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Trends In Yacht Interiors
The '90s and Beyond: Building American part II


The last 14 years have seen some notable changes in the yacht market, with boats getting increasingly larger and interiors breaking out of any set molds. Perhaps the greatest trend, however, is in the number of megayachts now built with charter in mind.

In Part 1 of this series, I looked back at the beginnings of yacht interior design from the mid-'70s through the '80s. In true American spirit, we saw the transformation of these interiors from yachty red, white, and blue classic décors to more excessive displays that reflected the times.

By 1990, 100ft American yachts were commonplace and growing in both size and number. New American builders were making names for themselves with unique entries into the market. As the boats grew larger and larger, our skills grew too. Using the additional interior space that the builders provided, we were able to design in more options.

Yacht building is a very integral business. As we advanced and developed our yachts, everything had to work, progress, and advance together including the design, décor, styling, structure, engineering, and technology. Along with several notable decorative trends, we began to amass a number of historical "firsts."

The '90s:
A New Era in American Yachts

International award winner Glade Johnson has always been my favorite American yacht designer. With a strong engineering background, he offers the complete package. Known for many years for his fascinating use of multimedia interior treatments, he kicked off the '90s with a couple of outstanding projects on the West Coast.

In 1990, Delta Marine debuted the 119ft Pzazz, which certainly lived up to its name. Most noteworthy was Johnson's use of varied surfaces in the Art Deco designs. The wood was a light lace wood, with applications of polished stainless steel, highgloss lacquer, trompe l'oeil, gold leaf, and exotic burls. The special story about this boat is that the owners wanted to "build American" because they now had the confidence that the American yacht building technology was advanced enough to match what was previously considered to be available only abroad. This was not a refit, but a new construction that clearly showed that the industry was gearing up for highly stylized interiors that designers were eager to provide.

 Christensen, another West Coast builder, was also making itself known. Bonheur 2, another Glade Johnson project, pushed to 135ft in 1991. Light wood, contemporary styling, and the use of lacquers and metallics set off the interior. It was on Bonheur 2, in the early '90s, that we first began to see the influence of the charter market on yacht design. Though the interiors of finished boats could later be adapted for charter use, it is notable that Bonheur 2 was designed, equipped, and furnished specifically to satisfy the charter market. Glade's space-planning innovations were so effective that they are still being used today.

Special attention was, and still is, paid to the crew's traffic patterns, assuring not only privacy for the guests, but efficiency for the crew working the vessel. A bigger, more commercial galley supported state-of-the-art food preparation. Additional dining areas were created on the exterior of the vessel. And, because communication technology was becoming so important, this feature was now specifically designed into the boat to provide charter guests with daily contact to the outside world.

Although still important, the flair and decorative features began to take a backseat to design requirements in American yachts. "Form Follows Function" must have been a yacht thing all along. Today, the only thing that has really changed is our own experience and the level of technology available to make projects like Bonheur 2 even more desirable from both a decorative and a "charterability" point of view.

Broward Marine pushed onward and upward with Pegasus in 1991. She was a 130ft Broward with European styling and advanced technology, which defined Broward's future. The owners put their faith in an American yard that they could visit daily, gaining a hands-on influence during the construction process instead of having to travel abroad.

Hatteras Yachts was also under pressure to develop a larger production boat. The criteria of the day seemed to be European styling. If we wanted to be big like the European boats, we needed to be styled like them too, I guess. This styling took place, for the most part, on the exterior. The fact is that European styling does far more than just look good; it is a requirement in Europe for the way they use their boats (i.e., the passerelles are necessary for Mediterranean mooring). Alexandra was the biggest Hatteras to date at 125ft and was to be displayed at the Genoa Boat Show in 1992, as well as other European shows in hopes of attracting European buyers. (We were under a U.S. luxury tax at the time.)

 I was approaching a defining moment in my career at this point - and I didn't even know it. Still pursuing decorative refits of all shapes and sizes, I had accepted a commission to redesign the interior of a 104ft Broward for a very young and successful businessman. The name of this boat was Soldier of Fortune and it defined the epitome of "high-end, custom contemporary, paramilitary décor." The client gave me virtually no input other than to make it go wow. "If you think I'd like it, do it," he said. "If you think I want it, buy it." He never set foot on the boat until we were totally finished. Gone was the dining room, newly converted into a disco dance floor with provisions for a private dancer. It was also my first time providing frozen daiquiri machines on every deck, amongst other bizarre features. The master suite was a complete rip out and redo as well. We reached sophisticated heights of art with our etched painted glass and mirror throughout the boat. Fabric was all hand-painted, cabinetry was clad in a new product, Vitracore, and the bulkheads were all upholstered.

