Keeping younger guests happy on board is the key to a successful – and peaceful – superyacht experience. BOAT reveals some inspiring children’s spaces, from virtual reality rooms to science labs...
When it comes to catering to children on board, one only has to look at recent yacht launches to see that today’s owners focus far more on keeping their little ones happy and entertained. “There has definitely been a shift in attitude,” says Marnix Hoekstra of Vripack. “Previously, clients would work on designing a grown-up boat and the kids would simply be expected to live on it. That’s no longer the case.”
Take the 48.8-metre Benetti Elaldrea+. While the adults enjoy the relaxing spa pool on the sundeck, the teenagers can spend their time at the transom where there is a large beach club and the opportunity for plenty of watersports. Meanwhile, the younger children can be chaperoned at the small, shallow saltwater pool on the bridge deck. There’s also a spot on the bridge deck with comfortable sofas and a PlayStation if the teenagers want to join. Elaldrea+’s interior is certainly overarchingly grown-up in design, featuring soft, buttery leathers, wood-framed silk walls and sculptural furniture, but there are concessions made for the kids’ areas, which feature colourful and hard-wearing fabrics and furniture.
It’s hard to talk about child-friendly interior design without mentioning the 62-metre custom Feadship Sea Owl too, designed by Andrew Winch, which launched in 2013 and is currently for sale. With a green hull inspired by Peter Pan, pirate-themed cabins, secret doors, nature-themed murals and a shark hanging above the pool, it is a true child’s playground. More commonly, such design is restricted to kids’ cabins, but here creativity can flourish. Recent yachts have included the likes of giant Superman murals, entire walls covered in soft toys and bespoke balloon-shaped chandeliers.
“For us, it’s about creating something unique and memorable for the kids, something they can walk into their room and get really excited about,” says Hoekstra, who was involved in creating the balloon light for a recent Vripack project. “Children also love colour, so even if the overall yacht scheme is more pared-back, we would include a lot more colour in the children’s cabins.”
The offering of durable, yacht- and child-friendly fabrics has increased tenfold in the last decade, and so designers can create a space that is fun and engaging for kids, while able to take sticky ice-cream hands or salty feet in its stride. According to Jim Dixon, director of yachts and aviation at Winch Design, injections of colour that can be changed on a regular basis are now the most common addition to children’s spaces. “Kids are known for always changing their minds on what they like and dislike, and so we find owners tend to avoid overly personalised rooms as there’s every chance the child will want a new theme in a matter of weeks,” he says.
Of course, there are other ways to consider younger seafarers outside of interior design. And first and foremost is the safety element. Common is the parent who has worried about a young child falling overboard on a large boat, and, as Hoekstra says, “the likes of horizontal bars on a deck may look elegant, but to a child it’s just a climbing frame. If we’re designing for a family boat, we’ve got to consider all of these things from the outset.”
Items such as stair gates don’t need to be plastic contraptions added to the scheme at a later date, but incorporated into the initial build. “If young children are due to be on board, we’ll pay special attention to staircase balustrades and door-closing mechanisms and include things like additional floating sea enclosures and folding playpens,” says Ewa Eidsgaard, director and designer at Harrison Eidsgaard. The theme is that, on board, children generally want to be seen and not heard. “Visibility from interior spaces to deck areas is always important to our clients. Owners want to be able to see where the children are or that the supervising staff are doing their job properly,” says Dixon. Open-plan spaces can still be designed cleverly to allow for a relaxing environment when the family is together. For a recent Vripack project, designers created transparent pods within the main living area, so kids could retreat to watch something on their iPads or take a nap, while still being with the family and, crucially, remaining visible.
Children soon become young teenagers, of course, and a major consideration in designing any boat where there will be families on board is ensuring that it can be adapted as the kids get older. “You need to give spaces the ability to change and grow,” says Hoekstra. “We tend to think of baby rooms and nanny cabins and these sorts of spaces as overflow cabins. For instance, when considering a general arrangement, we might place a nanny room between the crew cabins and the client cabins so it can be connected to the crew quarters at a later date, when it’s no longer required.” On the 63-metre Benetti Metis, built on spec, the owner insisted on adjusting the layout of the main deck so that a large nanny cabin, which even includes its own balcony, could sit opposite the children’s cabin and playroom. The layout is cleverly designed so that when the children no longer wish to share in the double room opposite, the nanny cabin can be easily converted into an older child’s bedroom. The two slide beds in the current children’s cabin can also be turned into one larger bed. The kids will just need to argue over who gets the balcony.
