A two-phase refit has turned the 56 metre Benetti Galaxy into a whole new world. Cecile Gauert steps onto its holodeck.
The 56 metre Galaxy was a successful and recently refitted charter yacht when she came up on the market. What attracted her new owners, Dave Hagewood and Danielle Hill, had a lot to do with what made her such a successful charter yacht: first, her welcoming crew, then her amenities, including a top deck gym and a split-level owner’s suite. Plus, her name fired up the imagination of these newcomers to yacht ownership. Hagewood has a keen interest in space as his father had worked at NASA and the name and timing seemed like fate.
They had dipped their toes into the yachting lifestyle by chartering and quickly concluded that it was a lifestyle they wanted. Once they did, it all went very fast, says owner’s representative Sara Vezenšek. “By the time we came to Galaxy, we walked on, and instantly they were at home.”
After the couple bought the yacht in December 2020, it took only a few months to turn a rather classic Benetti with good bones into their personal world and an artistic venue. And the result is light years away from where it started, primarily through an interior transformation penned by a new name in yacht design, Njord by Bergman Design House. This new brand sprouted in 2020 as a division of the established international Bergman Design House. Working in the hotel, commercial and residential world, the husband-and-wife team of Albin Berglund and Marie Soliman-Berglund, got together with Sarah Colbon, who had expertise in the yachting world, to expand their established architectural design company into the superyacht sector.
The energetic trio set out to do things a little differently, which turned out to be a match for these owners, who are fans of the global artistic community Burning Man. They got along so well over Zoom that the owners trusted the designers completely. “We have never worked this way with a client. It’s the first time we have been given 100 per cent trust,” Berglund says. Once they agreed on the schematic and the themes, which were presented in CGI, they allowed everything to happen without their direct involvement. They chose to keep the result a surprise.
I got on Galaxy a couple of hours before the big reveal in March 2022, as the final preparations reached a fever pitch. The owners came on board the transformed yacht for the first time on that uncharacteristically stormy spring day in Miami. And while I wasn’t there to witness their arrival, the party on the deck that I saw when driving by a few hours later spoke volumes as to how well they took to it.
At the onset, the designers couldn’t spend time with the owners or visit their home, nor had they seen the yacht. They worked it all out via video calls and virtual walkthroughs. It didn’t stop the creative juices from flowing and the initially limited plan turned to something more elaborate and exciting. The designers’ primary contact was Vezenšek and they worked as a tight team. “The traditional way of working in the [yachting] industry was not an option for us. We couldn’t. We got such a short space of time. As a team, it was us, the owner’s rep, the shipyard [Monaco Marine] and the crew; we just all got in and did it. No more extra consultant, no extra project manager, and lots of WhatsApp,” Colbon says.
Choosing the location for the refit, done at Monaco Marine in La Ciotat in the South of France, was easy. That’s where the crew had taken the yacht regularly and the captain and engineer were comfortable with the shipyard’s team, who had done work on Galaxy.
The project’s biggest challenges – not uncommon themes – were time and budget. And then came other hurdles, including the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, which complicated considerably the movement of people and goods. Berglund did a weekly pilgrimage from London to the shipyard that required a detour via Spain when France restricted travel from the UK.
But meeting the deadline was not optional. The owners were eager to move onto their boat as soon as possible. The designers worked out a staggered approach, with the refit done in phases. The trick was to imagine how to steer the interior into the right direction – a fantasy world combining references to the ocean, space and the owners’ love of the arts.
The first phase, which took place in early 2021, primarily focused on soft goods, bespoke furniture and artwork. “We did an up-style and gave [the yacht] to them as quickly as we could. They lived on it, and then we did phase two. The important part was that we kept what we had produced for stage one, so it wasn’t going to waste. It was already part of a bigger concept,” explains Berglund. The second phase, from September 2021 to early 2022, was to take it nearly all the way, in so much that a refit can ever be considered finished.
In part to address the constraints of time and budget, but also because it fits the design studio’s bent toward sustainability, the designers decided to retain as much of the original structure, furniture and materials as possible while creating a fantasy world with numerous personal touches. The original interior had three different woods, two of which leaned toward an apricot colour. Instead of tearing it down, or stripping it, the trick was to tone down that orange tone, says Soliman-Berglund, which was addressed with a careful selection of colours in a grey register.
Early on, the theme for the main saloon’s decor became Avatar and its world of Pandora. The team decided to tap artist Adam Cole, who had worked with Disney on the film. It was Soliman-Berglund who convinced him to create the original design for Galaxy based on the theme.
The main saloon best exemplifies the overall design. Near a bar, which already existed but was reimagined with new bar stools upholstered in faux leather and a custom light fixture, is an astronaut in the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker by Dutch pop artist Joseph Klibansky. One of eight created, this thinking astronaut cast in bronze was the piece that brought the theme together and an early decision. “When we were putting up the concept, he really was at the centre of it,” says Colbon.
