— How leading megayacht designers are rethinking color.
Sometime in April of 2012, scientists at Woolley Holes Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) celebrated preliminary test results involving a newly discovered creature of the deep sea: Piscabus Artifexus aka Artie, the Designer Fish —IQ: 140.
Roughly the size and shape of a Porsche 911, Artifexus survives on a diet consisting solely of the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This, say researchers, may account for its unusual hippie rainbow scaling patterns.
Believe it or not…..
With the aid of bioluminescent fins that serve as powerful headlights, Artifexus aka Artie demonstrated an amazing number of aptitudes, according to the WHOI scientists. First among them, perhaps, was the fish’s gift for discerning the fine points of luxury on mega yacht interiors, especially the latest variations of M/Y color palettes.
Even as they cruised 10,898 meters over his home in the Marianna Trench, Artie’s fin lights could easily differentiate the new hues of mega yachts: the rainforest red marbles and pinkish burgundy lacquers began covering counter tops; creamy white faux parchment leathers were lining columns and bulkheads framed with Maccassar and pear wood; silky, iridescent wool weaves graced saloon floors.
More importantly for our discussion, perhaps, is the astuteness with which Artie perceived the transformation from the color schemes of mega yachts of three or four years ago and those of today. Where at one time the rather formal high gloss of the floating palace was the rule, Artie informed researchers at WHOI that the whole notion of “dressed to impress” was fading fast in favor of a beachy, casual form of elegance. The color palette had slipped off its shoes, had morphed from show to sand. Rather than floating palaces, Artie began noticing the natural colorations inherent in the finest beach clubs, resorts and spas. Colors became commensurately lighter and brighter, with fewer contrasting patterns and more monochromatic layerings of white, beige and cream. The latest yachts had managed to offer this laid-back look inside and out: from the handrails on the decks to the staterooms within.
It is little wonder that the newfound M/Y lightness and brightness stirred so much interest among this super-sized denizen of the deep. As a May 12, 2012 blog post from the WHOI investigative team described the colorless habitat of Artifexus Piscabus: “We can only imagine how dreary and workaday life was like for Artie down there in the Trench. Not only did he Artie undergo 15,000 psi of constant pressure, it was a pressure unrelieved by the monotonous moonscape found at the bottom. Indeed, it was completely opposite to the multi-colored display we associate with the ocean: the myriad fauna posing so unabashedly for scuba enthusiasts among the coral reefs. The closest thing one could compare to the ambiance of Artie’s world is the unrelieved ‘greige’ of an Armani showroom. We are forever grateful he was able to hitch a ride to our full-spectrum civilization aboard director James Cameron’s submersible, the Deepsea Challenger.”
For Artie and his scientific friends the stimuli of changing M/Y colors required months of sorting out right to 2013 — the color choices relating to the new floating resorts represented a surge of creativity on the part of mega yacht designers around the world. After all, what exactly does the oxymoronic term “casual elegance” look like?
“Clients are coming to us not so much for a status item, anymore,” says Sander Sinot, the Netherlands-based designer of Musashi 88, Sharky 86 and others. “Clients and prospects are saying they just want to enjoy their time on the water. Rather than a palace, they are looking for a habitat; an open beach where they can relax.” The challenge for M/Y designers is how to coax a more laid back palette into a lasting composition everyone can be proud of. The challenge, too, is unique to yachts. You cannot just copy an actual beach club, apply some fresh coats of paint, put a propeller behind it, and set sail for the Med. Unlike land-based structures, M/Y’s are in constant motion, undulating and shifting if ever so gently. The sun is forever changing position, reflecting up from the water as well, massing unexpected highlights and shadows, turning a lovely blue green bulkhead fabric to a sickly green if one isn’t careful — or lacquered white mullions in the salon into a source of painful glare. To complicate matters even more, these shifting spaces can feel uniformly small compared to the “land palaces” back home. One can often fit the entire salon into the powder room of the “land palace” back home.
How, then, are leading yacht designers responding creatively to these complexities and changing tastes when it comes to color choices? The answers are compelling not only to our deep sea friend Artie, but also to Paul Morgan Sherrill, a judge of Showboats 2012 Design Awards. “It’s good to look outside my industry for different viewpoints,” says Sherrill whose firm Solis Betancourt & Sherrill designs many a land palace around the DC area.
“Boats tend to be dark — light neutrals reflective surfaces help. On land the trend is going the other way: the call is for a lot more rich color and contrast. Now when I present an intense pattern in chintz for a home, people say ‘wow – it is really something; we like it! In addition to chintz, they are especially drawn to the very traditional Gracie wall papers — the ones with the exquisite Chinese cherry blossoms and so on.”
