces all have to feel just right. It’s like one of those Goldilocks moments physicists talk about when everything in the universe comes perfectly together to make life on earth. The cosmic porridge is neither too hot nor too cold the same vein upper decks neither too low, nor too high, staterooms neither too cluttered nor too empty.
As for a place to pray —what could be more important than getting that right? After all, architects have been perfecting chapels for centuries. “On Sea Force One 54 meter we designed a gym on the upper deck mainly used for charter,” says Luca Dini, whose studio is based in Florence. “But that same gym converts easily into a prayer room. The gym machines get stored behind a sliding panel, while a GPS-connected projector in the ceiling points out the direction of Mecca on the floor — no matter what direction the yacht is heading. On another yacht we worked on, the 40 meter Streamline there are two VIP cabins separated by a partition that when opened converts the space into a huge full-beam suite, sitting area, two baths and two wardrobes. The starboard cabin’s double bed can rotate upwards to be folded into the aft wall, leaving space for a sofa.” There’s no hint that the room was ever two, because such is life on the magical mystery tour.
For designer Martin Francis converting spaces is second nature, born out of necessity rather than pushing the limits of wow. Francis grew up in post-war London where many families had to make do, commodities were scare, space equally so. “We were not very well off,” says Francis, “and I if you wanted something you had to make it yourself. So my father, a doctor, made the apartment double as his workshop. I have always felt that space is the biggest luxury and a pity to waste.”
“One of the most under-utilized spaces we’re seeing on mega yachts today are dining rooms,” says Francis. Clients used to entertain in high style in tuxedos, but now there’s a new generation of Russian and Dot Com billionaires that I just can’t see sitting around for dinner in black tie. The main purpose of closing off a dining room now is mainly for letting the staff set up. Eco had a big dining room, for example, but when Larry Ellison bought it we converted that space into a saloon. Now the current owner has a small dining room built into it, but that’s all.”
“As an industry we need to start thinking more about how boat changes over its lifetime,” says Francis. “I am not going to win many friends by saying this, but I have a visceral reaction to all the hyper-stylized mega yachts coming out now. When you design a yacht to look like a Nike shoe, it makes it very difficult to convert its interior spaces when the time comes. There are just too many strange openings in strange places. Design software like Rhino is partly to blame. It allows designers to invent all these organic shapes. It’s far too easy to make whacky shapes just because now you can. Frank Gehry’s a good sculptor and can make use of this software, but not everyone is or can.”
Hot Lab in Milan has developed magical transformations to a fine art. In an interview with Hot Lab’s interior design chief, Enrico Lumini, it became clear that a sense of scale and proportion may not be enough to create perfect spaces. The capability of transforming those spaces will become a key part of what makes up a designer’s bag of tricks. “While smaller yachts have always made use of every centimeter by doubling up on functions, we are using those concepts on large yachts that do not necessarily need extra space. For example, it is now an invaluable feature on charter yachts to be able to change layouts to suit various clients. If a bedroom table’s in the way on Oceanco 86m, for example, we made it so it can simply disappear into an integrated ceiling, allowing a lot more space for other functions.”
“While we have always looked to smaller yachts for ideas about transforming spaces, but you can also find other inspiring examples as you go down the luxury ladder. Take American caravans and motor-homes. They have these sliding walls that change the caravan into a small apartment with fold-down balconies, which are not too far off Opacmare’s line of line of swimming platform extensions. The big difference between the two is that mega yacht owners do not want to see any evidence whatsoever that a transformation has taken place. Folding beds, TV lifts, as well as swimming platform extensions all to be seamless and automatic. They have to present themselves cool features and not an attempt to gain added space. The folding wall we designed for the Palumbo Sport 40S Hybrid is an example.”
“We’ve been installing more loose furniture in living and lounge spaces, as opposed to immovable built-ins. Loose furniture equipped with safety latches allows us to move things around and transform the space as needed. What’s more, we can visualize the space as a simple box cleared of all furniture and see how it works on its own. Rather than getting distracted by various objects, we can try to make that box work perfectly on its own merits. We think of it as ‘moving architecture’. Ironically, the larger the yacht the easier it is to work out ways to get the most out of every space: higher cabins, larger windows, rectified floors and ceilings with no camber offer a blank canvas for this kind of innovation.”
Lumini went on to mention a favorite object that could perfectly fill a dining room space, though it’s rather old technology: a, round expandable table by Glyn Peter Machin. Inspired by the Capstan tables of the 1840’s, Machin’s piece captures the enchantment of transformation itself. Hidden inside, there’s a complex mechanism opens and closes sectioned swirls of mahogany causing its surface to greatly expand or contract. Why were they called Capstan tables? Because when you turned them to open or close them, the motion reminded people of a sea captain — or Capstan — turning his wheel.
In conclusion, one should add that not every leading designer feels that convertible spaces are a good thing — or even possible — despite advances in automation. Architect Giorgio Vafiadis is one that remains unconvinced. Though he concedes that aft decks lend themselves to different uses, he insists that most spaces are hard enough to get right without making them serve double duty. “We design each room for a specific use. You can’t make both a saloon and a dining room. First of all, a dining chair is a dining chair, not something else,” he says.
There’s no right or wrong here. The goal of all these top M/Y designers remains the same: to create spaces as magical as the voyage itself. Let gyms and prayer rooms, spas and discos, staterooms and saloons hold those Goldilocks moments in every square centimeter of the yacht, whether or not those spaces have been converted or transformed seconds before. That’s the payoff — when your clients, their families and guests find everything to be just right in this world.