The main deck was fragmented, and there were several dining spaces on board, prompting the owners to ask, how many of these do you need? Bulkheads that split up the space into a traditional lounge and dining area came down, and now this is a space with an open floor plan that morphs from a chill yoga studio into a stylish boîte. As you enter, the eye goes to a wall of agates on the far bulkhead – which was original but looked very different in the original, light interior. Then the gaze meanders to the walls with the artwork and the “mirrored” ceiling. Tiny ETs are hidden among the artwork, a fun detective game for guests.
The design team used wrap here and worked with specialist Wild Group International to apply the custom artwork to the saloon walls. Even the mirrored ceiling is a wrap, rather than the traditional material, which would have required more time to install. In the yachting world, the wrap has just begun to move from the underside of side decks and hulls to the interior. This is the first yacht I have seen where it plays a starring role in the decor.
On the floor is a carpet with shiny strands that pick up the light from spotlights. The flooring underneath, made of wood with a pleasant 3D texture, provides a nice sensation on bare feet and is a visual reminder of the ocean. To complete the scene, the designers redid the lighting, again reusing most of what existed. They covered unnecessary downlights and replaced the casing of the ones they kept so they blend with the darker decor. Pre-set schemes with RGB lighting change the ambience from day to night when the fantastic creatures in the walls become more noticeable. For parties, when a DJ booth can be brought in, music also drifts from speakers that were integrated into golden disc-shaped lights.
A sizable sofa in a crushed-velvet finish lures guests with its soft contours, which of course also evoke waves. “It changes colours when the light reflects on it, and we have done this as the heart of the ocean. It’s a custom piece,” says Soliman-Berglund. But it’s not just useful as a place to sprawl – it was designed with plenty of storage, aptly concealed in the open space.
The guest lobby and its renovated staircase around a relooked lift (with a mirror in glass églomisé etched with gold leaves) feel like a porthole to another dimension. Framing the space are two round mirror pieces with integrated lights by French artist Emmanuelle Rybojad that draw the eye to a point beyond the lobby. It would work well in a fun house, and it is a mesmerising feature on Galaxy. Forward of that is the owners’ private space. “Because a major part of his life now is music, rather than an office space, [Dave] wanted a real studio where he’s isolated from exterior sounds,” Berglund explains. Here and in the cosy space forward of their spacious quarters, the designers have used acoustic fabrics that enhance the sound and conceal subwoofers.
The bedroom is the same full-beam haven that existed before but transformed and personalised around an emperor-size bed under a ceiling of galaxies. A few steps forward of the closets – in the original burl finish – is a cosy panoramic perch in dark, earthy colours. The snug is the owners’ favourite space on board. Close the door, and they are in their own world. Correcting an assumption many make that light colours visually expand a space, Soliman-Berglund says it’s dark colours that tend to enlarge a space and the owner’s private suite feels palatial. In a way, it has a cool and updated Hollywood Regency vibe.
The only interior dining space left is on the bridge deck, where a VIP cabin, themed after Venus, is located. The designers used upholstery on the walls and strategically added antique mirrors that make it look so much larger than it is. The four guest cabins, on the lower deck, are all named after planets: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. They pick up the colours you’d expect from each of the planets: a liquid bronze covers the headboard in Saturn, while Mars features a starburst and red roses.
One of the notable pieces on the upper deck saloon is the dining table. It was the original but has been transformed. With a visual black hole at its centre, the decor in straw marquetry explodes into myriad pieces that get lighter as they get closer to the edge. The team reused the original floor, which was stained, and covered the existing walls but removed one set of doors that set off the dining space from the upper saloon with its piano and cinema. There, a chandelier in quartz casts a beautiful light. Original artwork by Australian artist Camille Hannah evokes the changing colours of sky and sea.
On the aft deck and sundeck, the designers applied their touch to all the furniture. The fabric is by UK company Coco Wolf, which is well known in the residential and hospitality world, but not so much in yachting. They are perfect for humidity. “It looks like indoor [fabric], but it filters the water out, and it stays dry. We use it on our residential furniture. It’s never wet,” Soliman-Berglund says. The gym, which existed, was also relooked, and modernised with mostly loose weights and other equipment from Technogym.
Finally, Galaxy received an update on the exterior. Painting the superstructure was among the most challenging tasks the shipyard had to accomplish within the tight timeframe, says Thomas Le Chenadec, who managed the project at Monaco Marine, because when you get to the critical phases, all other work must stop to prevent specks of dust ruining a mirror-like finish. The yacht received new Awlgrip paint on the superstructure and top sides, a new nameplate, plus underwater lights and RGBW rope lighting that have turned up the volume for evening events.
Finally, a black wrap has transformed the mast. The yacht’s appearance is sleeker and more modern than in her previous iteration.
In just a few months’ time, Galaxy has visited the Bahamas, Florida, Turkey, Greece, Sardinia, Mallorca and Ibiza. The design process and the results are noteworthy, but this refit project was about how Galaxy would change her owners’ lives. And from all accounts, she has given them a whole new world
First published in the November 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.Shop now