We really pushed the envelope on this boat to the point where it may have backfired. I began to realize that along with a reputation of being "Queen of the Refits," I was also being typecast into a contemporary classification that would later hurt my marketability as trends and styles changed. I didn't really care at the time because my client loved everything we did for him including his two homes to follow. We even began a new 141ft construction project at Christensen, that unfortunately he did not complete, but we did!

 Up until now, I hadn't had much experience with new construction that incorporated features for charter into the interiors. Any time it had been mentioned, there was a simple understanding that we should "tone it down a little; we're going to charter it." I think this was a direct reflection on the size of the boats we were working on. Until the 100+ft American yachts were solidly in market, there wasn't much call for charter-based designs on them. Another factor contributing to the increase of American charter boats was the Dock Express. This allowed boats that otherwise could not or would not go on their own bottoms, to be easily transported to the Med. To this day, many of my deadlines are based on departure dates for the Dock Express to catch the season in the Med or one of the charter boat shows. Now that we had representation in Europe as well as the Caribbean, we needed to address the competitive nature of the charter business and include features that would make these boats more appealing to the public as well as accommodate the private décor choices of our clients. I have found that charter considerations outweigh some personal preferences.

American Showboats - the Legend Begins
I will never forget the 1991 Bahia Mar Boat Show. My husband Phil and I met Felix and Carolyn Sabates. They had their Ameriship on display and in addition to his new yacht, he had his MelloYellow, Winston Cup car, driven by Kyle Petty, on the dock. It certainly attracted attention every time he cranked it up, which mysteriously seemed to coincide with the timing of his neighboring competitor's tours. We smiled, walked away, but knew someday we'd work together on a project.

 It wasn't long before Felix called me and asked if I would be interested in doing the interiors on a series of yachts he was building on speculation. It was the summer of 1992. He told me he wanted a designer with a marketable name and that I had quite a reputation. Before I could thank him for the compliment, he continued on to say "for being able to exceed an unlimited budget!" If I wanted to be considered for this opportunity I had to write the word budget 10,000 times on a yellow pad. He was serious. I complied. And from that time on, I never forgot what the word looked like, how it was spelled, what it meant, or the ramifications if I exceeded it. It was one of those lessons you take through life and now I appreciate the discipline because it taught me there's more to doing a project than just designing a beautiful interior. This is a business.

Felix and I had great success starting with a number of Browards and moving on to Hatterases. These successful projects became the talk of the industry. Not only did the boats sell the very day they were put on the market, many presold because the yacht owners all wanted a sneak peek. Felix had - and still does have - his finger on the pulse of the American yacht owner. An instinctive ability to build and deliver what the people want on a handshake has made him a success in this industry.

His wife Carolyn and I had a great time working on all the décors. She always seems to know what's hot and what's not, and her graphic ability to describe her ideas never ceases to amaze me. We were flying home one night and discussing which shade of deep red would look best on her kitchen walls. We decided to match the cabernet we were drinking. It was a perfect example of the "no guts, no glory" approach we loved to take. The plain vanilla look on spec boats was over. We used every opportunity to incorporate the colors du jour, from the gemstone blues of the Caribbean to the regal reds and golds of European aristocracy. It made no difference if we were 37,000 feet in the air, sitting in the back of the race team's transporter, or at the breakfast table in Charlotte; the results were always the same - success. The team concept works in NASCAR and it works in yacht building too. We went on to enjoy a fantastic run under the American Showboats banner.

 During this time the Broward Daybreak debuted. It was quite unique from anything that had been done before. Designed by the successful residential team, Marc-Michaels, it took a different approach, displaying many of the trends that were becoming popular in home décor in Palm Beach. For example, the furniture was larger in scale. Fabrics were an eclectic mix, but worked together beautifully. A patina finish on the crown molding worked with other moldings and trims. A certain abandonment of the traditional manner of approaching yacht interiors was evident. Competition is a good thing. Innovation like this kept us on our toes and gradually resulted in larger yachts having a more residential feeling to the interior.

