Ilse Crawford's top tips for yacht interior design

Consider the interiors right from the start

Leslie Williamson

Ilse Crawford, the designer of Sir Charles Dunstone's classic yacht Shemara and founder of Studioilse gives her top tips for doing up a superyacht...

Superyachts are an odd hybrid. On one hand, they have to be really functional – after all, yachts need to be able to float in some pretty difficult conditions. On the other, they are people’s homes, sometimes for quite a long time, so have to feel personal. The challenge is to combine the two. We describe this process as putting warm values into a cold system – it means integrating unmeasurable human qualities into the measurable system of building to tight schedules and strict performance criteria. On a boat, family, friends, guests and staff are all together in a confined space, and their movements and differing needs have to be considered.

Ensure people are central to the design

Casper Sejersen

Good design should start with people. To create truly bespoke, liveable, welcoming interiors, you need to understand their needs and desires. On [Shemara the 65 metre classic yacht restored to her former glory in 2015 after a three-year rebuild project], we looked at each space in terms of how it would be experienced at different times of day and by different people. Our aim was to make cabins and corridors, decks and saloons that would amplify and accentuate the activities that took place there. Everything on board has been considered so as to anticipate the needs of the owners and their guests. Shemara (pictured) was designed for people to enjoy and feel at home in – not just look at.

The crew’s quarters are just as important

Your crew has a big impact on your yachting experience; they need to feel as happy on the boat as you do, so their cabins need to be respected. It was important to us that the fantasy of Shemara didn’t stop at the door to their quarters. We used the same solid materials and detail in their rooms as is found elsewhere (main deck bar pictured) on the boat. The rooms work rather like Swiss Army Knives – everything they might need fits precisely into the space.

Factor in the importance of feelings

We always try to create spaces that are intuitive – when an interior really works, it makes you feel safe and grounded, yet also free. Presented with a confusing maze of staircases and corridors on board Shemara, we decided to slice up through the middle to make room for one central staircase which gave much easier access to the owner's cabin (pictured).

It took its inspiration from the 1930s, adding a feeling of grandeur and becoming the boat’s focal point. It might seem rather indulgent to allocate such a generous space to a staircase, but it means you’re able to navigate the layout intuitively, which makes all the difference to your feelings about it.

Use materials that have integrity

We pay a great deal of attention to materials, from sourcing and lifespan to finishes and colour. On Shemara, those we chose – teak, pine, unlacquered brass, canvas, woven cane and linens – had a nautical feel and, wherever possible, were salvaged from the original. The decking, for instance, became floorboards, and we then plugged every former screw hole with a wooden peg.


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