Banishing preconceptions and carefully combining furniture styles will make for a unique and impressive superyacht interior – if aesthetics, practicality and quality are finely balanced
Continuing the legacy of one of the most famous superyacht designers of all time can’t be an easy task, but the modern reincarnation of Jon Bannenberg’s former studio, now known as Bannenberg & Rowell, has retained its world-class reputation. Led by Dickie Bannenberg, who worked alongside his father for 15 years, and creative director Simon Rowell, the Fulham- based studio’s projects range from yacht interiors and exteriors to residential interior design, private-jet design and even bespoke furniture design.
Concepts and collaborations have seen Bannenberg & Rowell work with shipyards Lürssen, Benetti, Oceanco and Nobiskrug among others. The team has won six World Superyacht Awards for interiors, including for Lady Petra and Galactica Star. Other notable projects include Blue Bird, the top-to-bottom redesign of a classic 1938 motor yacht, and Joy, a 70-metre Feadship, for which the studio won a World Superyacht Award for exterior design.
As the creative head of the studio, Rowell, like the iconic designer before him, isn’t afraid of raising the bar. Bannenberg & Rowell is known for its contemporary, occasionally avant garde aesthetic, but Rowell combines creativity with common sense, creating interiors that are impressive and distinctive, but also practical.
Simon Rowell on indoor furniture
“The three things to consider are aesthetics, practicality on board – in terms of safety and suitability for the environment – and quality. I wouldn’t like to order them, they’ve got to be evenly balanced and they’re all essential. You’d be amazed by how quickly that narrows the field in terms of potential furniture suppliers.
There are many preconceptions about what furniture should or shouldn’t go on a boat. People have ideas about what a yacht interior should look like – I would say it doesn’t need to look like that. You should treat a yacht cabin as you would a room in your home.
There’s also often a preconception that you need to shrink everything. You don’t. Having said that, you do need breathing space. People tend to think about objects when they think about their new project but as a designer you have to think about space – the space between objects is almost more important than the object itself in terms of balance and general harmony. Too many objects in a small space doesn’t work, and sometimes we have to battle clients with that. I would say function and proportion are the first steps, and then you move on to the aesthetics.
We usually tell clients to forget about other boats. The design should be personal and individual so it’s important for the client to start with as blank a canvas as possible. With any new client, we’ll produce a lookbook, generated from our initial discussions, which might include different furniture styles, fabrics, finishes etc, and this will help establish what the client likes and dislikes. The template will fit their brief but also challenge it slightly, so we can find out if something might be too adventurous, or indeed if we haven’t been adventurous enough.
One of the most rewarding elements of fitting out a boat with indoor furniture is undoubtedly the bespoke items. The majority of pieces on board, even when selected from known manufacturers, will undergo a certain element of customisation, whether that be on fabrics or finish or whatever. But the really in-depth bespoke projects – a dining table or a credenza, for instance – are the most exciting. It’s not without risk of course, as you’re essentially building a prototype that’s going to be in the final environment but it can be really rewarding for the designer, manufacturer and the client.
Two companies we work with that deserve a mention are Silverlining Furniture and Pollaro, because they’ve relished every challenge we’ve ever thrown at them and, to date, have never compromised on their standards of quality. They’ve consistently come up with the goods.
The period from art deco through to the 1980s is rich inspiration for furniture on board a yacht. I think yacht designers are fundamentally modernist given their training, and so this certainly informs suggestions even if it doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in the finished design. That’s not to say you can’t create an individual aesthetic by perhaps dialling it up a little bit here and toning it down there, combining different styles, new manufacturing techniques or new finishes. Finishes should be handled in a modern way. If you’re going to use a rare material, whether it’s sustainable or not, use smaller pieces. You don’t need to plaster very unusual finishes over large areas – they lose their impact then anyway.
We work very hard to ensure there is a strong identity to each project. On Natori, for instance, the owners had a preference for certain art deco features but they also had an African property and they wanted to weave that in by using more natural African materials, fabrics and tones. The combination worked really well. It’s a hugely successful charter boat, but when the owners come on board it still feels like it’s all them.
For the most part, boats should have an eclectic interior, and I think, if correctly curated, they can handle a wide and varied combination of furniture styles.”