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Credit: Jordan Nathan Bamforth via Midjourney

According to the experts: the principles of yacht design

20 December 2023 • Written by Holly Margerrison

Designing a luxury yacht is no mean feat and, whether the designer is tasked with a boundary-pushing exterior or an interior that can stand the test of time, designers must unleash their creativity time and time again. With practice comes a design team's best practices, resulting in some of the top modern yacht designs we see today.

But even the most established designers have battled obstacles along the way and learnt lessons the hard way – especially when it comes to meeting a client's wishes.

With that in mind, BOAT speaks to the experts about what they consider to be the best principles of yacht design and their favourite projects they've worked on.

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Enrico Lumini

24m ISA Yachts yacht Martita with interiors by Hot Lab

Studio: Hot Lab

What is your number one guiding principle when it comes to yacht design?
A good design needs first to be supported by a good idea. There must be thought behind it, especially when it comes to yacht design, which is a perfect mix of product design and architecture. Then a design needs to be “obvious” and, by that, I mean that it needs to look “naturally beautiful”.  It cannot be something to be understood or interpreted, it just needs to strike your eyes at first glance. So, whenever I am tempted to add more lines or more surfaces, then I understand that the design is complete – when you feel the need to add something it means either you are designing unnecessary details or that you are trying to hide the lack of ideas with those details. 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
To understand clients’ non-verbalised requests.  Doing this job, you get to know different kinds of people – most of them with very strong personalities. One thing they all have in common is to expect that you understand their needs, whether they tell you directly or not.  Sometimes they have a precise idea in mind but do not know how to express it; other times they only have a partial idea of what to expect. You need to fill that gap.

Yacht design involves several necessary soft skills which are usually underestimated, but crucial to keep your clients satisfied and happy along the process. This can mean being available to jump on a private plane and have a meeting during the flight or understanding from a wool coat thrown on a table what the material moodboard of the vessel is going to be like.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
It probably is the 80-metre concept design during Covid time for a north European shipyard. During that moment, the unexpected quantity of time we had allowed us to concentrate a bit more on the ideas and less on production and, for this reason, something extraordinary came out.  Our new approach to design – cleaner, smoother and simpler – was born with that concept and this is why it is still my favourite one.

Marnix J. Hoekstra

The zero-emission ketch was revealed during the Superyacht Design Festival in Cortina d'Ampezzo

Studio: Vripack

What is your number one guiding principle when it comes to yacht design?
Good yacht design only exists when underpinned by great naval architecture.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
Become a good listener. You've got to ask "why?" five times to get to the root cause of [a problem]. This is ultimately how we, as part of the bigger team, solved the energy puzzle for Project Zero. We couldn't get the yacht to work only on electrical energy and by continuing to ask why that was over and over again, the answer was found in splitting the energy into electrical and thermal. That essentially led to being able to now have in build the world's first fossil-fuel-free yacht.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
Honestly, I have many and learned that the ones that hurt the most when creating often turn out the best. Friction in the team between style and technology, unhappy clients and particularly my conscience telling me there's space for something better and more fitting for the client's deeper needs turns out to be an amazing catalyst to keep on drawing, calculating, researching and getting into that state-of-mind where the solution appears by itself. It's that flow I would love to live in forever.

Jim Dixon

80-metre Abeking & Rasmussen superyacht Excellence
Credit: Guillaume Plisson

Studio: Winch Design

What is your number one guiding principle when it comes to yacht design?
We believe in comfort, adventure and possibility, in freedom of exploration and freedom of vision. Winch Design has developed a design philosophy that is unconstrained by a "house style" – but instead is a reflection of the client and their character. Each project is unique, and we take pride in having no "one size fits all" approach to design. The studios are relentlessly creative, and we are dedicated to finding solutions to unprecedented challenges, be it on a grand, breathtaking superyacht or a pared-back, contemporary sailing yacht. Our clients are often as much a part of the design process as our teams are. We believe that the experience of designing the project is as important as the project itself, and they need to enjoy every moment with us.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
Incredible feats can be achieved by pushing the boundaries of design further than you might initially think possible. One of the best examples of this from the Winch Design studio is 80-metre Excellence. Excellence is a remarkable feat of ingenuity with her unique superstructure, advanced technical design and daring innovation. Her razor-sharp bow swooping back a full 10 metres before joining the line of the main deck set a new standard and required Abeking & Rasmussen to spend many long hours perfecting and tank testing the naval architecture.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
It is very hard to pick a favourite as I have worked on so many incredible projects over the years. One of the most interesting projects we are currently working on is the Flexplorer 146, a 44-metre explorer yacht with Cantiere delle Marche due for delivery in 2025.

The owner and his young family have a deep commitment to nature and sustainability and the interior will therefore be crafted using eco-friendly materials. The family plans to spend a large amount of time on the yacht and have a real interest in healthy, sustainable living. The interior will favour practices that create low levels of EMF and non-toxic materials with low VOCs to deliver a clean living environment.

