Superyacht interior design colour trends in 2013

22 January 2015
Designers are increasingly basing the look of a superyacht on the stones and wood used on their surfaces | Image courtesy Adam Lay Studio

The leading yacht designers of our time are able to create masterful narratives by virtue of the colours they choose. Their palettes tell the story of the yacht and the experiences meant to take place between its bulwarks.

The owner’s expectations drive the intricate plots of these narratives, though there are a great number of sub-plots bringing these stories to life – the inspiration of classic colour schemes, the impact of advanced materials technology, the seductions of runway fashions, the excitement of automotive styling and so on.

All of this action, of course, must take place within the limits of time and space on board: How a person actually experiences a walk from aft deck to dining area; how she or he perceives the height of stateroom ceiling, or ‘reads’ how to progress easily from the salon to the skylounge bar.

The nature of the stories being told by yacht designers with various colour palettes has been changing over the past few years. Some critics would say they have been changing dramatically. Where at one time the idea was to express a degree of majestic power, the current narrative places far more importance on relaxation via the total absence of colour, a technique championed by French designer Rémi Tessier.

Also, today, many owners are saying they would now prefer a kind of floating beach club or spa over the floating palace of only a few years ago – ‘Give us less show and more sand!’ This doesn’t mean that the standards of luxury and elegance should be lowered an iota, it is just that owners now want to enjoy those things with or without shoes.

Fabrics, in sometimes bold colours, such as these silks, are becoming a prime source of texture and colour in superyachts.

How designers actually pull off this laid-back luxury in their colour schemes is the subject of our inquiry.

‘Clients are coming to us not so much for a status item anymore,’ says Sander Sinot, the Netherlands-based designer of Musashi, Helix, Harle and such concepts as the 86m Sharky. ‘Clients and prospects are saying they just want to enjoy their time on the water,’ he continues. ‘Rather than a palace, they are looking for a habitat; an open beach where they can relax.’

The challenge for designers is how to coax a more laid-back palette into a lasting narrative everyone can be proud of.

The challenge, too, is unique to yachts. You cannot just copy a land-based beach club. Unlike land-based structures, yachts are in constant motion. The sun is forever changing position, reflecting up from the water as well, massing unexpected highlights and shadows – turning a lovely blue-green bulkhead fabric to a sickly green if one isn’t careful – or lacquered white salon mullions into a source of painful glare. To complicate matters even more, the shifting spaces of even the largest yacht can feel uniformly small compared to the land palace back home, which can put dark colours on the list of questionable content.

How, then, are yacht designers responding creatively to these complexities when it comes to colour choices?

Designers must consider the times when areas will be used, as colours shift in different lights. Notice how a midday sun tints Satori‘s skylounge blue (left), while evening light creates warm yellow/gold shading (right).

Paul Morgan Sherrill is one of the principals of Solis Betancourt & Sherrill, a major creator of residences in the Washington DC, area, and was also a judge of the 2012 ShowBoats Design Awards. While he enjoys the cross-pollination of design disciplines, he is quick to recognize that the colour story told by yacht designers is very different than those taking place on land.

In the first place, he says, the very nature of boats tends to be dark. ‘Light neutrals, chrome and other reflective surfaces help a lot. Interestingly, the trend on land is headed in the opposite direction: our clients are seeking a lot more rich colour and contrast.

‘Now, when I present an intense pattern in chintz for a home, people often say “wow – it is really something; we like it!” In addition to chintz, they are especially drawn to the very traditional Gracie wallpapers – the ones with the exquisite Chinese cherry blossoms and so on.

‘Back in the ’80s, Washington was over-stuffed with Chippendale brown furnishings and those same chintzes; the avant-garde came in with bright linens and cottons, whites-on-white lighting up the room; you started seeing the silhouettes of the furniture in these more modern environments. Now that same style is no longer considered avant-garde but quite conservative,’ Sherrill says.

While the generational push-pull between conservative and avant-garde styles and colours may be as timeless as a Russian novel, megayacht interior colorations are blessed with different eternal truths to explore.

Advances, including laser cutting to cut stone into wafer-thin slices, are enabling designers to include more stone, in more creative ways, within superyachts.

‘For yachts, I see the ocean itself providing the context for inspiring colours, cooler blues, turquoise; sunsets and white sand. Nothing like the muddy Potomac,’ Sherrill says.

Now that the colour narrative has gone the direction of floating luxury spa, one needs look no further for ideas than the sea. Designers’ colour vocabularies have increased tremendously given the latest research into deep sea bioluminescence, the psychedelic displays of colour on almost every coral reef, and further down than that a non-colour from the deep sea floor wags compared to the famous Armani ‘greige’.

‘Ideally, I see colours as a painting or piece of music, a total composition from the foyer on. Key colours – whether staccato or intense – need to be dappled throughout for consistency. We no longer live (or cruise) in imitations of Georgian mansions where you have “The Red Room” and “The Green Room,”’ Sherrill says.