The request for children’s cabins to be adjacent to the owners’ cabins as well as near a nanny cabin is something that is being requested more and more by modern yacht owners, says Dixon. “It is also preferable to have a bath as a priority to a shower, so bedtimes can involve a bathtime routine,” says Andrew Winch of Winch Design. This reflects the growing trend for yacht owners to live more like they would in their own homes on board.
Rare is the child that doesn’t love to spend their days immersed in water and so, as with Elaldrea+, pool areas and beach clubs are a huge focus on family boats. The brief for the beach club on Benetti’s new Oasis 40M was for a safe, fun space that the whole family could enjoy. It features built-in lounge seating next to a small pool, and a terraced space off the stern makes for easy access into the water. When it comes to family boats, attention to detail includes considerations such as lowering the transom platform for an easier jump into the sea. On the 67-metre Benetti Seasense, the beach club on the main deck was designed with plenty of space to walk around the pool, teak louvres that run along the sides of the aft deck and pagoda-like umbrellas to offer shade. The area’s real party trick is that, when the pool is empty, it can be transformed into a basketball court – a feature that was incorporated for the owner’s basketball-loving teenage sons. “Decks that can welcome large groups of all generations are increasingly popular,” says Eidsgaard. “This concept can be very successful when you create cleverly separated zones. We tend to introduce it through a change in deck levels, creating ‘cascading’ terraced areas.”
Dedicated games and media rooms for the younger generation are also popular. “It’s usually a separate, cocooned space where they can have fun without disturbing any adults on board,” says Eidsgaard. Other sorts of viewing rooms can keep them occupied too, like the Neptune Lounge on the 74.5-metre Abeking & Rasmussen Elandess, which offers an underwater view with amphitheatre-style seating in plush but child-friendly and durable fabrics. “It’s an incredibly cosy spot for the kids, and the adults don’t need to worry about them while they’re there,” adds Eidsgaard. Outdoor cinemas are also hugely popular on family boats, offering an added element of excitement for family movie nights.
Installing state-of-the-art technology on a superyacht always involves a lot of planning, especially when children and teenagers are involved. “With any build, we’ve got to anticipate what the kids will be into in two or three years’ time,” says Hoekstra. “At the moment we’re looking into virtual reality a lot, as we think this will be the next big thing. For owners now I’m pitching entire virtual reality rooms for their kids.” There is also demand for more technology for children on board than previously. “We’ve definitely seen an increase from a technological point of view with a need for tablets, interactive books and game consoles,” says Dixon.
With the increase in explorer yachts and longer voyages, kids’ areas are designed for work as well as play. Some will create flexibility by equipping an owner’s office with whiteboards, desks and computers, so it can be used as a classroom when necessary; others will go a step further. Alithia, the 39.8-metre Abeking & Rasmussen penned by Winch Design, was built with the purpose of sailing around the world and has a dedicated classroom, large enough for five children. Skat, a 71-metre Lurssen, has a workspace with floor-to-ceiling windows, which although it was originally intended as a meeting space for the then bachelor owner, is now used as a classroom for his children. Of course, on a round-the-world adventure a lot can be learnt outside of a traditional classroom, and smart-thinking owners are equipping their yachts with the likes of craft rooms, as on the appropriately named Artefact, as well as laboratories. “A California-based tech client requested a wet lab with microscopes and science equipment so he could educate his kids on the nature around them. They could find a shell or catch a crab and learn more about it in the lab,” says Hoekstra.
As time goes by, kids’ spaces are less focused on elaborate interior design and more on creative, usable areas, says Eidsgaard. With sustainability a focus for many yacht owners, a more pared-back design look has more longevity and “a number of owners now prefer relatively age-neutral decor to maintain flexibility of welcoming different types of guest in all of the cabins.” For yachts entering the charter market, making them child-friendly is a plus, but anything too child-focused is undesirable for those looking to travel solo. “Owning or chartering a superyacht allows a busy family to come together, offering something for everyone across all generations. This is how the design of a superyacht should be too,” says Dixon. This doesn’t have to mean themed spaces, but a general arrangement that allows for them to be with the family as well as apart safely and plenty to keep them engaged with yacht life. While Sea Owl may have had plenty of eye-catching elements, it also includes small details such as personalised swim robes for the grandchildren with “owlet” embroidered on the back. As Hoekstra says, “Being on board a superyacht should be the ultimate experience for them too.”