Going for green: Designing the interior of a sustainable superyacht
by Tory Kingdon
In the race for an eco-friendly future, designers need to address the interior design of a superyacht as well as how it is powered, says Tory Kingdon
From solar panels to hybrid or hydrogen power, much has been made of the developments in environmentally friendly superyacht design with regard to propulsion, reducing carbon footprints and creating more energy-efficient vessels. It’s a positive step forward, but what of the structure itself? In an industry renowned for offering the very finest materials and finishes (often with hundreds of applications), and with an emphasis on one-of-a-kind design, are superyacht interiors sustainable enough?
According to Andrew Winch of Winch Design, designers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious in the choices they make. “We avoid using anything that is endangered or rare, and instead select materials that are rapidly renewable, such as wood veneers or bamboo silk carpets,” he says. “LED lighting is used where possible, due to its greater energy efficiency.” Simon Rowell of Bannenburg and Rowell agrees that most designers today take a responsible approach, “if rarer materials are used, they’re used very minimally.” Suppliers, too, are making conscious efforts to reduce their environmental impact, from the recycling of waste materials or water in tanneries or glassworks to choosing sustainable wood sources in the production of furniture.
There is, however, still a conflict in the provision of luxury and “being green”, says Pascale Reymond of Reymond Langton, who recently designed the interior for Volpini 2, Amels’ 58-metre Limited Edition. The yacht was the first to be Tier III-compliant under the International Maritime Organization’s new emissions standards thanks to its hybrid power configuration, but as for the interior, “It wasn’t necessarily in the brief to be green – although we were conscious of our choices,” says Reymond. She adds that it can often be challenging to deliver client requirements and be sustainably responsible. “Take marble, for instance: most owners expect the highest-quality finish, and if there are stains or marks on particular pieces we can’t use them and a large amount will get thrown away. We want to avoid waste but we have to cater to the expectations of the client. It’s a very difficult balance.”
Energy-saving measures are undoubtedly an easier sell – reducing the overall running costs of a boat – but the industry’s discerning clientele don’t necessarily want to compromise when it comes to their interior environment. “You can have designers who do their best to suggest a sustainable product but if the client doesn’t share those values, decisions are made on aesthetics or functionality alone. It’s ideal when what is attractive and functional is also virtuous,” says Lay Koon Tan, founder of Nature Squared. Tan’s company is helping to make this possible. Nature Squared, the business she founded in 2000 with Paul Hoev, takes commonplace materials, often by-products of the fishing or farming industries, and transforms them into luxury products and finishes. As well as helping to reduce the use of depleting resources, the company also creates meaningful sustainable employment in developing countries.
On the 88.5-metre Oceanco Barbara, designer Sam Sorgiovanni worked with Nature Squared to implement a number of its finishes, from bamboo on the ceiling to the more unusual pufferfish skin on cabinets in the main saloon. All were from sustainable sources. “It’s everything we stand for,” says Tan, “Taking commonplace materials and applying them in an innovative way.”
Tan’s latest focus is on sustainable feathers. “I find them beautiful but I wanted to work with them in a way that would meet our sustainability criteria,” she says. Tan found Christina Tooley of Chevron Hackles, who agreed to work with her to harvest pheasant feathers that were otherwise destined for landfill. These feathers now form part of a 10-piece capsule furniture collection that Nature Squared has designed in collaboration with designer Bethan Gray. It will launch at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.
Tan is optimistic about changes in attitude within the industry. “We’ve seen a lot more interest in our products recently, not just because they’re different, but because of the sustainability element – clients are more invested in it.”
Another company similarly invested in the recycling of resources is Merritt, an Ohio-based manufacturer who, among a number of wood-reclaiming methods, sources sunken red cypress trees from the Apalachicola swamps in Florida. The remnants of harvesting that took place in the 1800s, these are now being given renewed purpose as wood flooring or cabinetry. Woodworks by Ted Todd similarly seeks out rare and depleting wood species and repurposes them. The company recently worked on the 51-metre Alicia, providing reclaimed pitch pine for flooring and cabinetry and walnut and yew for furniture and panelling.
As well as the innovative use of existing materials, there are new materials emerging. Green Blade is a wood-look product made from the disused trunks of banana plants; mushroom fibres, known as mycelium, are being used in the creation of a textile that can replace leather, among other things. There are also new resins, made from bio-based materials, such as sugars, natural oils and cornstarch from agricultural waste, and lacquers that are water-based, as opposed to carbon-based. Plastics, too, are getting a makeover, with a new carbon-neutral plastic that is formed of methane and other greenhouse gases captured from the air, already being used in the furnishings and packaging industry.
“People need to understand that not only are a lot of eco products more sustainable, they’re also far healthier to have in your environment,” says Joyce Clear, founder of Clear Group International, a luxury interior design firm focused on sustainability and wellness. “Much of the issue is that yacht owners and designers don’t know what’s out there in terms of sustainable products,” she adds. “When people hear the words ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’, they think they have to compromise on the luxury element, but they don’t.”
Clear is soon to launch The Global Sustainability Exchange, a web-based platform that acts as a directory for sustainable solutions across the world. “Whether I’m an interior designer looking for sustainable carpet suppliers or crew trying to source the best eco-friendly cleaning products, all the information will be there in one place. It’s also intended as a networking platform for sourcing local suppliers to a project.
“As an industry we need to set an example,” she continues. “There are exotic woods that once would’ve brought cache to a product that we don’t have access to anymore. We’re depleting our resources, but if we are mindful and innovate to replicate or sustain the resources, these beautiful materials will remain available to us. That’s the ultimate luxury.”