Chasseur: The 49m contemporary masterpiece from Christensen
by Mark Masciarotte
Moored in the peaceful calm of her builder’s marina on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, Chasseur stands in stark contrast to all but one of her predecessors built by Christensen Shipyards. As I walk into the main saloon, certain words spring to mind: light, sleek, clean. It is this last one that embeds itself.
Great contemporary design is unfettered by extraneous decoration. It draws the eye, holds it, invites us to think. It is the work of Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Frank Lloyd Wright. Chasseur has this quality, like the iconic Sir Norman Foster-designed yacht Izanami (now Ronin).
Tonya Lance, owner of Varo Interior Design and Chasseur’s principal designer, says that it was the 48.77 metre Christensen Odessa, launched in 2009, that inspired the owner to commission a new build with his long-time friend and business associate Henry Luken, who has since become Christensen’s majority shareholder.
Lance says that Chasseur’s owner, telecoms entrepreneur Donald Burns, saw a template in Odessa. But Burns adds that getting from inspiration to launch day was not as direct as that sounds.
“A few years ago, [during] a very difficult financial time, Henry had contracted with the yard for the construction of three vessels,” Burns says. “At that point Odessa had launched and I really thought she was one of the most attractive products that the yard had ever produced — a much more contemporary interior, and a very fresh look.
“Just conversationally, I said to Henry: ‘I would really consider getting back into boating if I could own a vessel that was more like Odessa.’ And he said: ‘Well, as a matter of fact, I have one laid up right now’, and he offered to let me assume his contract for that vessel.”
The contract to which Burns refers was for Hull No. 37. Yet Chasseur is Hull No. 40. “Christensen approached me and said they had a buyer that wanted a quick delivery and asked whether I’d be willing to give up my rights in Hull 37, so they could sell it to the D’Natalin IV _owners,” says Burns. “They made me an offer and I accepted. Then I commenced work on what is now _Chasseur.”
The time between the purchase of Hull 37 and the purchase of Hull 40 was put to good use, says Lance, giving client and designer time to tour, analyse and discuss several yachts to help clearly define Burns’s vision for Chasseur.
“I had a very clear idea of what I wanted in the vessel,” he says, “but I really relied heavily on Tonya to present things to me in a series of meetings. She had seen the recent examples of my home décor and I gave her some writings on the subject.
“In meetings, she would present options, a palette of three different things, and I would give her immediate feedback — really concise. I [recall that] some of the original sycamores tended to read a little red, and I said: ‘No, we need to keep it really in the milk tones, as opposed to having any sort of pink in the species’.”
The design brief, says Lance, was straightforward. “One of our main objectives for Chasseur was to create a seamless flow between the interior and the surrounding exterior environments. It was important to us that the transition wasn’t a stark shock to your system, with huge variations of colour, tone and light. Also, the high-gloss ceiling panels display beautiful reflections of the water.”
To attain this result, Chasseur’s spaces strike a balance between minimalism and modernism that takes full advantage of the natural light streaming through vast expanses of glass on the main and bridge decks. Throughout the boat, the watchword is rectilinear. Lines are clean and spare, shapes geometric.
Bulkheads, doors and casings of what Lance refers to as “milk-glazed” sycamore meet contrasting soles of matte-finished teak and holly. Cupboards and drawers are executed in santos rosewood; bedside tables and dressers also feature ebonised oak.
Other pieces are adorned with natural materials: shagreen, woven leather, capiz shell. Furniture — a Hermès chair or Armani Casa table — is used as both accent and statement, taking pride of place where appropriate.
Burns “spared no expense to fulfil his luxurious vision”, says Lance. That vision, as it happens, follows through to his residences as well. Speaking from his house in Nantucket, Burns says: “Well, broadly, my tastes have evolved over the years. [This house] is an extraordinarily contemporary home, and I’m in the process of trying to do the same thing in my home base of Palm Beach.
“Beyond that, boatyards around the world really weren’t producing contemporary products, and that’s true with very few exceptions. Boats are generally still quite heavy in appearance, the interiors are generously adorned.
“I guess it would be best to say they just [have] sort of a heavier look than I was interested in. Frankly, I thought Odessa was quite dark and a little visually heavy. But the lines were nice.”
Burns explains that he set out to create an interior that was more in keeping with his current tastes for décor and, where possible, improving upon the general lines of Odessa. “And that,” he states, “resulted in the interior that we have today with the teak floors, the lighter species of wood, better lighting and really fantastic technology.”
The better lighting that Burns speaks of became a significant part of the overall design concept for Chasseur. “I really pressed the yard hard on technology and on lighting,” he says, adding that he believes that many previous Christensen owners hadn’t spent much time on either.
“Tonya was very frank with me. She said: ‘You know, I don’t have a lot of experience [with special architectural lighting] and, certainly, the yard doesn’t have a lot of experience.’
“I happen to have a personal friend, Nathan Orsman, who is a very well recognised lighting designer, so I brought him in on contract to review the lighting of Chasseur from stem to stern. I think the product’s outcome speaks to that.”
Orsman’s lighting plan also plays an important part in the presentation of Chasseur’s collection of art, a thoughtful assemblage that comprises nearly two dozen important photographs and several contemporary sculptural pieces. The direction, says Lance, took time, although, she admits, the search was quite enjoyable.
“It was really an evolution,” says Burns, “because, again, some of the art on vessels tends to be quite heavy, and I wanted something that reflected Chasseur’s character and level of light, and how I wanted to use and enjoy the vessel.
“So, the art that we ultimately chose, whether it’s the Christian Liaigre piece in the foyer — the monolithic wood — or the photography or [other works] seemed to really complement the feel I was trying to get.”
He selected some pieces for their specific location. “I really think they add to the overall feeling that I was trying to achieve, and they do it much better than some of the oils I have in my homes, for example. Yes, they are contemporary… and they do a great job at complementing the décor on board Chasseur.”
Having looked at a number of boats before deciding to sign a contract with Christensen, Burns felt that most of them, even many recent builds, would not please the new generation of yacht owners. He was greatly concerned that the aesthetic he envisioned for Chasseur would not become dated.
“I was trying to achieve the longest life cycle on the décor that I could,” he says. “As I said, Chasseur is probably more spare than other Christensen products, but I was trying to look into the future. I think glass ages well and I think the natural materials will all age very well.”
In addition, he was careful to not customise the yacht to an extent that would turn off charterers or, more importantly, buyers when the time comes to sell Chasseur. “I wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it,” he admits, “but I didn’t want to take it so far that it was overly personalised, because I think [boats that go that way] don’t do well. I think I struck a good note.”
After enjoying his maiden trip to St Barths this autumn, Burns plans to offer Chasseur for charter, making the boat available in the Mediterranean during the summer season and the Caribbean during the winter. It was not a decision taken lightly.
“I’m much more pragmatic at my age than I was when I was younger,” he acknowledges. “When I was younger, I wouldn’t have heard of it but I think it’s better for the crew and the vessel, and I think it will also be very good for the yard to get Chasseur exposed.”
Legendary interior designer Albert Hadley once said: “Decoration is really about creating a quality of life and a beauty in that life that nourishes the soul, that makes life beautiful.” There is absolutely no doubt that Chasseur will accomplish that for Donald Burns.
First published in the November 2016 edition of ShowBoats International