Much of the credit for giving designers options above and beyond the de rigueur reds or navy is due to NCS Insight. A collaboration between NCS Colour consultants in Sweden and Global Colour Research in the UK, NCS Insight forecasts colour in the UK in breathtakingly subtle ways.

‘Sophistication and wisdom will be driving our colours for 2012…’ predicts NCS Insight – coupled with ‘a new level of respect and sincerity. There is strong coverage in the red and pink areas where the palette starts to become more masculine, developing into sumptuous browns and a range of golden yellows… Darker smoky purples and blues reflect a more mature feeling, contrasting well with the dusty greyscale tones in the palette.’ Think Chanel’s autumn 2011 collection.

Even Sherwin Williams has adopted muted chalky tones for 2013. It says that the colours reflect the effects of time and nature working hand in hand to create a softened beauty that is restful and comforting. We experience it in the layered hues of mineral deposits, sea-buffed stones and the weathered shutters of a rustic farmhouse. The colours are chalky and earthy, the materials raw and organic, the finishes matte.

Carpe Diem, designed by Carol Williamson, is right on target with superyacht colour fashions, using dusty greys mixed with hints of gold yellow.

For Boston-based colour consultant Barbara Jacobs, such forecasts are fun to watch, but are mainly about marketing product, creating trends or a focus around a certain hot colour. But there is a lot more to be considered.

‘“Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet,”’ she says, quoting the painter Paul Klee, ‘Our practice is about helping designers achieve their goals for a particular client, seeing how colour can contribute to how the project functions.’

Jacobs’ firm designs and markets tiles, fabrics, and rugs along with its own line of full-spectrum paints called Eco-Hues.

Colours yacht designers use are enriched and influenced by a liberal use of wood and stone made possible by modern technology. Lasers, for example, have allowed for very thin, precise cuts of stone, light enough for a sea voyage, easier to fit and capable of transmitting light. In the last decade, the variety of available stone has skyrocketed, affecting its order in the decision-making process.

‘One of the first things we do with clients is to choose the stone,’ says designer Evan K. Marshall. ‘It’s a lot easier to find fabrics to match a stone than vice versa. These stones have so many colours in them you have a lot to work with. On Diamonds are Forever, we found a busy rainforest red marble for the counter surfaces. Along with the red, its gold and brown tones pulled in colours throughout the vessel.

‘I should note that this very bold marble was for a transitional style interior. For a contemporary look, we would have gone in the opposite direction – less movement in the stone overall. With people traveling so much and owning any number of homes, they have come to appreciate many different styles.

‘One client has a very modern penthouse in New York, one in Florida with Art Deco influences and a traditional home in London right out of Colfax & Fowler. [Their] yacht is in the relaxed and casual beach house mode. For each space now, traditional or modern, the stones and woods we choose are going to dictate the rest of the colours,’ Marshall says.

The explosion of interest in planked wood floors has also moved the location colour appears in a room with dark floors and furniture trims providing the contrast.

Rare woods are being used in increasing amounts in today’s superyachts designs, for furniture, wall panelling and flooring.
High-visibility hues can work well in spaces that have little natural light, such as this saloon on M/Y Kaiser, designed by Bannenberg & Rowell. © David Churchill

Developments in technology influenced the colour decisions of Carol Williamson, as well. Her particular challenge was to extend the complex layering of neutrals she applied to the interior of the 57.9m Carpe Diem to the skylounge and how to blur the boundary between inside and outside.

‘People were going to want to flow back and forth and for things to feel the same,’ says the Portland, Oregon-based designer. Dark Macassar ebony in Carpe Diem’s salon framed by a white woven carpet goes tone-on-tone with light-coloured upholsteries, pillow combinations and window sheers: platinum silk velvets, opalescent leathers, cream-colored chenille and iridescent, gold-inflected sateen.

A few years ago, anything even resembling these precious textiles was only available residentially. Sunbrella offered some canvas-like options for outdoors but that was it.

‘There has been an explosion of new fabrics for outdoors; they’re user-friendly, have soft hand and have the elegance clients expect. The quality and variety of these textiles allow for colour-blocking an entire boat – relating various blocks of colour inside and out – where before we were more concerned with matching patterns. Link, Chella Textiles, and Great Outdoors Fabric are some of the manufacturers we’re using,’ says Williamson.

Georgio Vafiadis noticed those colour blocks changing dramatically from formal floating palace to luxury spa and it happened about three years ago. Before that, says the Rome-based designer, ‘the colour scheme was either classic white or off-white and blue with patterned fabrics, or modern tone-on-tone white with a little black and no patterns.’

