Louis Postel in Showboats International
Everyone knows an M/Y can’t talk.
But a top designer can teach her to sing like the diva.
Evan K. Marshall’s Diamonds Are Forever, Donald Starkey’s Trident, and Patrick Knowles’ Mi Sueno —to take three examples — salute in high operatic style as spectators observe them from the distant shore. Their graceful silhouettes and sublime complexities, their versatility and boldness cause many of those spectators’ hearts to pound. How each mega yacht strives to stir passion in her admirers; not with words, but in the uniqueness and grandeur of her design!
Nowhere is this expression more important than the entrances where owners welcome their guests on board. It is here that the ceremony takes place that often sets the tone for the entire cruise. As inquisitive crowds increasingly throng the docks, the message of luxury and pleasure awaiting invited guests must be made discreetly, but made nevertheless. Designing sensitive spaces is a true test of a designer’s skill. After all, there are few props on these aft decks and starboard foyers to work with. The welcoming “aria” must be sung architecturally, free of obstructions and furnishings that might get in the way of moving in or out, up or down.
“People say they can always recognize my work, but I am not sure how,” says Donald Starkey in Dubai. “I try not to repeat what I do. It’s too easy to make everything look the same. That’s why I am disappointed when I see foyers and aft decks on so many large yachts where all the yacht’s themes are supposed to come together. As a designer, I see space having its own function. It’s not incumbent on me to be pulling all the details together. Is that really so important? The main thing is for people to enjoy themselves, have some theatre; for them to say: ‘wow, I have never seen that before!’ “
The foyer on the 65m Feadship Trident is a wow staging of mirrors if not smoke. To make the foyer feel bigger, Starkey designed a series of magical reflections surrounding the stairwell, a gambit that works in the foyer but would be too high energy, say, in a master suite.
Where the staircase meets the lift shaft, Starkey created a gap. Inside the gap, Starkey installed a lighting feature directed at the mirror-like stainless steel rails and plates along the walls. The ceiling, too, is adorned with this same steel plate. The effect is magical. Starkey explains that when a mirror runs into a plane such as a ceiling or wall at a ninety degree angle it creates an illusion of infinitely extending space. Little wonder Trident guests feel beamed up as soon as they step on board. The illusion is glamorous — but not fun-house glitzy. To balance out the brilliance, Starkey purposefully left the marble walls and floors unpolished. “It’s a real conversation starter,” says Starkey, “whenever guests reach out to touch the marble. They wonder whether it is wood or stone; indeed, it’s hard to tell.”
In contrast to Starkey, Patrick Knowles sees the M/Y foyer as a hub for the main deck where all the various design elements are meant to come together. “At the same time the foyer should have a perspective of its own,” says Knowles. “It’s got to captivate its audience and give them pleasure, but should not be such a crown jewel it feels trapped in the space. “
That trapped feeling can happen easily because foyers themselves are evolving in how they’re used. Where Knowles is based in Ft. Lauderdale and in other American ports, M/Y’s are still docked side to side, but in Europe where “they don’t have that kind of real estate” M/Y’s dock aft. And in so doing aft decks are taking precedence over foyers as entrances. Foyers which Patrick finds are becoming more or less “obligatory” are now more about defining the main deck. “It has become a crossroads. People have to pass through easily. The only two real design opportunities are the floor and bulk head designs.”
Patrick’s foyer design for the Mi Sueno is consequently all about realizing those “opportunities” through architecture. Other than a Daum crystal vase atop a lone console, it is the luxuriousness of the materials that causes this area to sing: antique gold inlays set in foliated Kozmus granite on the floor; mahogany on the walls and overhead with dark wenge inlays, cabinetry in maple burl, a bone inlay mirror, and stair rails in satin nickel making for elegant ascents and descents.
The ceremony of welcoming guests on board takes place primarily on Mi Sueno’s celebrated aft deck, however. Boarding this floating lady in the limited berths of Europe, guests are received by a matching pair of wine cellars (and humidor cabinets) in distressed wormwood flanking the bulkheads. A silver leaf finish on the overhead disperses moonbeams on the tree trunk side tables and wenge wood benches below. Breezy sheers separate the aft entry from the saloon and dining area — drawing apart with the touch of a button.
Patrick’s design for the foyer on the ISA 63m is in sharp contrast to Mi Sueno’s though it too is spare on furnishings. Ebullient and fantastical where Mi Sueno is rather dignified and reserved, the ISA foyer ties all the various design elements of the vessel together. Greeting visitors are straight rows of oak planking whose rigid order is soon thwarted by large, cream-colored epoxy petals. They, in turn, bring visitors to a sunlit jungle in the stairwell — rather, a very lifelike canvas mural of a jungle. The uncanny illusion shares the stairwell with a three story tropically-themed, cylindrical light fixture connecting the decks above and below.
No less than four divas welcome guests in the foyer of M/Y Diamonds Are Forever. Here, they’ll encounter two original Erte’ sculptures posing on mirrored sconces while two more divas on art deco-inspired canvases grace the bulkheads where they are set in diamond-themed, carved glass panels. Low energy, LED edge lighting turns the entire scene into a sea-borne jewel box.
“The paintings were commissioned right from the beginning which is unusual,” recalls designer Evan K. Knowles, based in the UK. More often than not, art is an afterthought; a matter of finding some paintings at the end of a project and mounting them on some empty bulkheads. However, if one thinks of a classic design like the cruise ship Normandy (which Knowles often does) there’s not much room in that design for winging it: “almost everything was made to order; totally bespoke,” says Knowles.
The marble floor itself is quite a marvel of bespoke— or lucky break depending on how you look at it. “We went to block wholesalers in Tuscany and chose one based on the samples we saw. They don’t sell pieces, only blocks. For our 60,000 euros we were taking quite a risk. Fortunately, experts at our yard knew what they were doing. Even before the final cuts were made, they were wiping the dust off with a rag to check for imperfections. There were none.”
Why gamble on a block of marble for a foyer? For an answer let’s return to our premise — how leading designers can teach a yacht to sing her diva-like uniqueness through design. In that sense, seemingly minor details such as a wide expanse of seamless marble floor in the foyers make for beautiful music. . With a medallion set in the middle like an island, that brilliant surface somehow evokes the limitlessness of the oceans, the placidity of coves, and the barefooted luxury waiting within. Though designers have few props to play in M/Y entrances, and crowds of onlookers increasingly crowd the docks, the ceremony of welcome remains calm — and private.