How to incorporate antiques in yacht design

In our modern world where new and innovative seem to garner more respect than ancient and sage, replicas more often are found in superyacht interiors than the genuine antiques. Some yacht designers and antique restorers are seeking to change this. These experts have shared the easy ways that antiques can be brought into yacht design and the most important things to consider.

Look for the genuine article 

To an antique lover and collector, the value of the object is inherently tied to its history. “[The reason to buy an antique] is the same reason that someone would go out and buy an original piece of artwork for the yacht rather than buy a print or a reproduction,” says David Burton, whose company Onlyacht sources, restores and fits antiques for superyachts. “They are buying something that has an intangible connection, to either the original artist or to that period in time.”

“There is no comparison in replicas to real antiques,” says designer Karen Poulos of Karen Lynn Interiors. “The way things were made in the past and the story that goes with the piece cannot be compared to a replica.” 

Antiques are a personal choice 

What makes for a coveted or beautiful antique is entirely subjective, of course. “Something just speaks to you – it has good style, quality, and feel to it. I don’t understand how people buy online; I have to see it and feel it in person,” says Phyllis Washington, who, together with husband Dennis Washington, own superyachts Attessa III and Attessa IV. An antiques dealer in her own right (Maison Felice) and interior designer, she oversaw the interior design for both yachts and imbued antiques into her styling.

Washington shies away from the blonde woods of the 19th century Biedermeier style and, while she personally enjoys French, country styling, “the curved French furniture doesn’t really fit the style of yachting”, she says. Washington also deems the Louis XIV era too gilded, and often too over-the-top for yachts. She did sneak a Louis-style desk into one of the bedrooms on board a yacht, “but I wouldn’t try to do that in many places!” she confesses.

Proving antiques are personal, Karen Poulos of Karen Lynn Interiors disagrees. She describes the classical French style of the Louis XIV, XV, and XVI eras as “timeless”. She sources many of her best finds in France, including her most precious, a 17th century clock in working condition. 

Art deco works well on any yacht 

One thing that Burton, Washington and Poulos all agree on is that the most sought-after items for yacht interiors are art deco pieces. Case in point is the recent refit of the 52 metre Amels Marjorie Morningstar, now named Felix, which has been redesigned to incorporate references to classic ocean liners.

Lacquered art deco pieces can wear better than their wood counterparts, which must be meticulously maintained, kept up with the proper polishes and “loved and taken care of like a pet”, Washington says.

“On Attessa IV, I used a lot of art deco – it’s a sleek look,” she says. “In reality, art deco is not antique because it has to be 100 years old; in today’s world, most would call it vintage. I have some beautiful pieces in our boat: large consoles are on both sides as you walk in the door of the main saloon”.

Consider motion and vibration 

A yacht moves, after all, and antiques can be delicate. The combination, if not properly thought out, can be catastrophic. But it need not be, as David Burton says. “This is the main part of our solution, providing additions to the structure of the furniture and other objects, which allow us to fix the object to either the cabin wall or floor so that movements can be controlled or eliminated.”

Onlyacht’s focus is on conserving the piece as well so solutions are found that don’t damage the antique. Custom support mechanisms that can be built into and under the object make for a safe installation while retaining its integrity. The installation is also easily reversible if the owner wants to remove the antique when they sell the yacht – or just redecorate.

But before an antique can be secured properly, it needs to be the right piece for the job. Tables with fragile legs that can’t be anchored into the floor will have to be strapped down every time the boat moves and aren’t advised.

“When placing any kind of furniture, but especially small pieces, they have to be anchored,” says Phyllis Washington. “People don’t understand that [with antiques] you have to decide exactly where you want to put the item; you can’t move them later.”

A yacht can be the perfect climate for antiques 

Perhaps surprisingly, a yacht interior can be the perfect climate to host antiques. “The larger boats are climate controlled so well that it’s no different from a home”, says Phyllis Washington. And the fact that some sea air might seep in is actually a blessing – in moderation. “In fact, it’s better for antiques to have moisture,” she says.

Onlyacht’s terms and conditions specify that for a successful installation, the yacht’s interior must remain between 19 and 23 degrees Celsius with a humidity of 50 to 60 per cent. 

What to know about insuring antiques on yachts 

While collectors might worry about humidity or motion, insurers fret about fire. “[The items] are so well protected, and with full-time crew, that perhaps the risk is better than a similar collection at one of the [yacht owner’s] homes, which may stand unoccupied for many months,” says Melanie Corbett, vice president and senior yacht consultant at Lockton Companies. And in case of a fire? “Notwithstanding the fact that the prevention of loss of life is always the main focus for insurers and no one [is] expected to put their life at risk for the saving of a piece of art, however, the vessel will have a disaster recovery plan in place and the Captain will know which items have the greatest value. The disaster recovery plan will represent such.”

Just as there are things to consider when displaying fine art on superyachts, there is much to go over when bringing antiques on board. Antiques should be insured under a separate fine arts contract, which Corbett says will provide wider coverage, including coverage for paired items, which Washington collects, and depreciation in the event of loss and repair and transits to and from the vessel and while an item is in storage if the yacht is in the yard under repair. 

Bring antiques into yacht design as a statement piece 

Antiques are best added as accessories or focal pieces, sometimes in an otherwise contemporary-styled room to really add a pop. “It can work quite well not necessarily having the entire yacht done in an antique style, but just a few selective pieces can really lift an interior,” David Burton says.

“I love antiques so much, I try to bring it up with every client in some way—even if it is a client who loves modern, because there is always a way to place at least one amazing antique in the design—and the nautical antiques such as an old beautiful antique map or a compass are an easy conversation piece,” Poulos says.

“The younger generation isn’t into antiques, they want straight furniture, modern, but if you put one piece in the room, a desk, a coffee table, a console – it’s a statement piece, so when you come in the room it goes, ‘wow!’” says Washington. The masterfully rebuilt superyacht Attessa IV has a 19th century English fireplace in the main saloon – a further example as to why it can be better to resist the modern inclination to glorify the new.

If it’s broken, fix it. If it’s old, restore it. Pieces with provenance add character to a yacht’s interior – and often have amazing stories to tell.

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