“Back in the 80’s, Washington was over-stuffed with Chippendale brown furnishings and heavy textiles; the avant-garde came in with bright linens and cottons, lighting up the room; you started seeing the silhouettes of the furniture in these lighter environments. Now the same look is no longer avant-garde but quite conservative on land, that is. For yachts I see the ocean itself providing the context for inspiring colors, cooler blues, turquoise; sunsets and white sand. Nothing like the muddy Potomac we have here.”
“I particularly admire how M/Y designers are engaging the surfaces of ceilings in their color schemes, a highly underappreciated surface area on land where it is mainly up to the house painter to pick out a shade of white. One trick we are using on ceilings here is to add a little pink or yellow to a glossy white. You do not look up and see that it is noticeably peachy or yellow; you just see this warm, reflective light.
“Admirable, too, is the way M/Y designers use reflective surfaces to enlarge spaces, make walls appear never to end with a sliver of chrome, corners disappear with a mirror. Whatever colors M/Y designers use, they are enriched by a liberal use of fabric, stone, and wood. We rarely use paint in our practice, as a matter of fact, and when we do we use full-spectrum paint in which the color is toned down with at least seven other tints not just black.”
“Boats, of course, have always had their own identity apart from residences. They have to be peaceful and calming —after all this is vacation time. Ideally, I see their colors as a painting or piece of music, a total composition from the foyer on. Key colors — whether staccato or intense — need to be dappled throughout for consistency. We no longer live (or cruise) in imitations of those huge Georgian mansions where you have ‘The Red Room’ and ‘The Green Room.’”
Much of the credit for moving the world beyond simply red or simply green is due these days to NCS Insight. A collaboration between NCS Colour consultants in Sweden and Global Colour Research in the UK, NCS Insight forecasts color in breathtakingly subtle ways.
“Sophistication and wisdom will be driving our colours for 2012…” predicts NCS Insight — coupled with “a new level of respect and sincerity. There is strong coverage in the red and pink areas where the palette starts to become more masculine, developing into sumptuous browns and a range of golden yellows….Darker smoky purples and blues reflect a more mature feeling, contrasting well with the dusty grey scale tones in the palette”.
For color consultant Barbara Jacobs in Boston such forecasts are fun to watch, but are mainly about marketing product, creating trends, a focus around a certain hot color. But there is a lot more to be considered. She quotes the painter Paul Klee: “’Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.’ Our practice is about helping designers achieve their goals for a particular client, seeing how color can contribute to how the project functions,” Jacobs, whose firm designs and markets tiles, fabrics, and rugs along with its own line full-spectrum paint. Called Eco-Hues, it is the kind favored by Paul Sherrill and a growing number of other designers not only for its richness and brilliance but also for its zero emissions of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) such as formaldehyde which has become almost ubiquitous.
One aspect of the new, natural color schemes Artie could hardly be aware of is the effect of modern technology. Lasers, for example, have allowed for very thin, precise cuts of stone, light enough for a sea voyage and much easier to fit. “One of the first things we do with clients is to choose the stone,” says Evan K. Marshall, based in the UK. “It’s a lot easier to find fabrics to match a stone than vice versa. These stones have so many colors in them you have a lot to work with. Once found, there are now umpteen choices in textiles to complement them. On Diamonds are Forever we found a rainforest red marble for the counter surfaces. Along with the red, its gold and brown tones pulled in colors throughout the vessel, along with onyx on the floors.”
“I should note that this very bold marble was for a transitional style. For a more contemporary look, we would have gone in the opposite direction — with less movement in the stone overall. With people travelling so much and owning any number of homes, they have come to appreciate many different styles. One client has a very modern penthouse in New York, one in Florida with art deco influences, a traditional home in London right out of Colfax & Fowler. It is our client’s yacht which is in the relaxed and casual beach house mode. For each space now, traditional or modern, the stones and woods we choose are going to dictate the rest of the colors.”
Developments in technology influenced the color decisions of Carol Williamson, as well. Her particular challenge was to extend the complex layering of neutrals she applied to the interior of Carpe Diem 58m to the sky lounge. How to blur the boundary between inside and outside for that beach club effect? “People were going to want to flow back and forth and for things to feel the same,” says the Portland, OR-based designer. Dark Maccassar ebony in Carpe Diem’s saloon framed by a white woven carpet goes tone on tone with light-colored upholsteries, pillow combinations, and window sheers: platinum silk velvets, opalescent leathers, and cream-colored chenille, iridescent, gold-inflected sateen. A few years ago, anything even resembling these precious textiles was only available residentially. Sunbrella offered some canvas like options for outdoors but that was it. “There has been an explosion of new fabrics for outdoors; they’re user-friendly, easy clean, have soft hand and at the same time have the elegance clients expect. The quality and variety of these textiles allow for color-blocking an entire boat — relating various blocks of color inside and out, where before we were more concerned with matching patterns. Link, Chella Textiles, and Great Outdoors Fabric are some of the manufacturers we’re using.”
