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Seven: The 60m Perini Navi yacht that lights up the stage

Three generations sail together on Perini Navi’s newest 60 metre superyacht. Somehow the designer managed to please them all...

Architect Dante Benini laughs when he recalls how his involvement in Seven began. “I had just delivered a lecture at an economic conference in Italy. My talk was on the value of making an investment in quality architecture. The chairman of the session came on stage after my talk and said ‘well, now I have found the architect for my next project’. He said that in front of about 1,000 people! I had no idea what he was talking about.”

When the conference concluded, Benini hurried to find the chairman to thank him. “I thought perhaps it was just a casual remark, but he said he was serious. I stood there waiting for him to say he was making a building or something but he said ‘I want you to design my boat’.” Benini was ecstatic. “For me, a boat is life! In my life, I have had just a few times with this kind of emotion.”

While Dante O Benini & Partners Architects is best known for commercial buildings and large-scale urban planning, it has also worked on the interiors of residences and cosy restaurants, designed furniture and a few yachts, such as Sanlorenzo’s 25 metre series in 2000 and the Spider Special Edition for Cantieri di Sarnico in 2010.

Its first custom yacht was the 50 metre CRNJameel, formerly Eastern Star, the royal yacht of Bahrain – not a bad start. For his new client, Ennio Doris, boats have become a way of life. This self-made Italian insurance and banking tycoon hails from land-locked Tombolo, a small town north-west of Venice, but his prowess at selling financial services quickly propelled him out of the countryside and eventually to found Mediolanum Group based in Milan.

At some point, clients introduced him to sailing and it became a family activity once he acquired a 40 metre Perini, Principessa Vaivia, from Silvio Berlusconi in 1992. His wife, son, daughter and his daughter’s family made good use of the boat every summer with Doris visiting for a week at the beginning of the season and then once during the summer holiday. Alas, as the number of grandchildren increased to seven, Principessa Vaivia could no longer host the entire family – they took their holidays in shifts. One day Fabio Perini called with an offer.

A customer who had ordered a 60 metre now wanted out of the deal. It would be just the right size for the Doris family to once again sail together. The metal work had been started but it was at a stage where the family could design its living areas as they wished. Despite their fondness for Principessa and its memories, such as winning the first Perini Navi Cup in Porto Cervo, the ability to cruise come una famiglia was a huge attraction. They struck a deal.

“The owner was very careful about proceeding; he wanted to make sure he had the right team and the design in hand before work progressed,” Perini’s managing director, Fabrizio Sgariglia, tells me over coffee in St Barths. “It is a lovely family and they know exactly how they want to live aboard the boat. Once they had chosen Benini, they sat down to refine the layout. Mrs Doris was very involved working out those details to make sure her family would be happy.”

There were two major points to the design brief. The first was a bright interior and the second was enough variety of spaces in which the multiple generations could gather, relax and dine. “I was designing for people in their 70s as well as young teens – a tough audience,” Benini says. “On one thing they were very clear: they did not want a dark boat. The son suggested pale sycamore for the joinery. As you can see, we used it throughout the boat for flowing consistency. This colour for the panelling and various similar tones became our palette.” Yachtline1618, the joinery manufacturer that fabricated the minimalist interior envelope on award-winning Sybaris, was tapped to execute this equally stylish décor.

One look at the main deck layout shows how the family lives beyond their cabins, and there are six of those below deck. The cockpit area down four steps from the aft deck is designed as an outdoor living room complete with an unobtrusive offset bar. The aft deck itself can be shaded by an awning. The cockpit area is a multifunctional lounge with ample seating and the primary al fresco dining area with a table that expands to seat a crowd under cover.

Substantial curved glass and steel doors open to the saloon with its rounded modular centreline seating. The Giorgetti sofas are positioned in the centre of the room instead of built in under the windows. This is because, when the boat is sailing, this area is less affected by heel, and the sofas also keep people from disturbing a conversation in the saloon as they pass through on their way to the accommodation stairway, the bridge or the media space on starboard or the formal dining area on port. Orienting the dining table fore to aft preserves a great deal of interior space and tucks it neatly out of the way. A pair of pocket doors can close it off should it be needed for quiet games or business calls.

The deeply curved sofas flank a beautiful triangular coffee table under a highly unusual overhead treatment, with a suspended black glass oval and LED strips. The black glass is meant to represent a horizontal slice of the boat under water, a plane – and it is exactly the shape of the hull. Recessed LED strips above it define the shape while embedded strips in the surface play upon the idea of the keel and booms. This sort of chic bling-meets-industrial look – and a similar smaller treatment in the overhead of the cockpit – is striking, and immediately directs attention to all the lighting.

