Pepper XIII: Inside the 38 metre Westport 125
by Kate Lardy
Accommodating a custom interior within a production yacht was an interesting enough proposition. Add to the mix a renowned design company that had never considered yachts and the results are surprising, in more ways than one, discovers Kate Lardy
It was an unlikely pairing: Westport, which turns out four models between 34 and 50 metres with a precision rarely seen in the superyacht world, and Holly Hunt, a company that custom designs and builds collections that blur the line between furniture and art. Together the duo created what shipyard president Daryl Wakefield calls the most radical Westport to date.
Yet its yachts aren’t meant to be unique – words such as quality, consistency and reliability better fit the builder’s business model. Owners are certainly able to put their stamp on the interiors, but typically within the timeline of the efficient, fast-paced build schedule. As Wakefield once told me: “It’s a case of pick your song or get elevator music.” But the owner of Pepper XIII asked for a symphony – and Westport obliged.
Still, choosing the Chicago-based design company, which had never penned a yacht, was curious. In a design statement, Holly Hunt said she was “stunned” at the request. She was initially dubious about the endeavour, but her senior architect and interior designer at the time, Neil Zuleta, was certain they could do it. After accepting the commission, they went on a fact-finding mission to what is arguably the best place in the world to absorb the nuances and trends of superyacht interiors: the Monaco Yacht Show. The owner, a long-time Holly Hunt showroom client and a fan of the brand, gave them two mandates: first, the colour palette was to be inspired by the Weimaraner dog breed’s coat, and second, to have fun in the process.
“They did not want to give us any design restrictions. They wanted us to be creative and we were allowed the freedom to come up with something that was truly beautiful,” Zuleta says. For him this was eye-opening, a rare gift from a client who appreciates good design.
And how did all this creativity affect Westport’s production schedule? “Dramatically,” Wakefield answers good-naturedly. “It is a whole new boat. The only thing that’s original is the shape, the envelope itself, but everything inside had to be completely redesigned.”
It was not an easy process. “Hunt didn’t call out details, she called out the look,” Wakefield says, and she left it to the shipyard to work out how they were going to achieve it. “It was very much a collaborative effort. We had a very strong team from the shipyard and internally we had a team that wanted to do good design,” says Zuleta, who is now with architecture firm Gensler. “I felt no ideas were shut down. They were always open to discover and look further into solutions.” As for Westport, Wakefield says it was a good opportunity for them.
The process kept Lynn Meyer, who works in client services for Westport and was the link between designer and builder, pretty busy. At the onset of the project, he shared a tip with the landlubber design team: “A boat is like a house… in an earthquake… 24/7.” The team from Holly Hunt approached the design from a lifestyle perspective. “It not only needed to be beautiful but also functional,” Zuleta says.
However, with the owner’s partner being a chef, she had her own ideas about the galley. “She was not going to be cooking on the yacht, but she wanted the space to be as comfortable for the crew as possible.” So the standard country kitchen layout was thrown out and Zuleta reimagined the space within the same footprint. In lieu of a corner settee and table, he created a separate serving pantry with an additional dishwasher, refrigerator and a wine cooler. Spectators aren’t turned away though – bar chairs adorn the sparkling white quartzite island – and all can enjoy the views to port out of an added full-length window.
The Holly Hunt team embraced the vessel’s geometry and vistas. For instance, Westport usually includes a tray ceiling in the saloon. Zuleta asked to lower it instead. “He told me, ‘I don’t want people to come in and look up. I want them to look out,’” Meyer says.“It’s a design trick I’ve used before,” Zuleta confirms. “I like to create an element of surprise and discover something unexpected. In this case, compressing the interior forces you to look out and discover the vistas.”
The asymmetrical main saloon ceiling also serves to define the spaces. On the starboard side, which turns into the passageway to the galley and master cabin, the ceiling is elevated; the window mullions are design features that flow from sole to overhead, revealing the curve of the hull. The rest of the overhead is low, subtly making a more intimate space around the lounge area. “The tension between the two is highlighted by indirect lighting,” Zuleta says. The design offers surprises at every turn. For instance, opening the muted grey oak millwork in the dining area reveals a bright orange inside. “It makes you smile. We wanted to infuse that in different areas,” Zuleta says.
The team also made some layout changes to the master cabin on the main deck. By pushing the bulkhead forward between the cabin and the his-and-hers bathrooms, extra space was made to upgrade the hanging lockers to walk-in wardrobes. In this room, Zuleta created something “nurturing” in its geometry. “That’s why you have a lot of curves within the space.” Fluidity was a key concept on board. “You follow the continuous geometry with your eye, from the dresser to the windows to the ceiling and the headboard to the nightstands and the bed frame; it ties all those components together,” Zuleta says.
Below deck in the guest foyer, this design flow is seen on a feature wall with stainless-steel banding that conceals the audiovisual equipment. “The pattern carries through into the door hardware of each bedroom,” Zuleta says. “It feels like one continuous element, decorative on the wall and functional when it turns into door levers.”
The doors themselves are extra thick as there are no door jambs – they are flush with the walls inside and out. The thin metal banding is also interesting to follow in the dayhead and guest bathrooms, where it may flow from window to stonework in the shower, and then turn into a towel bar. It’s an exceptional detail that Meyer joked with Zuleta would make him “the most hated designer in the yachting industry”. “The details, while subtle, were really challenging to build,” Meyer says, pointing out a sliver of metal nearly invisible in photography that entwines the dayhead’s silver portoro marble sink, a true showpiece.
Instead of the usual four guest cabins, three cabins and a gym make up the lower deck guest space. The fitness room features a treadmill recessed into the floor to accommodate the owner’s six-foot-plus frame (which would grow if using the treadmill’s incline function), a drinking fountain and space for all the exercise accessories – something Zuleta had fun with. “One of the things we learned is everything must have a place,” he says. Up top, the raised pilothouse is a tad smaller than normal, as the wall behind the sofa, covered in a stunning wire-brushed Douglas fir, was pushed forward to fit in cabinets. Since the standard bridge on this 125 model is very generously sized, the space is not missed at all, and the storage would certainly be appreciated.
Throughout all the spaces, aspects of the Holly Hunt brand are captured in the timeless look, the beauty of the details and the high level of craftsmanship. “We wanted the space to feel like a home away from home that spoke to the client’s lifestyle,” Zuleta says. “He had achieved this manner of living by working hard and wanted to take advantage of the good things that life had to offer. We wanted that to be conveyed throughout the yacht’s interiors.”
In the end, it was not such an unusual union. This custom interior within the reliable Westport shell gave both companies a chance to explore new territory and ultimately succeed in carrying out the owner’s vision.
Photography Scott Pearson