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My Secret - a Heesen 47 with a difference

The story of My Secret is the story of success, born out of hard economic times and bold decisions. Midway through the build of what was then Project California, Heesen Yachts had to decide whether to mothball it or finish her on spec. Not only did the team finish the project, they decided to finish her to extraordinarily high standards. The question is, would the risk pay off, and how would they manage it?

Bannenberg and Rowell were the designers and together with Heesen they embraced the project. My Secret is one of Heesen’s 47 metre class, really a series of sisterships rather than a platform, which allows for huge latitude for owners to customise. Each 47 is different and Heesen’s flexible approach has its advantages. Each can be highly personalised, with Heesen even willing to make changes to the engineering units. ‘Many yacht builders will refuse to move a vent or re-route cabling,’ says Simon Rowell, ‘whereas Heesen will at least go away and see what can be changed.’

The designers had their work cut out for them; they are more used to working to an owner’s brief, but with My Secret there was just the yard. Their strategy was to come up with a virtual client and put together themes and ideas in the kind of detail they’d present to a real client. The project’s name, California, was used as a springboard for ideas. Inspiration also came from a recent Paule Ka advertising campaign that used retro images of Californian life with a feel and palette reminiscent of Mad Men, the television programme set in the early 1960s, and of the late 1950s and early 1960s surf lifestyle.

For the first few months ‘mood boards’ were collated and colours, textiles and materials researched. The team held brainstorming sessions around all things Californian, from Hollywood to beach life. Broad schemes emerged for each deck: for the lower deck, Palm Springs; the main deck was Hollywood glamour and the bridge deck laid-back beach life. The overall feel Rowell refers to as ‘gentle retro’.

In large part the success or failure of this project revolved around the relationship between Heesen and the designers: if a yard keeps too tight a rein on a design team you can end up with a half-cocked design that seems safe, but is dull, beige and as Rowell points out, ‘largely unsaleable’. In other words, Heesen showed a great degree of trust in the skills of Bannenberg and Rowell. Fabio Ermetto, sales and marketing director at Heesen says it was sure of its decision from the start: ‘First, Dickie (Bannenburg) and Simon are adorable people and it is a pleasure to spend time with them. Second, they found their way to work with our team and integrated well in the work flow. They are extremely creative but not extravagant, very precise and reliable.’

Deadlines for the creation of My Secret were extremely tight: finishing the project on spec meant they had to work fast and with a great degree of collaboration. In effect the design was finalised deck by deck in order of construction. Every two weeks or so Bannenburg and Rowell presented a package of designs for Heesen to peruse and approve. At this stage the detail was quite different from how you’d present to a regular client: this was all about the nuts and bolts, how the design would actually be achieved. It would then get fed into the Heesen construction system resulting in follow-up. Costings could be accurately forecasted, and agreements made, which meant a huge reduction in the usual build hassle – everyone could sign up to the idea with full information.

Another close collaboration was between the designers and Heesen Yacht Interiors (HYI) to produce bespoke items for My Secret. The dining chairs were close copies of an unavailable retro design, which had to be made millimetre accurate to fit the space. Using the many samples Bannenberg and Rowell had accrued, HYI came up with ideas to achieve the precise finishes hoped for. The results are impeccable.

Fabio Ermetto felt confident. ‘Project California, now My Secret, has been a well calculated risk. The 47 metre class is our best-seller. She is a boat that proved to be extremely versatile in terms of space arrangement and with the traditional layout we chose, we thought we could meet the taste of a potential buyer. The choice of Bannenberg and Rowell proved to be winning. They have a defined and recognisable style, very eclectic but extremely coherent throughout the whole project, which is pleasant not only for the eye but also intellectually.’ The risk did pay off: My Secret has been bought, and delivered to her new owner.

The layout is pretty conventional, with the master cabin forward on the main deck and the four twin or double guest cabins on the lower deck. Several of the other 47 metres buck this trend, using the upper sun lounge as the master suite and putting a games room or entertainment suite and a VIP cabin on the main deck. One departure from the norm is the very open sundeck on My Secret, which was specified by the new owner, who decided to forgo a fixed dining area in favour of a flexible space ideal for sunbathing, relaxing and entertaining larger numbers of guests when in port. However, it is testament to the skill and style of the design that the owner changed so very little.

The overall palette used on My Secret may be muted neutrals – but the addition of carefully selected acid brights elevates it way beyond the generic superyacht interior. In addition, motifs have been picked out and used throughout. The shape of what turns out to be a long Malibu surfboard can be seen as stencils on windows, used in matte brass inlaid in the stairwell and they’re also to be found as cut-outs in the lighting unit above the table in the upper saloon. But you’re not hit over the head with the theme; it’s clever, subtle, yet coherent enough to make the whole interior sing in harmony. You may not immediately be able to put your finger on why – but it just feels right. This is the advantage of allowing a skilled design to follow through on their creativity, to complete their vision. It’s a triumph of thorough, detailed design carried off with flair, producing a thoroughly liveable, workable interior.

The main saloon, with its ceiling lit by recessed, geometrically placed lights, is probably the most like Mad Men. But this is homage rather than recreation – taking a look and feel and giving it the 21st Century treatment. It will work beautifully when the yacht is filled with guests sporting the latest fashions. You won’t need to dress like Don Draper to fit in: this is a thoroughly modern design.

My Secret's main saloon features the stripes found throughout the yacht, including the irregular multi-toned inlaid wood of the doors and the custom side-tables. Once again they were based on a retro design, but custom made. Bannenberg and Rowell wanted them made from stone, but when this proved prohibitively expensive, HYI came up with a polished wood version, that looks equally solid and smooth. Heavy bronze chairs with deep cushions rest atop swirly textured carpet, reminiscent of Heesen’s textured branding. In fact, there is texture everywhere: the marble in the en suites is not only a monochrome blend of different colours and types, but each panel can be smooth gloss, ribbed or pebble-blasted…

My Secret’s success proves taking risks can pay off; that it’s wiser than to half do it, to dilute the design. ‘When someone buys a yacht like this they want to buy into a dream,’ concludes Rowell, ‘so that’s what you need to create.’

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