 By 1995 we had produced a string of successful projects, but Felix needed a bigger boat with a wider beam. We all headed down to New Orleans to Trinity Yachts. He contracted to build a 150ft yacht with a bird's eye maple interior similar to the successful 130ft Hatteras, Victory Lane. They were all called "Victory Lane" and with the exception of the very first one, I've always been very proud to say that I did them all. Interestingly enough, I am also proud to say a number of the previous "Victory Lane" yachts are in the charter market today as well. This is attributable to the cohesive effort of our team to produce an interesting, attractive, and yet functional yacht that can be enjoyed by private individuals or put into charter service.

 Traditional Interiors Return
Around 1996, while the 150ft Victory Lane was still in its conceptual phase, a refit of a Feadship was completed in Fort Lauderdale at the Derektor Gunnel facility under the supervision of yacht designer, Lisa Pirofsky. Cakewalk had a deep rich darker wood interior with style and rail raised panel cabinet design and construction. This is exactly what the owners wanted, but it was completely different from what we were doing on a multimillion dollar spec boat. Was this a new "trend"? Well, yes and it turned out to be the beginning of one that has been around for a long time now. The boats had finally grown to the size at which darker woods no longer made the yachts feel small or confined. Instead, they were perceived as rich and stately. Felix asked me to find him a wood other than maple that would do just that. We came up with Makore, an African cherry that had the most beautiful color tone of anything we had ever worked with. A later Trinity, Bellini was a second generation of this project and went on to win the Showboat Magazine Yacht of the Year award in Monaco in 2000.

The trend went away from synthetics and ran full circle back to natural woods and many species of marbles and onyx. Millwork details abounded. We started to use crown, base, and chair railing with consistency. Raised and flat panels brought substance to our designs along with columns and corbels. Exotic veneer and burl species were showcased everywhere. Carpeting was upgraded to gorgeous wools and the fabrics were chosen from collections of European textiles.

In Part 1, I said I would return to the first interior I ever did for Evel Knievel. It was in 1996 that a client called to say he had just purchased a "classic" Feadship and wanted a refit that resembled the traditional work we were now doing. I asked him just how classic is she, meaning how old? He replied, "She's very classic". Turns out it was the Evel Eye II! Twenty years later I returned to refit my own work. She still looked pretty good, I might add and my good friend and mentor, Capt. Mike Anderson, was still on board. He was a fine man and directly responsible for the encouragement I needed in the early years to stay the course in this field.

Designing with Charter in Mind
While the décor trend of rich and highly decorative rare woods and veneers continued through the millennium, another had become evident. More and more of the new yachts being built were going to be available for charter. Even today, we are still right in the thick of this rising trend.

From the very conception of construction through the delivery as much attention (and sometimes more) is paid to the detailing required to run a successful charter yacht as to the personalization many owners request for their own pleasure.

 Mia Elise, a 141ft Trinity is now called Relentless and was originally a "Victory Lane". It was one of my first concentrated efforts to work closely with an internationally experienced charter crew that was hired specifically to maximize the charterability of this yacht. Mia Elise, a 150ft Trinity is currently in service and precedes a 180ft Trinity that will debut next spring. It is no wonder that this yacht is expected to be a successful charter project and has already received inquiries. Every single detail has been developed by a team of experienced individuals with a common goal to exceed the demands of the charter market.

We no longer consider industrial-strength furnishings and commercial looking materials for use in the interior. If anything, our designs offer more and more luxury amenities with quality materials kicked up to attract brokers and their customers in a very competitive market.

Just as Bonheur 2, built in 1991, was singled out as one of the first to be built for the charter market with specific requirements and considerations, the yachts being built today sport similar features. With the advanced technology and products currently available, we continue to lengthen and achieve superior results. Every space both inside and out can be developed and refined to serve the needs of the owner, as well as enhance the charter experience for the guests. The owner, crew, builder and designer all need to team up in this effort from the beginning to ensure success later on. It is the designer's responsibility to incorporate all considerations in a decorative yet functional manner that integrates with the yacht's mechanical and structural design. All this and meeting the code requirements of multiple classifications and regulatory specifications can be quite the challenge. An entire series of articles could be written on designing yachts for charter usage.

