designer katharine pooley

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Interior designer Katharine Pooley turns her hand to boats

4 January 2023 • Written by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones

Katharine Pooley has designed some of the world’s most elegant palaces, castles, stately homes and hotels. Charlotte Hogarth-Jones discovers what happened when she turned her hand to yacht interiors.

Seasoned yacht designers might feel aggrieved to learn that, for Katharine Pooley, her first boat project wasn’t the result of rounds of fevered pitching, or a concept that finally caught an owner’s eye. Instead, it came simply from a happy client, whose chalet she had recently completed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Having already partnered with Custom Line to take delivery of the 32 metre Custom Line 106 yacht, and with Fraser overseeing the whole project, the owner came to Pooley asking, “I hope it’s not too late – can you help us?”

Shades of celadon blue, aquamarines, creams and nudes are used throughout the interiors
Credit: Nico Willis

“My very first reaction was ‘Of course, I will,” she laughs, “Renata [Righi, Pooley’s design director] and I were delighted, because we had always talked about doing a boat together, but the industry is very small. All it takes is for one person to trust you and then off you go.”

Not that Pooley is a design novice by any stretch of the imagination. Her bustling studio of 49 in London’s Chelsea has been well established for more than 19 years, and she was recently named British Interior Designer of the Decade by the IDAA [International Design & Architecture Awards].

In the main saloon, organic, natural textures in the travertine, oak panelling and hand-woven fabrics combine to create an informal yet luxurious feeling
Credit: Nico Willis

Large-scale residential projects on her books include a five-star hotel with its own private racing track in Shaoxing, China; beach houses in South Africa, Dubai and the South of France; country estates and castles in the UK; palaces in Kuwait and Qatar; and city dwellings in Singapore, Washington and London, not to mention her own home in Scotland, Forter Castle.

Pooley herself might have more in common with well-travelled owners than most. She grew up in Bahrain and has spent most of her life as an expat, with stints in destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia.

With an eye for luxury thanks to her years in Asia, where she feels they deliver the best high-end service, Pooley estimates she’s visited more than 150 countries. “It’s very rare that I haven’t been somewhere,” she notes. Her workforce also includes designers from more than 20 countries.

Was she daunted by moving from land to sea? “Not really, because what these talented designers and architects can do on land, they can do anywhere,” she says proudly. She remarks that some of the team already had experience working on yachts with former studios, and she herself is privileged to have been invited on board clients’ vessels. Project lead Righi, in particular, had worked some years ago on the award-winning 47 metre Heesen Celestial Hope.

Credit: Nico Willis

In completing the client’s chalet, the team had moved mountains to get the project completed in record time – from hurrying trucks over borders as country-specific quarantine rules came suddenly into force to working 24 hours a day throughout the busy holiday build-up, in order to have the space completed by Christmas.

Now, the content client, who already had a sailing yacht, wanted a “calm, peaceful, natural-feeling” boat for family holidays around the Med. Pooley was only too happy to oblige.

The owner had, of course, already arrived at the Custom Line 106, recalls broker Adam Blackmore at Fraser. “Since the client first knocked on our door, we’d introduced them to nine different projects that fitted the brief – open, light spaces, big windows, a top-level brand – and they just loved the way [this particular] boat looked. We narrowed the options down to three boats, then two, then one – they just kept comparing everything else to this one yacht.”

On the main staircase, metal bannisters were swapped out for a chic, embossed faux shagreen balustrade
Credit: Nico Willis

With exterior design by Francesco Paszkowski Design, “the size of the windows is amazing”,  says Blackmore. “The boat has a very special kind of convex glass on board, so you have a feeling of space, but you don’t know how the feeling is created until you stand next to the glass and look at it.”

Another key selling point for the owner was the ability to work directly with the Ferretti Group, in particular with the Custom Line team, from early on in the process. Pooley’s team found them to be enthusiastic and collaborative when it came to tweaking some of the yacht’s existing layout.

A partition wall in the VIP suite was removed to make it bigger, while in the master cabin splitting a Jack-and-Jill vanity unit with a central shower also made better use of the space.

Credit: Nico Willis

Pooley pushed back on high-gloss surfaces. “I think high-gloss ceilings sometimes make it feel like a jet and the space feels more compressed, I couldn’t sleep under that,” she notes, replacing it with a matte, sunken ceiling. Glass and mirrors were likewise pared back. “That’s an interesting one, because you think they’ll make the space look bigger, but it doesn’t. They make it quite oppressive,” she observes.

The Ferretti Group made some of the fitted furniture, which was designed by Pooley. Tweaking and refining smaller details was also a key focus. KPL supplied all of the loose furniture and accessories from Katharine’s network of European suppliers and craftspeople. Metal bannisters were swapped out for a chic, embossed faux shagreen balustrade, stone finishes were changed to add depth and carpets were replaced with those from Tai Ping, one of Pooley’s favourite suppliers.

The subtle colour palette of mainly blues and sands creates a feeling of serenity and understated glamour
Credit: Nico Willis

In terms of colour palette, the yacht is decked out in soothing shades of celadon blue and aquamarines, creams and nudes, with variety in the form of contrasting textures. In the main saloon, for example, honed travertine stone blends with coral sculptures, hand-chiselled oak wall panelling with a limewash finish and hand-woven fabrics by a Parisian weaver to give a blend of organic natural textures with an unmistakably luxurious feel.