Another example of Kaiser‘s use of bright colours and muted greyscales, within a normally dark interior room. © David Churchill

‘Today,’ says Vafiadis, ‘things are different. We are mainly seeing two kinds of clients. One prefers what I would call “New Classic”, which is a modern perspective on classic style. The blue-hulled Dream we are doing is in that vein.

‘The other set of clients prefer pure “Modern”, the style of Aifos. New Classic tends towards off-white, tobacco, taupe, and some light blue. Modern tends towards greyish colours, the thick Armani velvets in particular.

‘Both groups like burgundy and black a lot. They prefer many of the Art Deco patterns; the linearity and volumes inherent in that style.’

Even metallic finishes have shifted from gold leaf to palladium and silver with nickel more popular than gold or brass. Pantone says the luxury interior pallet for 2013 will include silver and champagne beige as well as some bronze.

Milou Ket, a renowned Dutch designer and colour forecaster, notes that some colour trends are ‘very persistent’ and last a long time – five to seven years – while others splash around as accents for a season or two. She’s picked a lot of soft greys and beige, as well as greens and turquoise (the colours of recycling) for her forecast for 2013-14, but says that textures via textiles will take precedence due to a global sense of uncertainty and a search for comfort and consolation.

‘I am convinced that colour is linked to emotion and psychology,’ she says. Interestingly, in studies of the psychology of colour, grey is seen as neutral, timeless and practical.

Monarch, designed by Johnathan Quinn Barnett, also had a blue theme. The designer says the owners of his previous three projects also asked for blue hulls.

If blue water, white foam, and sandy beaches inform much of the new floating beach club look, where do glorious, red sunsets fit in?

The Pantone Colour Institute in the US enjoys an equal measure of status as Global Colour Research in the UK. Its colour of the year for 2012 was a sunset-inflected Tangerine Tango. Comparing it to her honeysuckle forecast of the prior year, Pantone’s executive director Leatrice Eiseman predicted Tangerine Tango would ‘encourage us to face everyday troubles with verve and vigour.

‘Sophisticated but at the same time dramatic and seductive, Tangerine Tango is an orange with a lot of depth to it… Reminiscent of the radiant shadings of a sunset, the colour marries the vivaciousness and adrenaline rush of red with the friendliness and warmth of yellow, to form a high-visibility, magnetic hue that emanates heat and energy.’

While Tangerine Tango sounds like a hue we can dance to on land, orange may be a colour seen less at sea. Seattle-based yacht designer Jonathan Quinn Barnett suggests a reason for this discrepancy: much of the heat and energy on yachts has already been generated by all the light bouncing off the water, caroming off yacht ceilings like a disco ball at Studio 54.

Long intervals of Tangerine Tango could almost be overkill, although the owner of the 2011 Abeking & Rasmussen Kaiser would disagree. Surprising his British designers Jon Bannenberg and Simon Rowell, he insisted on a carrot colour for two huge salon sofas.

Barnett’s latest project is a 35m with a metallic blue hull undergoing construction at Nordlund in Tacoma, Washington. Here, he is using a palette of very light colours – more whites, off-whites, and creams than ever before. Those on-board will not even have to wait for sunset for heat and energy, a water-born light show will be happening all day and into the night.

The owners of Inouî brought spools of fuscia, lime and black thread to their first meeting with designer Andrew Winch, to show the signature colours of their yacht’s new look.

In order to give that ambient light some focus, however, Barnett turns to art and glass sculptures. Barnett says these objects, in turn, will be ‘in a stronger position’, set in a backdrop of the lighter tones he is using, one of which is an exquisite faux, parchment leather as translucent as calf skin drum heads. Wrapped around columns and bulkheads, this extra wide custom-made synthetic from Majilite will evoke, for some, the white sands of a Bahamian beach.

In addition, the faux leather’s pallor will contrast nicely with the metallic dolphin blues Barnett picked up from the AlexSeal hull paint and extended through the interior.

Understated contrast is a key tool for Barnett: colours juxtaposed with textures, cool shades with warm shades, shiny to matte. Look no further than the baths: mirrors over the wainscoting contrast with grainy, quarter-sewn walnut, which contrast with honed, satin-like white Calacatta marble with gold veins, layer upon layer.

While the trend may be away from the mirrors and metallics of the floating palace in favour of finishes such as matte and eggshell, Barnett puts high gloss to good use.

‘Yacht ceilings can be as low as seven feet,’ he points out. Reflective materials can make them feel infinitely high. ‘Texture, detail and dark colours on the overheads advance to the eye, while light satin and gloss finishes do the opposite, they recede. Like a cathedral ceiling, the reflections they make will retreat into infinity.’

We recall that for Marshall the first chapter of the colour story starts with picking out the stone. Once the stone is chosen, he and his clients move on to finding the right hues of wood, metal, glass and fabric – and so the plot thickens. Mystery, excitement, romance, a longed-for peacefulness all come into play.

Originally published: Megayachts Volume 13 (2012).

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