While the main deck windows are covered with blinds that provide sheer diffusion to total darkness, for the lower deck accommodation soft, short curtains contained within wood and upholstered wall panelling can be drawn over sheer Roman blinds. The soft folds of the curtains and the fact that their contours are lit from below provide a playful contrast to the otherwise smooth and tailored surfaces in crisp horizontal and vertical patterns. Double stitched leather worktops and matching velvety rugs amplify a theme of subtle tone variations on the walls and overheads with accents provided by upholstered bed frames, pillows, cashmere blankets and ottomans. It comes as no surprise later when I learn that Benini has collaborated with Giorgio Armani since 1984. The six double cabins are nearly equal in size and amenities; in fact there are two mirror image owner suites.

“Everywhere the surface is soft and curved and smooth like a skin,” says Benini. “Touch a rounded corner; it is pleasant.” He calls design a three-step process – “heart to brain to hand. The heart is dedicated to feeling, to knowing what emotion you want to project; then the brain – my profession is to interpret this feeling; then to the hand – how is this thing executed, how is it drawn?”

Seven is number three in the builder’s 60 metre series behind Perseus 3 _and _Seahawk, but they are not exact sisterships. With each build and each customer, the design morphs. This hull features a well-developed sitting area forward of the wheelhouse. By raising the foredeck three steps to accommodate garages for a substantial RIB, the rescue boat and water toys, Perini created a snug protected area aft of the main mast with ample bench seating and expandable hi-lo tables.

Yet another area for outdoor living, it’s a more private spot for dining when moored stern-to. An awning deploys from the front of the flybridge to shade a breakfast or tame the breeze for an al fresco dinner. It is the first proper outdoor dining area in a Perini bow since the yard delivered Liberty (now Luna) in 1997. At anchor, the foredeck becomes yet another hang-out spot with chaises longues deployed from an adjacent stowage area. Four carbon fibre poles locking into deck fittings can quickly transform this sundeck to a shaded zone.

The flybridge is pure Perini and, with outdoor dining below, this deck is kept clear for watching the crew sail the yacht or entertaining friends. It’s also the place where built-in sunpads along the aft rail beckon when the yacht is under way.

One of the original driving forces for Fabio Perini’s revolutionary captive winches was to keep guests safely out of the way during manoeuvres. Hidden drum winches have been standard issue for decades for halyards and main and jib sheets, but Seven is the only one of the 60 metres to have captive winches on every sail, including staysails and the reacher. “Mr Perini insisted on this to reinforce the theory that [just] one person could sail this boat,” adds Sgariglia. “No ropes equals no injuries.”

With a bit of arm twisting, the managing director reveals that Seven’s captive sheet winches are a bit faster than Seahawk’s, despite being the same generation. “But the big difference is the hydraulic furlers,” he says. “The jib is just 15 to 25 seconds from fully furled to fully out!” To put that in perspective, that’s about two-and-a-half times faster than gear available during the first Perini Navi Cup in 2004, and equipment undreamt of three decades ago when the Perini story began. The equally impressive thing is that the builder makes it all look seamless and inevitable. That’s enough to make the seven grandchildren aboard Seven think powering a 500 tonne yacht around a race course has always been a piece of cake.

The Light Show

Stepping inside Seven, the most dramatic thing isn’t the furniture or fabrics, it’s the lighting. The yacht won the Best Lighting Design award at the 2018 Boat International Design and Innovation Awards and it’s easy to see why. Seven’s plan does more than illuminate; it follows furniture contours to reinforce design, it draws the eye, it directs attention and it soothes the soul.

“We spent probably three times as long on the lighting design as we did on the décor,” says architect Dante Benini. “For us as designers, light is the greatest partner. You can transform all the spaces with light and control the atmosphere day or night.” For Benini, light is not about illumination of an isolated space; it has to take into consideration the ambient light straying into the space. “If you want the look of candlelight, you first have to copy what is going on outside and use your lights to make the desired atmosphere.”

The unsung heroes of Seven’s spectacular lighting are the Italian audiovisual company Videoworks and its lighting engineering team led by an artist who goes by the name of Leo. Seven was a two-year project. “We studied the architect’s design philosophy. We calculate the quantity of light that will be necessary, whether for a task or for an emotional aspect. Then we determine how best to deliver that quantity of light,” says Leo. Like artists, the lighting engineer paints a picture in the interior, but they do it all with just two “colours”: 2,070K for the warm tone in the strip lighting and 3,000K for the down or side lighting. The trick, however, is in the mix. Every light source is controllable from one to 100 per cent output.

A logarithmic dimming curve matches human eye sensitivity for subtle change. The control system uses both a Lutron interface on a wall-mounted five-setting keypad and an iPad interface for myriad scene variations. In the industry, this is called a DALI system or Digital Addressable Lighting Interface. Each light gets an address on a computer control board that is programmed to know what lights and at which percentage should respond for preset scenes such as “Gala”, “Welcome” or “Night”, says Leo.

This article was first published in the June 2018 edition of Boat International.

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