A bold owner defied convention to create Ace, an 85-metre Lürssen that tailors onboard experience to family life – with no compromises. With her interiors revealed for the first time, Caroline White steps on board this superyacht to discover just how daring the gamble was...
Ace seems an apt name for a yacht that shuffles her decks with charismatic success. This 85-metre Lürssen, delivered in 2012, is instantly recognisable, from the sweeping arches that her designer Andrew Winch likens to the “fantastic power of a wave”, to what everyone refers to as her “eyes”: two neat oval balconies emblazoned with the yacht’s name in stainless steel. You know just by looking at her that she’s something different. But since she’s always been a private yacht, with her interiors off limits to the media, few have seen just how different... until now.
“Ace reflects her passionate and enthusiastic owner,” says Robert Moran, president of Moran Yacht & Ship, and it’s certainly clear that such a boat could only come about with a strong character to shape her. Moran’s team guided the project from inception to completion; from the macro, such as bringing the owner to the yard and negotiating (hard) on the contract, to the micro, such as writing the specs and working out the audiovisual and IT systems. “The owner was interested in a fully custom yacht with a classical interior, so we recommended Andrew Winch and his design team.”
Winch was summoned to The Ritz London and over six months he and the owner sketched out an unconventional vision. “He had chartered yachts and he really felt that they were all wrong. He’d worked out what he wanted, how he lived. He wanted to get it right first time,” says the designer. That meant a layout that was “really, really different”.
Winch sums up the approach as “thought-inducing, ultra-creative and confident of itself”. But he admits that, “as a designer, one of the biggest challenges was explaining the philosophy to the build team. It’s very, very good, engineering-wise. But it caused quite a lot of headaches because it wasn’t a standard construction.”
Whereas on many yachts of this size you might lose family members in the warren of rooms, here you have just one deck for most social spaces – the upper deck. There’s an owner’s deck above, but it’s not vast – and why would you sit up here when your family and friends are having fun one deck below? Social guest areas (cinema, gym, guest cabins, etc) and crew spaces are on the main deck.
Lürssen project manager Dietrich Kirchner gives a taste of the reimagining that had to be done. “We have a cinema and a gym on the main deck, where normally there is a saloon; you have a huge spa on the lower deck amidships, where you would normally expect to have the technical areas; and you have forward dining on the upper deck, where we would normally have the owner’s [suite] or VIP cabins,” he says.
It’s important to understand that while all this is unusual, it is not capricious – its primary aim is to make life on board work better. As Winch puts it, “he thinks through functions for efficiency and pleasure”. For example, the owner wanted to talk about crew spaces before discussing his own quarters. Rather than being tucked away on the lower decks, the crew mess is on the main deck, with sliding doors to a side deck so that they can get some air. Winch recalls: “He said when they come up off the dock, the crew mess is the first [area] they go to. So why make them go down into the belly of the boat? I want them to want to be on the boat.” It’s a sensible approach for attracting the best crew and enabling smooth service. (Also helpful are the vast galley and intelligent circulation throughout).
But the planning did get to the owner’s quarters eventually: “He wanted a master [suite] facing aft so that when he woke up, he would have panoramic views of the ocean all around him,” says Moran. “This was accomplished by adding bulwarks on the aft deck that drop down to create an unobstructed view of the surroundings.”
The suite itself has “a pared-back design scheme in soft champagnes and whites to showcase the client’s art collection,” says Selina McCabe, partner at Winch Design. But it’s certainly not plain – there’s a hand-carved headboard in a contemporary ribbon design and floral marquetry above the bookshelves. The bathroom floor is inlaid with a graphic pattern using semi-precious stones and marbles, and the wardrobe – while it has a simple exterior – opens to reveal a bold lining in a marquetry stripe inspired by Savile Row suits.
McCabe points out that positioning the owner’s suite here also protects its petite aft terrace when the boat is under way (as opposed to the more traditional owner-up-front arrangement, where a forward terrace can be pretty breezy).
It benefits routing too. From here, the owner can stroll down what Winch likens to Rome’s Spanish Steps (for their drama rather than their design): port and starboard staircases flow from the owner’s deck all the way down to the swim platform and – crucially – they are built into those wave-like haunches of superstructure, so they’re partially sequestered from the decks they run past. That means the owner can go directly and discreetly from his suite for a swim in the sea without having to stop and speak to anyone unless he wants to.
Building those arcs, Kirchner says, had the Lürssen team “scratching our heads”. They had to be strong enough to function as structural staircases, but flexible enough to deal with movement when waves place stresses on different parts of the boat. “You either make them very rigid in order to take all the load or you detach them from being taken with the bending moment of the hull,” says Kirchner. In the end they chose the latter and built them in a similar way to fashion plates – but they are still incorporated into the superstructure, which involved plenty of complex calculations.
Another dramatic intersection of exterior design and lifestyle can be found within those “eyes”. They sit either side of the owner’s deck sitting room and study, creating sheltered, balcony-like spaces out of the side decks.
Inside, Winch describes the style as “contemporary grand hotel”, capturing the feeling of glamorous escape that you get in Le Bristol Paris, or the Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. But that does not equal a composite replica. “I would say the brief was classical contemporary,” says McCabe. “So it has an architectural envelope inspired by classical interiors, but it’s been reimagined with contemporary finishes, materials and proportions.”
