Top yacht designers pick their favourite piece of design

Steinway Model M

Words by Adriana Monk, creative director of Monk Design

It was Steinway’s 150th anniversary celebration and I was keen to learn more about its instruments – I never thought I would walk out of the company’s Detroit showroom owning a 1929 grand piano. When I sat down to play the satin ebony Model M there was an immediate emotional connection, a magical moment resonating with the rich, warm tone of the Steinway sound. Taking lessons on it was incredibly satisfying.

My piano was instrumental in the formation of an amateur jazz band with my fellow car designers and engineers. That was how we all weathered Detroit: music and friendship, harmony and laughter.

It has since followed me around the world and decided where I live, claiming its own space. It has travelled by air in a custom crate with time-sensitive impact indicators, as well as endangered species documents, and currently commands a view of the Mediterranean in a 19th century villa.

The soundboard is carved from Sitka spruce, the most resonant wood available, and the artisans who manually carve and taper its edges autograph the soundboard after installation. Aside from being a beautiful sculpture, the piano enhances my design sensibility: playing channels my energy, providing fresh perspectives. It is fascinating to think of all the stories it could tell. Hopefully, once we part company, it will live on for many more years, to be played with passion and loved for its beauty.

Nike industrial drafting table

Words by Steve Gresham

When I first set up my design business in 1989, I acquired a Nike industrial drafting table, made in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna in the 1950s. I have used this table every day I’ve been in my studio for the past 27 years — I estimate that I’ve spent in excess of 30,000 hours sitting at it.

It came from the Alvis Car and Engineering Company, which made cars and armoured vehicles. When the factory closed, the board was on its way to being scrapped. I spied it in a workshop, half wrapped in a tarpaulin and covered in dust. I was told that if I didn’t take possession it would be in the skip that afternoon. I couldn’t believe that such a fine piece could not have a value, and I’m so glad I rescued it.

The physical act of drawing on paper is an integral part of the design process — I do my thinking at the drafting table as I develop the design, analysing and refining seamlessly. Even as computer technology gets more impressive, the information still has to come from the designer.

I do use computers, but I use my laptop sitting at my drawing board. The board moves in all directions, thanks to a hydraulic central leg, so that I can get a different perspective of my work — I can tilt the board to the vertical and stand back to check the proportions of a new design without having to pin the drawing to a wall.

Having such a generously sized board means that I can fit a 120 metre yacht at a scale of 1:100 – with room to spare. In fact, I could fit a 150 metre yacht but any bigger and I would need to reduce the scale because I couldn’t replace this old friend. I just love it as an object and piece of engineering.

Vitsœ shelving

Words by Dickie Bannenberg, founder of Bannenberg & Rowell

It’s perhaps a bit weird to profess undying admiration for a shelving system. It smacks of OCD, or possibly latent librarian tendencies, neither of which I believe I have. The truth is that I simply love Vitsœ shelving. I love its purity and simplicity of form: a sheet of pale grey painted steel folded into an uncomplicated shape, perfect for storing books, piles of drawings, model cars (and boats), trophies and things you just like to have near you.

Of course, there are fancier options to slot into the system: sloping display shelves, flush-fronted drawers with neat cut-outs for a finger-pull, even a minimal desk that cantilevers out and sits on a single, carefully considered leg.

I first came across it in the south London home Richard Rogers designed for his parents in the 1960s and now I have Vitsœ at home and in the studio. It can travel with you if you move – Vitsœ sends some operatives with white gloves to dismantle it carefully and put it together again. All the small fiddly bits go into a soft drawstring bag.

Dieter Rams, who designed it, pronounced as one of his 10 rules that “good design is as little design as possible”. It’s a good mantra - less is more - and it accords with our outlook on design; we are not ones for unnecessary elaboration.

It’s possible that there was some subliminal path to Vitsœ set out by my father [Jon Bannenberg]. At home in the late 1960s and early 70s he made his own shelving system (of course), consisting of wall-mounted tracks with slot-in brackets and simple slabs of wood for shelves. He would have loved the purity of Vitsœ’s system, so I’m not sure why he didn’t go with that. I bet it was impatience in not being able to have it instantly.

1973 Series 3 Jaguar E-Type

Words by Tim Heywood

When the E-Type Jaguar first hit the streets, it was as if a spaceship had landed. Cars on the roads in 1961 were mostly boxy designs and the E was a revelation. I saw my first in-the-flesh E-Type while cycling to school. In the words of Enzo Ferrari it was “the most beautiful car ever made”, and I still agree.

The fluid aerodynamic lines – penned by aircraft and car designer Malcolm Sayer – I find feminine, seductive and tactile. The addition of the flared wheel-arches in 1971, to accommodate wider wheels and tyres, added a sharp finishing detail that completes a more considered, well worked, look.