For Blackmore, a particularly effective use of texture can be found on the flybridge. “It’s unbelievable,” he enthuses. “There are no heavy materials, just things that feel earthy. That has a really good synergy with the clients, who are very sporty. It’s great because on this type of yacht, the flybridge is really where you spend most of your time – and here [the designers] really knocked it out of the park.” In fact, exquisite textiles often elevate the otherwise raw look of the design, with embossed detailing, woven linens and bouclé and silk wools throughout.

Credit: Nico Willis

Perhaps it’s not the most obvious choice for a family with active young children, and mucky outdoor excursions planned for when ashore. “If that was me and my two boys, I’d be too paranoid about all the tomato sauce,” laughs Pooley. “But, actually, it was all Scotchgarded and we used a lot of very durable and hard-wearing outdoor fabrics, so that didn’t bother them. In fact, it created a beautiful and calm space. They just wanted what they felt would make them feel happy.”

Colourful accents and elegant artwork and ceramics elevate the design throughout. All were hand-picked by Pooley, from an eye-catching ceramic shell vase to a beautiful collage artwork by Kim Bartlett, with hints of blue, rusty orange and sand that mimic the Mediterranean cliffs surrounding the yacht. Hand-crafted porcelain sculptures, displayed on pedestals and within feature mirrored niches, were also commissioned from an artist in France. A bespoke dinner service from another French maker, Marie Daâge, was commissioned in shades of sea blue. Pooley loved it so much she even ordered a set herself.

As the muted palette is reflected in the tones of the sea and landscape
Credit: Nico Willis

“A lot of the textures on our original mood boards were inspired by corals and sand and water,” explains Righi.

The client’s insistence on sustainable materials also formed a key part of the brief. The yacht is also fitted with an advanced selective catalytic reduction system (SCR) – the first of its series to have one – in order to meet the recent International Maritime Organization Tier III requirements. “The SCR is a special exhaust system that helps reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxide by using ammonia as a reducing agent,” explains Custom Line’s sales & marketing director Asia Pacific Fabiomassimo Discoli, “allowing the yacht to navigate in restricted emission controlled areas.”

According to Blackmore, it can also cut harmful emissions of other gases by up to 80 per cent. “The real beauty of [the system] is when you use it on a longer run,” he explains, “then it really does become highly efficient.”

For a first collaboration, working with Custom Line/Ferretti Group couldn’t have gone more smoothly, says Pooley, especially given the challenging working restrictions during that period, which meant her team was only able to visit the yacht on four occasions, often all wearing masks and working long days.

Although the flybridge appears elegantly simple, its embossed detailing, woven linens and bouclé and silk wools combine to create a sense of texture and opulence. However, Pooley’s designs are also practical, as the textiles are all Scotchgarded to give protection against the rough and tumble of family life.
Credit: Nico Willis

“I found it quite refreshing actually. They were very open to all our suggestions throughout and really up for seeing what else was out there,” she recalls, “and I think our team was very contributional. I think if we had come in from an angle of not knowing what we were doing and being terrified to make remarks, then absolutely it could have been difficult, but we knew what we wanted to achieve.”

Working with Fraser, the project team spurred each other on to greater heights. “It was a perfect combination of viewpoints, with us all working together to create something completely extraordinary for the client,” says Pooley. “At this point in my life, I would like to work with only  the best, and this experience reinforced that, as the team worked together seamlessly, and to an impeccable standard.’ 

Pooley maintains she wasn’t nervous to see how her first marine project was received. “There was some anticipation, but because I was excited for them [the owners] to see it.” In the end, a text message from the family could not have been more complimentary. “‘It’s everything we’d dreamed of’ – that’s what they said,” recalls Pooley, who was then invited on board with her own family to experience the design in action. After a few days of trying to calm down two very excitable children – and a few thrilling games of hide-and-seek – “we were all in heaven”, she says.

The sense of classic design extends to the non-guest areas

Blackmore also believes the yacht has a serene quality, in part due to the build as well as its look and feel. “I’ve sold 50 or 60 boats like this,” he says, “but this one is so quiet, it’s freakish. The lack of vibration and noise, even when the engines are at full throttle, the build quality and stability… it’s just amazing to be on board.”

For the studio’s first, impromptu marine project, the yacht has clearly been a success, and Pooley now feels welcomed into the yachting fold. “The great and the good of the yachting industry have been incredibly welcoming, which has been lovely,” she says. However, for her next slew of projects, she’s keen to “start slowly and gently, doing bigger and bigger marine projects until… boom”.

On her hit list is the 88.5 metre explorer yacht Olivia O (“I think I could do wonders with that,” she says). She’d also be tempted to take on a cruise liner and, in time, dreams of doing a personal project, for which she already has a name in mind – look out for the memorable Foxylicious at a marina near you soon. No project, it seems, is out of bounds. As Pooley herself puts it, “Now, it’s full steam ahead.”

First published in the December 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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