The first Benetti Motopanfilo 37M, Koju, is a reinterpretation of a decades-old nautical style in a modern yacht, making it a recipe for a successful series.
David Bowie had one. So did Monaco’s Prince Rainier III. With long bows, tapered superstructures and distinctly nautical styling, the Benetti yachts built in the 1960s and 70s attracted celebrities and royals alike. This era of yachting is often regarded as the ultimate in maritime fashion, so it’s understandable that the Italian builder might want to revisit it 60 years later. The new Benetti Motopanfilo 37M was created to do just that, breathing new life into the “dolce vita” age of yachting.
“The new 37 metre is inspired by the leading models of the 1960s and 70s and by the stylistic code of that era,” says Giovanna Vitelli, vice president of the Azimut-Benetti Group. “She’s the materialisation of Benetti’s glam heritage but made to satisfy the tastes and needs of contemporary owners.”
Hull No 1 was started on spec but has since attracted an American owner. Named Koju, she will be used privately as well as being available for charter in the Caribbean this winter.
The semi-custom yacht model, built in fibreglass and composite, features exterior design by Francesco Struglia in collaboration with Benetti. Struglia, who previously worked with Azimut-Benetti on the design of the vivacious outboard-propelled Azimut Verve, designed the Montopanfilo’s exterior and created the interior layout. He looked to the styling of classic Benettis for inspiration. “I started with the Benettis from the 1960s as a reference, and I found many details, like the bronze fashion plates,” he says.
He is on board the Motopanfilo 37M during her debut at the 2021 Cannes Yachting Festival and points out the bronze detailing that frames the bulwarks, serving as the handrails and wrapping up and over onto the exterior deckheads. “In the past, this would have been made of wood,” he says, “so it’s a modern take on that classic styling.” Like a classic Benetti, the Motopanfilo has a lovely long sheer line but its bow is less pronounced.
The interior designers also drew inspiration from the past. Rome-based Lazzarini Pickering Architetti, a firm founded in 1982 by the Italian and Australian design duo of Claudio Lazzarini and Carl Pickering, was tasked with capturing the essence of an era when nautical styling was strong, and a boat felt like a boat. This appealed to Pickering. “When you are on a boat, you don’t want to feel like you’re in an apartment or just a bus with a long sofa and chairs,” he says as we stand in the main saloon.
The saloon itself is a symphony of curves – a round rug, coffee table and sofas that face each other while still offering views of the water beyond. The curves represent a softness that the interior designers wanted to bring on board, a quality that Pickering says the boats from yesteryear had in abundance. Lazzarini Pickering Architetti, which designed these rounded furnishings, gave a nod to the style of the swinging ’60s without making them too retro.
“The conversation is infinitely more natural with these curved sofas, which we see outside as well,” Pickering says, gesturing past the saloon’s curved sliding glass doors toward a large C-shaped settee on the aft deck. It is also part of an indoor/outdoor furniture collection designed by Lazzarini Pickering. Integration of exterior and interior was vital to the yacht’s designers so that even the main deck furniture is finished in outdoor fabric. “We encourage owners to organise the main deck saloon with outdoor fabrics, so if you have a wet swimming costume on, you can still come inside to cool off between swims on a hot day in the Med,” Pickering says.
There is a purposeful simplicity to the chosen materials. The colour scheme is undeniably nautical. It blends white and navy with abundant use of wood, but these materials are interpreted in a modern way. Instead of the dark high-gloss joinery of the past, the designers selected light wood in a matt finish. And the Loro Piana Interiors fabrics that have been used on everything from sofas to rugs, indoor and out, are decidedly contemporary. They are employed in a variety of ways, so the motif is simple but never boring.
A particularly interesting design feature is seen on the ceilings of each deck, where wooden ribs arch across the width of the yacht. In the main saloon, these are made of white lacquer, contrasting with the light wood on the overheads.
“We wanted to create the illusion of being in the belly of a whale,” Pickering says. This detail appears on the other decks as well, but with the colour scheme inverted. On the upper and lower decks, the overheads are in white lacquer while the “whale ribs” are in light wood. Not only does this design element add interest, but it is used to break up the space; in the main saloon the ribs act as a demarcation between the main deck foyer and saloon as well as between the saloon and dining area, and they frame each bulkhead. “These ribs give a rhythm and order to the spaces,” Pickering says. “We wanted to give the idea that the bulkheads are curved, so as in the columns of the Pantheon, we have this optical correction.”
