How a treasure trove of new materials and technologies is ushering in a never seen before world of custom M/Y interiors
by Louis Postel for Showboats International 2014
You wouldn’t want your salon or foyer or anything else inside your mega yacht looking like everyone else’s. Nor would you want to lay out millions for furnishings that look like they came from a box of mega-sized Cracker Jacks.
Fortunately for you and for the world, a revolution in design is at hand, and it’s all about achieving levels of customization and personalization unthinkable even a few years ago. The technology necessary to usher in this new design era just didn’t exist on a commercial level. Now it does, and it’s advancing all over the globe. Right here in Boston, for example, in the vicinity of the Black Falcon marine terminal, there are mega-tankers that, admittedly, far outnumber megayachts. All the same, this section of Boston harbor’s lined with small, entrepreneurial workshops founded by creative techies whose common goal is developing new materials and methods that reshape the look and feel of luxury, M/Y interiors being one of the first places to look.
You and your designer envision a mosaic that would wrap around the curved bulkhead in the foyer. It would celebrate years of close encounters in your submersible, using a composite photograph. Perhaps, at one time thousands of years ago, a legion of highly skilled Roman slaves would have been able to pull this off, but now — seriously? Yes, seriously. Just call Ted Acworth, MIT engineering professor and the former telegenic host of UFO Hunters turned entrepreneur. His company Artaic has a robot named Artie (natch!) that picks out imported Italian tiles from a bin and sets them all in place in hours, not years.
You and your designer can also picture unique window surrounds for the master. How unique? They will represent an exact replica of a piece of driftwood a dear friend of yours found on the beach years ago. It will show every wormhole, along with every mark of time and tide, inside and out. Who could ever carve such a thing? The answer is no one. Which is to say, no human hand can tunnel like a worm. But on the other side of the Black Falcon up on the third floor of one of many “innovation parks” cropping up, Andrew Jeffery will take that piece of driftwood, photograph it from all angles, and then he and his team will print out as many as you need for the molding on his ceramic 3D printers.
Of course, if you head over the Charles River to Harvard and MIT, the whole city of Cambridge is an innovation park. Inevitably, the luxury market will at the forefront of taking advantage of whatever these parks produce, if only because they can afford the high development costs. Given more space, we’d discuss Harvard’s Samuel Felton who’s just invented a self-folding robot based on origami that could be building (and un-building) a new generation of furniture. And we’d explore MIT’s Glass Lab where Peter Houk is experimenting with colored layers of PVC laminated between sheets of glass that will make the wonders of enamel-stained glass cathedrals possible once again (only this time, it’s destined for your aft deck).
While the innovations increase exponentially, the real challenge is to make all these new materials meaningful, to use them in such a way that the design expresses the character of the owner, his or her personal narrative. That’s where great yacht designers come in.
Alberto Mancini based in Trieste sees the demand for the unique increasing every day, along with myriad new ways to satisfy that demand, as on his 44 meter Monokini and 55 meter Concept. “Owners are bored,” he says, “when limited to choosing only luxury fabrics, leather, upholstery and wooden veneers, which are available in any high end showroom worldwide. Ten years ago, leather companies could only offer a few selections of color and texture. That’s not true anymore. It seems like every week a box arrives here at the studio with literally hundreds of samples: stamped, dyed, carved. Right now, I’m proposing a silver leaf decorated by hand on white clay ceiling panels — the panels themselves carved by hand to emulate soft, flowing drapes. The idea is to avoid any geometrical repetitions typical of industrial production. I’m looking for an artistic touch to the whole project.
“There are also basic structural and engineering changes that can alter the interior experience altogether, given advanced materials technology. For example, we’re currently working on a 42 meter tri-deck which at one time would require steel pillars to support the weight of the upper decks. Carbon fiber makes it possible to strengthen the flying bridge aft, which leaves a much more open layout, pillar-free and uncompromised.”
Before becoming famous for mega yachts such as the Attessa M/Y’s, Flamingo Daze, Andiamo Glade Johnson, now retired, experienced the revolutionary power of new technology where he worked in automotive design (Ford, Chrysler) and aeronautics interiors (Boeing). Regulations and resistance from shipyards can inhibit the use of innovative materials, he admits, but for engineers there’s going to be a learning curve that costs extra. “It’s easier to quote on something that you’ve already done five times,” says Johnson, “but clients today really drive the advancements. They want what they want and they’re willing to pay for it.”