In particular, she says, that meant keeping spaces “light, fresh and bright” except in a small selection of spaces – such as the owner’s study – where a deliberately moody, atmospheric “jewellery box” feel has been created.
Entering the upper deck from the vast aft deck, the light classical theme pervades subtly via cream panelling and walnut flooring, inset with Rosa Aurora Light marble in a geometric pattern. First stop is a reception space and a bar topped with pearlescent shell (sourced as a by-product) and backed with recesses that display glinting bottles as if they were works of art.
Further in, the upper saloon features sink-in custom sofas and ivory silk chaises longues designed by Winch and a treasure trove of pattern and precious materials: a gold Grecian motif is picked out in the silky carpet and echoed in mother-of-pearl door inlays, while leaf-like patterns in silver leaf adorn the fabric wall panels.
But the decoration moves up a gear in the main lobby just forward of here, where an ornate silver staircase curls up through three decks. Silver for gold is a clever substitution to lighten classical decor, but the creation was “quite challenging for logistics,” says Kirchner, “because this was one of the last elements to get into the boat.” While the free-standing spiral appears to be one piece, it had to be pre-fabricated in bits. McCabe notes that “the pieces were so large, they needed to build the biggest vats in the world to plate the silver”. After that, they had to put it together in situ like a giant and frighteningly expensive jigsaw puzzle.
Forward of here, things get even less conventional. Where you might expect to find an owner’s suite lies a formal dining saloon. Here, cream columns and panelling are enriched with blood-red glass lamps by Porta Romana and in coral patterns on the chairs and Holland & Sherry curtains. There’s silver here too, glinting from the sideboards and highlighting the overhead panelling. The standout piece in this space is the intricate marquetry panel designed by McCabe. Built by a Parisian artisan, it depicts an ace playing card in fluid, organic lines and was inspired by a Hermès scarf that is framed on the opposite wall.
Forward of the dining saloon lies a sitting room-cum- library. This more relaxed saloon features a fireplace, piano and games table, while splashes of blue in the neutral scheme – custom colourways for the Holland & Sherry cushions, luminous azure in oil paintings and glass sculptures designed by Winch and made by a Czech studio – are part of a running ocean theme.
McCabe points out “Matissesque underwater forms” in wall paintings and coverings. All this complements the lightness of the room, thanks to 180-degree windows on to the foredeck and pool. You can imagine entire days here, sunbathing and swimming, coming in for fresh juice and a game; evening cocktails out on deck, the sound of the piano drifting from inside. And because of this space’s position, life here can be lived in privacy, even if moored (stern-to) in port.
It’s worth noting that the deck spaces throughout the boat have been decorated with an interior mindset, to enhance the seamless inside/outside transition that the architecture creates. Take the upper aft deck dining table, decorated with marquetry and inlaid with coins from the yacht’s voyages; or the outdoor cushions: “We did about three different (interchangeable) designs for the exterior upholstery and cushions,” says McCabe. “There’s a Riviera collection, Monaco and Rio de Janeiro. [The owner] wanted a carnival of colour so there’s a real explosion of patterns and materials, lots of Missoni prints, geometric shapes and bold pops of colour.” And they made sure the fabrics were not of the scratchy, hard all-weather variety, but soft and luxurious, “encouraging people to want to be outside, relaxing”.
There are also a couple of very special social spaces cocooned within the boat. One is a (relatively) petite space on the upper deck. “The brief included a Russian tearoom and nightclub,” recalls Moran. “The designers were able to cleverly combine these two vastly different concepts into an amazing area on her top deck.” It’s decorated with Macassar ebony panelling, embossed leather by a Parisian studio, a custom-designed quartet of mirrors, plus cashmere throws with marine designs in pops of coral and mandarin. It feels intimate and fun at the same time.
The other space is the lower deck spa, which Moran describes as “one of the most beautiful and functional spas I’ve ever seen”. It was inspired by Roman villas and comprises a hammam, sauna, spa pool, icy plunge pool and a lounge adjacent to a huge fold-down sea terrace. There are Romanesque pietra dura (mosaics using semi-precious stones), Byzantine-style mosaic floors, columns and hand-painted trompe l’oeil lemon groves.
There’s a lot of stone here and on Ace generally: and all of it had to be perfect. For example, says McCabe, “the main white stone throughout the upper deck is Rosa Aurora, with this accent of blue sodalite. We specifically hand-selected each slab so that it would be the purest blue, rather than having any grey or striations through it.”
Given that this no-compromise “best of the best” attitude runs all the way through the boat – from the fundamentals of the general arrangement to the finest of finishes – it is little wonder that she’s a modern icon. More surprising is that, shepherded by the Moran team, the yacht was delivered on budget and three months early. It even sounds like it might have been fun. “He’s a great guy and we really enjoyed working with him to see his vision become reality,” says Moran of the owner. Ace is perhaps the most lavish example of nominative determinism afloat.
Ace is currently listed for sale with Burgess and Fraser.
This feature is taken from the October 2020 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW