Floating the Furniture | Showboats

Floating the Furniture
Tricks of the trade among leading mega yacht designers.

510264Farmer’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.
Farmer’s Wife: I did just as you said. I put in all the goats and now it’s truly unbearable.
Rabbi: And your cows and horses!
Farmer’s Wife: Rabbi – that was the last straw. I’m going to go insane!
Rabbi: Ok – now go home and take out all the livestock.
Farmer’s Wife (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. [expand]

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. [/expand]