Aircraft technology of bonding lightweight, molded composites to a metal super-structure famously defined Attessa IV’s unique shape. But at the same time, Johnson pressed for innovation on the interior. He found one company making sculpted panels and another that could spray an 18 Karat gold mixture. Combining these technologies, he formed a one-of-a-kind backdrop well. The golden effect is like being lifted by the sun god himself through all five decks of the central stair foyer.
Not far in the future, Johnson sees sharing the interiors with rock stars and movie queens, Kung Fu masters and dog whisperers. “I see hologram technology creating interactive entertainment spaces on board. This is a bit Star Treky but with hologram projection the performers of your favorite band could be in the room on stage in full 3D instead of on a screen. This technology exists now and will continue to be improved.” Think Cyber Shakira slinked over a self-folding slipper chair in the salon.
Greg Marshall (Big Fish, Calixas) based in British Columbia, Canada says that new materials are changing every aspect of M/Y interiors, making them “faster, more efficient, more commodious, and longer-range.”
Marshall Case Study 1: Dichromatic glass which capable of tinting a vessel’s windows as it moves in relation to the sun — meaning in the tropics there are huge savings in AC, while in Alaska there’s full sun. Shade on the sunny side and light on the dark side, and privacy easily attainable with a tinting down, “like a TV screen going off.” Marshall calculates that a 90% savings in heat load from dichromatic glass translates into a 40% saving in hotel energy, or 114 kw of power, or eight gallons of fuel per hour on a 200’ M/Y, 60,000 gallons per year — $300,000 per year, assuming gas stays at five dollars.
But there’s more to the dichromatic glass story. With automatic tinting the need for motorized shades on parallel tracks evaporates like the morning mist. “On a typical 150’ yacht you have at least fifty windows with motors and window panels costing about $5,000 each, or $250,000,” says Marshall, who can design window in unique shapes commensurate with the overall design.
Marshall Case Study 2: Piezoelectric switches can be stuck on any surface anywhere with no wiring in the joinery. You can just walk around the interior putting them wherever you want. Marshall says that in the old days wiring schemes could take about 4,000 hours of design time at $150 an hour, “but now you can do it in twenty hours walking through the vessel says ‘let’s put one here and one there.’’ He adds that Piezo switches can also be installed as ceramic engine mounts which can pick up noises and with a pulse of power induce counter-vibrations to quiet things down.
Marshall Case Study 3: Adaptive Resonance Technology is ending the era of Ugly Outlets. ART can power devices without any plugs at all, gloriously immune from plaguing issues of water-tightness. With the technology juice flows from one to device to a charging pad which in turn can power puck lights, for example, that one can slide around at will along the hull. Inside, without all the intricate preplanning that was necessary, Marshall can place ART compatible headliners, as well as strips of courtesy lights. Freed of these knotty wiring considerations, Marshall’s creativity can freely apply itself to the unique visions of his clients. “Right now,” says Marshall, “we’re experimenting with a cabinet where you can just plop your cellphone or laptop inside and it charges them up without having to plug them in.”
A big boat is a serious thing, bopping along at twenty-six knots, all 5-7,000 tons of it. But nothing expresses one’s humanity like a sense of humor. Marble in the baths and brushed aluminum and wood everywhere else can be boring — and humorless, according to the distinguished MY designer Luiz De Basto whose studio is based in Miami. DeBasto is keen on a new type of wood panel that’s illuminated from within using LED’s, capable of changing the colors of walls, floors and bulkheads. Made by an Italian company called Promotech, the panels are waterproof and don’t require recessed areas or boxes behind them. “Mainly, they’re not so formal and predictable as marble for a luxury space,” DeBasto says. “They bring a smile.”
An evolutionary biologist once remarked to an industrialist seeking change in his business, “it’s just as important to notice what’s going to be lost with these changes, than to what you may gain.” The new fireproof construction panels, those ubiquitous honeycomb sandwiches, for example, illustrate the biologist’s point. While they represent a significant advance in that they’re prefab, lightweight and energy-efficient, there’s also a downside. What’s lost in the deal, according to DeBasto, is the flexibility to design a pleasing curve. “It’s just trickier. Prefab panels are just more linear in feel, more industrial.”
DeBasto, along with Alberto Mancini, Greg Marshall and Glade Johnson would all agree, no doubt, that whatever losses there are, the gains far outweigh them. New methods and new materials from dichromatic glass to custom-dyed leather are ushering in a new era in which art and industry combine to express an owner’s vision like never before.