Laura Pomponi

Credit: Breed Media for Fraser

Studio: Luxury Projects

What is your number one guiding principle when it comes to yacht design?
Place the client at the heart of every project and operate with the highest level of integrity. That’s Luxury Projects' golden rule. We give everything and perform to the best of our abilities to fulfil and honour our commitments. The studio follows every step of the design and construction, from concept to completion. Another very important aspect is that the clients have to find the design process as enjoyable as possible.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
The best lesson we’ve learned is to always stick to our golden rule. We also make sure that every design, concept, innovation and invention is feasible. This latest lesson implied that the studio had to acquire further and further technical skills and field experience to make sure of it. Back in our very early days, I spent a fair amount of time crawling into holes and hidden corners of a yacht to know the spaces and system to the millimetre. Not to mention the merry times spent with joiners, cabinetmakers, carvers and furniture makers. We still do that, by the way, to gain fundamental first-hand knowledge on how a yacht is built. And there are thousands of lessons to be learnt from craftsmen and artisans who, in many cases, are true artists.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
Difficult to pick as each project is a piece of our heart. But if we really have to, then as far as new builds, I would say 70-metre Alfa and 60-metre Moonstone as both projects come from a truly holistic design concept. As far as refit: 90-metre Nero for the technical challenges, but also 38-metre Destiny. In this latest case, one of the main challenges was to work within a very tight schedule and a budget set prior to the definition of the project.

Enrico Gobbi

63-metre Utopia IV yacht

Studio: Team for Design

What is your number one guiding principle when it comes to yacht design?
The main guidelines for me are the proportions of the project and this is true both for exterior design and interior design. They are two different yet close worlds and, especially in yacht design, they must be in synergy. When we begin a project from blank, the first character lines we trace need to be well-proportioned, otherwise, the project won't work. For interiors, we pursue a perfect balance of shapes, colours and volumes – all of which are fundamental before drilling into details.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
The best lesson I learnt was from the time the owners of a yacht designed by us invited us to spend time on board. It allowed me to understand perfectly how important the nautical aspects are in a yacht project, where it's desirable to have a 'wow' interior while keeping in mind the seaworthiness, also in large superyachts 70 metres and above. The yacht is an architecture that moves, and having the opportunity to live it was probably the first important lesson.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
I don't have a single favourite design, but one of the yachts that gave me major satisfaction was Utopia IV, one of the fastest superyachts in the world. In this project, we were challenged to keep the yacht as light as possible in order not to compromise her performance, yet at the same time making her elegant and luxurious. The aim was also to make this yacht extremely sleek, aerodynamic and automotive-inspired, with a dynamic appeal even when still. 

Espen Øino

Studio: Espen Øino International

What is your number one guiding principle when it comes to yacht design?
Defining a clear, unambiguous brief with the client and/or his or her’s representative(s) before starting designing.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
Never be afraid of questioning established principles in design, construction and/or operations.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
Ha – always the last one, or perhaps the next one.

Mario Pedol

Royal Huisman project 405 Nilaya
Credit: Carlo Borlenghi

Studio: Nauta Design

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
It's difficult to say what is the best, but one that I learned in my very early years was during a six-month apprenticeship at Scott Kaufman's studio in Manhattan. At the time, Scott was one of the leading naval architects and sailing yacht designers – designing impeccably beautiful yachts. He had to combine aesthetics and function – in his case being a specialist in racing yachts – considering performance and an appealing look to the yachts.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
My favourite design that I've worked on was particularly interesting and challenging as it was my first experience in the big motor yacht world. I'm talking about the 80-metre Project Light with Fincantieri Yachts, who did the full engineering. It anticipated the future and what is now, 15 years later, starting to become the general trend and a different way of living on a yacht that size. We completely changed the ratio between outdoor and inside areas, creating a more direct, seamless connection between the two and emphasising the blend into the environment around the yacht. This meant also a completely different distribution of volumes in the superstructure, much more centred than the existing fleet of the time.One of the most appreciated compliments I ever had in my career was during a boat show when an American client, who was admiring this project, said: "This yacht could've been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright". This for me was really "wow". I was really happy about it, of course.

Francesca Muzio

Studio: FM Architettura

What is your number one guiding principle when it comes to yacht design?
I have two principles that in my view drive any of our projects whether it be a yacht, home, or anything else. One: listen to your client's wishes, dreams, and needs. Two: Personal, beauty and cosiness. A yacht project must be personal and needs to reflect the personality of the owners and their families.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in yacht design?
At the beginning of my career in yachting, I was under the impression that many things were not possible at a balanced price. I thought that everything was extremely expensive, the box of yacht design was full of limits, and that there were no possible solutions.

One time an elder Lebanese client taught me that anything was possible and my job was not only to design but to find practical solutions that could satisfy his wishes, without losing sight of budget. I accepted the challenge. I started to study how a yacht was built. I dressed in blue overalls and I started to speak with every worker, every engineer and every supplier, collecting any pieces of information and data to create the deepest knowledge possible. I have now built several vessels for this gentleman.

What is your favourite design you’ve ever worked on and why?
At the end of the day, there is no all-time favourite, there are certain projects that pushed us to change our paradigms and our strong beliefs. Lately, we have been developing a project and every time we have presented the initial proposal the client requested to simplify and reduce details. We went back to the drawing board. We had to research Japanese, Swedish, and Italian Architecture and create a new language for our design. When we made the new presentation, the client had a sparkle in their eyes and I realised that we had exceeded their expectations.

Read More/The emerging yachting designers making waves

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