 2000 and Beyond
While I am constantly challenged to design for today's market, there seems to be a variety of decors that are currently popular. I find it very exciting to see such diverse expressions of personal preference integrated with the advanced technology available. The last three yachts we delivered have not even a thread of decorative continuity. They are truly representative of each owner's personal taste. One has a deep, rich traditional walnut millwork package with equally strong burgundy reds, regal blues, and cheddar yellow fabric accents. I love this boat. I find it quite romantic and soothing in every way. Another recently delivered project that went to the Far East has a sleek contemporary maple interior accented by a neutral soft décor with multiple veneers and stainless steel accents. This boat makes me happy, refreshed, and well rested with its light, bright interior. Meanwhile, the most recent delivery to the Med has a combination of traditional and contemporary furnishings and a mid-range cherry millwork package softened by many light silk upholstered wall panels and soft pastel colorways. It is elegant, yet totally functional with a European touch of formality in some areas and a flare of contemporary styling in others that holds my interest as I move from room to room.

I've seen projects where some areas of the boat have gone very formal yet kicked back in others. The larger boats have plenty of space for this kind of diverse activity. For instance, when it comes to meal service, we can set up a white glove, sit-down formal dinner for 12, a buffet for 50, cocktails for 150, a formal brunch, an informal breakfast, a barbecue, or a casual lunch, all in different areas of the same boat. We can encourage you to relax on the flybridge around the bar and Jacuzzi, watch a DVD on a 63in plasma screen TV with state-of-the-art theatrical surround sound in the skylounge, or enjoy a classic sonata played on a grand piano in the main saloon. The more varied activities we can provide, the more enhanced and enchanted the experience will be for all.

As for today's decorative trends, in general, I am seeing a less layered look on a number of new projects regardless of the level of formality or traditionalism. I still have clients who love the dark wood as well as those who prefer something lighter. However highly detailed designs seem to have made way for those of superior quality in materials and construction. Decorative bells and whistles are not as important as they were just a few years ago. Classic interiors feature what we call "typical" details throughout the yacht rather than one of each of every single thing we can think of. One obvious advantage to this approach is that it shortens the build time which can help keep the ever-escalating costs down too. Just like the race shop sign that says "Speed Costs Money. How Fast Do You Want to Go?" intricate designs cost money too. The word minimalist is used to describe some of the more contemporary designs that showcase a clean, crisp, and simple approach to design. In any case, I think we have finally become confident in our professional expressions to design the interiors of these yachts around the personal tastes of the owners without taking them to the extreme for design sake and our own egos.

Remember when I said we all grew up together in this industry? Through the years I've had a few clients who have always done their own thing. What was a source of comfort and pleasure for them could well become a fashionable trend for others once they saw it. This was generally the case with Carolyn and Felix Sabates. Incorporating their personal tastes on their speculative projects has always resulted in bragging rights for Queen of Show every fall at Bahia Mar. Most of the décor trends I've described through the years happened just that way. We see something that works for us, looks good, is different, and like it. Don't forget "Originality is when you can't remember where you saw it last!" just like I can't remember where I heard that either!

The quiet confidence and experience of the American yacht owner is showing through more and more. Designers are being asked to interpret the owners' taste and styles in a functional, fashionable, and quality manner. The American yachting industry is building very big, very expensive, and truly world-class vessels that deserve lasting features that will enhance their value for years to come.

So, if there is a décor trend today, it's that there isn't one. This is the way it's always been in Europe, where there is no acceptable decorative substitute for quality and experience. I am proud to be a part of an American industry that has come full circle to join the world's market as one of the leaders in luxury motoryachts.

I hope you have enjoyed taking this trip down Memory Lane as much as I have. It has made me realize, in retrospect, that we are always busy trying to get somewhere and do something new. It's a good thing to look back occasionally and see where we've been and all that we've accomplished.

To charter any yacht you see in this issue of YV&C, please contact any of the recommended charter brokers listed on page 8.

About Dee Robinson
Dee Robinson ( has enjoyed a colorful career,
refitting and designing luxury yacht interiors for more than 25 years.
She has delivered more than 150 yachts, several of which were for
repeat clients. She recently expanded her work in the U.S. market by
taking on commissions in China for the Cheoy Lee Shipyard. When Dee is
not designing yacht interiors, she often does residential interiors -
or agrees to write magazine articles. In her "spare time," Dee enjoys
spending time with her husband in their mountain retreat - or riding
their Harleys. He has a Road King, and she rides a Fatboy. Dee says,
"Even after all these years, it's a pastime that I enjoy and one that I
can share with my husband. I arrived at my first job on a Harley and
I'll probably leave my last one on one too."

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