George Vafiadis noticed those color blocks changing dramatically from formal floating palace to luxury spa and it happened about three years ago. Before that, says the Rome-based designer, “the color scheme was either classic white or off-white and blue with patterned fabrics, or modern tone on tone white with a little black and no patterns.”
“Today,” says Vafiadis, “things are different. We are mainly seeing two kinds of clients. One prefers what I would call New Classic, which is a modern perspective on classic style. The blue-hulled Dream 106m we are doing is in that vein. The other set of clients prefers pure Modern the style of Aifos 83m. New Classic tends towards off-white, tobacco, taupe, and some light blue. Modern tends towards greyish colors, the thick Armani velvets in particular. Both groups like burgundy and black a lot. They prefer many of the art deco patterns; the linearity and volumes inherent in that style.”
If blue water, white foam, and sandy beaches informs much of the new floating beach club look, where do glorious, red sunsets fit in?
The Pantone Color Institute in the U.S enjoys an equal measure of status as Global Colour Research in the UK. Its color of the year for 2012 was a sunset-inflected Tangerine Tango. Comparing it to her honeysuckle forecast of the prior year, Pantone’s Executive Director, Leatrice Eiseman, predicted Tangerine Tango would continue “to encourage us to face everyday troubles with verve and vigor. Sophisticated but at the same time dramatic and seductive, Tangerine Tango is an orange with a lot of depth to it…. Reminiscent of the radiant shadings of a sunset, the color marries the vivaciousness and adrenaline rush of red with the friendliness and warmth of yellow, to form a high-visibility, magnetic hue that emanates heat and energy.”
White Tangerine Tango sounds like a hue we can dance to on land, orange may be a color seen less at sea. Seattle-based M/Y designer Jonathan Quinn Barnett suggests a reason for this discrepancy: much of the heat and energy on yachts has already been generated by all the light bouncing off the water, a constantly changing, hallucinogenic spectrum, caroming off yacht ceilings like a disco ball at Studio 54. Long intervals of Tango Tangerine could almost be overkill.
Barnett’s latest project is a 115m with a metallic blue hull undergoing construction at Nordlund Boat in Tacoma, WA. Here he is using a palette of very light colors — more whites, off-whites, and creams than ever before. Those onboard will not even have to wait for sunset for heat and energy, a water-born light show will be happening all day and into the night. In order to give that ambient light some focus, however, Barnett turns to art and sculpture, especially glass sculpture. These objets, in turn, will be “in a stronger position,” says Barnett set in a backdrop of the lighter tones he is using. One of which is an exquisite faux parchment leather translucent as a calf skin covering a drum wraps. Wrapped around columns and bulkheads this extra wide custom-made synthetic from Majilite will evoke for some the white sands of a Bahamian beach. In addition, the faux leather’s pallor will contrast nicely with the metallic dolphin blues Barnett picked up from the hull and extended through the interiors.
Understated contrast is a key tool for Barnett: colors juxtaposed with textures, cool shades with warm shades, shiny to matte. Look no further than the baths: mirrors over the wainscoting contrast with grainy, quarter-sewn walnut, which contrast with honed, satin-like white Calacatta marble with gold veins, layer upon layer.
While the general trend may be away from the mirrors and metallics of the “floating palace” in favor of natural finishes such as matte and egg-shell, Barnett puts high gloss to good use. Yacht ceilings can be as low as seven feet, he points out. Reflective materials can make them feel infinitely high. “Texture, detail and dark colors on the overheads tend to advance to the eye, while light satin and gloss finishes do the opposite — they recede. Like a cathedral ceiling, the reflections they make will retreat into infinity.”
Meanwhile, the career of Piscabus Artifexus aka Artie, the Designer Fish has only begun its ascent from the murky depths. He is now working on a top secret project at Woolley Holes Oceanographic. Purportedly underwritten by a reclusive billionaire yachtsman, the goal of the project is to determine the ideal color scheme for casually elegant floating spas of today. Though top-secret, there have been some leaks: a molecule that when mixed with lacquer or die will insure a uniformity of color despite a yacht’s constant re-positioning to the sun….A hybrid hue combining the smoky purples espoused by NCS Insight with the orange of Pantone’s Tangerine Tango for that coveted masculine sunset look, naturally low in VOC’s….even an outdoor fabric made entirely from foam of the Caribbean sea. “It will be the beach club yacht taken to the 9th degree,” said Artie who now speaks five languages. “We will be introducing some of these breakthrough products in Monte Carlo as early as 2112.”