The arching ribs are just one detail that’s repeated throughout the Motopanfilo 37M. “We’ve created elements that go bow to stern on all of the decks,” Pickering says. Set in pairs, the ribs themselves frame textured lacquered panels, another feature seen throughout. “[The panels] are a contemporary interpretation because it’s not just aesthetic choice but functional as well,” Pickering continues, pointing out that these vertical panels hide storage, disguise air conditioning trunks and even frame art. Some of the panels have cut-outs that hold sculptures while others glow in ambient light from the built-in lamps that recall classic yacht windows. The sculptures seen on hull No 1 all come from the interior designer’s private collection.
Nautical elements inspired by Benettis of a bygone era include the bronze detailing, mirrored surfaces and light fixtures shaped like traditional portlights. “There are elements recalling the past, not in a nostalgic nor melancholic way, but rather a nautical ease that has been overlooked at times in recent years,” says Vitelli approvingly.
There are multiple cues to sailing yachts. One is the curved column feature in the central staircase, covered in lush white leather. Running from the lower to the upper deck, it is designed to look like the mast found of a sailing superyacht. The guest cabins also have a curve in the walls that accentuates the shape of the hull, which gives them a cosy cocoon feel.
It was vital to the builder and designers that the Motopanfilo 37M have a clear sense of being connected to the water. “The Benettis of the past had this… they were glamorous, no doubt about it, but also they were in touch with the sea, and we tried to bring this feeling into the Motopanfilo 37M,” Pickering says.
Modern yachts, with their ability to support large windows, have an advantage over their classic predecessors in this aim. The Motopanfilo 37M has floor-to-ceiling windows but also employs an optical illusion to make the views that are seen out of them seem to stretch on forever. The window frames within the superstructure are covered in mirrors so that you see the reflection of the water. It’s a cunning trick of the eye that makes both the room itself – and the outside world – seem more expansive than it is.
The reflective window frames, used on every deck, are complemented by mirrored panels on the forward bulkhead on the main deck and the wardrobe doors in the master suite. Mirrors reflect the ocean, bringing the movement and blue tones of the water inside and highlighting elements of the architecture. “Even the doors are mirrored – not to reflect people, but the architecture,” Pickering notes.
Pairing mirrors with a slatted wood design, another direct reference to the Benetti yachts of the 1960s, is a feature seen on the upper deck walls and bar, as well as on some furniture pieces, such as the custom-made round bar cart on the main deck. Curved strips of light wood are set over mirrored panels. “We’ve created these ribs on the bulkhead that look like marine doors,” Pickering says.
The upper lounge itself isn’t small by any means but it is on the cosier side, which affords a larger aft deck with a sizable al fresco dining table seating 10. This layout choice is indicative of the yacht’s dedication to outdoor living.
“We wanted to maximise the outdoor living spaces,” Struglia says. There is a forward deck lounge with spa tub as well as a sundeck that has a bar, sunpads and a second al fresco dining area with a large round table integrating a lazy Susan, a feature decidedly popular in furniture design in the 1970s. But there’s also a hidden fifth deck. The observatory deck, as it’s known, is a little terrace set above the sundeck and forward of the radar arch. Encircled in glass, it is perfectly designed for two guests to canoodle on a cushy sunpad and gaze out at the views beyond. The radar arch carries forward the bronze detailing seen on the superstructure, but also the latest domes and antennae, part of an ultra-modern communications system by e3 Systems.
Lazzarini Pickering Architetti has designed yachts before, but this was the first time the firm created the interior of a yacht built on spec without a specific owner in mind. The design opportunities that a semi-custom project offers seems to delight Pickering.
“The possibility of custom materials is endless – the interior can be nautical, or it can be all-white [in the style of] 2001: A Space Odyssey, or it can be dark if one wants that, so one can create a completely different effect, and that’s the idea,” he says. “We are giving you a shell that you can also customise with your own furniture.”
Four hulls of the Motopanfilo 37M have already been sold. “We are really proud of the result we achieved: a timeless and elegant, yet contemporary, yacht,” Vitelli says. “The market is responding very well too, a sign that we managed to interpret our customers’ desire to return a more authentic yachting experience.”
As the saying goes, everything old is new again. But with this Benetti, there isn’t the feeling of stepping back in time, but of stepping forward into a new era of yachting.
First published in the February 2022 issue of BOAT International.