I bought my 1973 Series 3 E in 1996 at an auction in London - she had been an export car to Australia, brought back by an English aristocrat who kept her on his estate and never put her on the road in the UK. The first time I washed her, the aristo’s coat of arms peeled off. I have reinstated the original Series 1 headlight covers and proper knock-off hubs.

She is a great car to drive: comfortable, tight, responsive and fun. People stop on major roads to let you out of the side streets; every British driver is proud of this car. It is hard to stop smiling when behind the wheel and that feeling is infectious.

I am sure my fondness for this design has permeated my own work, where fluid, athletic, feminine forms lie alongside hard, crisp details. From Pelorus to Event to Symphony I can feel and see the influence. Malcolm Sayer’s creation is alive and well, both in my garage and in my work.

Yamaha YAS-32 saxophone

Words by Adam Lay

My parents bought this Yamaha YAS-32 saxophone for me in 1988 when I was 16. I have played it, not practised when I should have done, dented it, scratched it and loved it for 27 years. I rarely play now because I don’t have the time but I will always treasure it.

My music teacher at school encouraged me to play the flute because my hands weren’t big enough to operate saxophone keys. The flute was the antithesis of the saxophone, which I saw as the coolest of all instruments, but I acquiesced. I played my flute in a concert band, sitting in a front row with 14 girls. The coolest guys were in the sax section behind, ribbing me endlessly about being “one of the girls”.

As soon as my hands were big enough my parents bought this Yamaha alto saxophone from Jack and Lindsay Dawkes, in Uxbridge (west London). I insisted on the padded saxophone-shaped case, instead of the hard rectangular case, because it looked cooler.

The 32 is a poor relation of the Yamaha YAS-62, which is a professional model, but it sounds and plays in almost exactly the same way, without all the traditional scrolls and twiddly bits added. It’s a functional, contemporary design – simple, much like my own design philosophy. The keys have little rollers to make your fingers glide more easily over them. It’s a wonder that something so restricted by the proportions of the human anatomy and so “mechanical” can be so beautiful.

I played for the same concert band and, to my shame, teased the male flautist who took my place. In time the sax opened doors to spin-off bands playing swing and big band music. When the whole sax section is tight and together in a swing band, or when the brass section is putting stabs into funk music, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Rolex GMT-Master

_Words by _Jonny Horsfield, of H2 Yacht Design

This Rolex GMT-Master is definitely a “he”. He is 25 years old, goes everywhere with me and always gets me to a meeting or airport gate early because he runs fast (very un-Swiss). I have worn him virtually every day for 25 years with only one service. Even the strap is original.

I spent my first few years in this industry admiring the watches strapped to every captain, broker or owner and thought, one day I, too, will have a Rolex. Not gold, platinum or anything too flamboyant, because I know my place in the food chain.

The GMT-Master in stainless steel hit the spot for me. Conceived in the 1950s as a workhorse for Pan Am pilots, it has an honest “form follows functionality” look that I admired 25 years ago and which seems even more relevant now. It has a fourth hand that enabled crews to set the watch to two time zones simultaneously. Brilliant and simple. It is hard wearing and its smaller size makes it easy to wear. Fidel Castro and Pablo Picasso both had one.

I still remember the moment at Heathrow Airport when I put mine on for the first time. Whenever I look at it I recall that young designer desperate to succeed. I guess it symbolises a turning point in my career.

Only two things about the watch have surprised me. The first is that he would now be worth double what I paid back in 1990 and the second is that I have never lost him.

A barograph by German firm Fischer

Words by the late Ed Dubois

Barographs have always appealed to me. This one lives on my classic yacht Firebrand in the summer, and then moves to my design studio when the yacht is laid up over the winter.

From my earliest childhood, I remember being fascinated by their intricate yet easily understood mechanism. The fact that the British Isles are dominated by such changeable weather dependent on pressure systems sweeping across the Atlantic also makes it a handy piece of kit to keep on a yacht!

Mine is a German electric model from the late 1990s made by Fischer, model Type 217MQ. I bought it new in 1999 for my yacht, so it’s robust.

I have another barograph at home, which I’ve had for about 30 years, but the Fischer, with its link to my 13 metre Sparkman & Stephens yacht (built in wood by Lallows of Cowes in 1965) makes me extra fond of the instrument, and it’s always a nice reminder of sailing days. The actual design comprises a beautiful wooden case, with a practical handle on top, while the workings are painted grey.

I’m sure my initial love of the sea was down to frequent visits to the Maritime Museum at Greenwich as a child, and the Royal Observatory nearby. My early fascination with navigation, yacht design, boats, ships and the way weather has a profound effect on this country and had a determining effect on Britain’s supremacy at sea, are all interrelated.

In a strong way, this barograph symbolises all of that and embodies my fascination and love of all things marine.

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