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The Inside Story

Designers say boaters are more demanding than ever when it comes to interior fit, finish and ideas
“A boat is a real-estate machine. Every angle is important,”
 says Dan Lenard, who designed the Lexus LY 650 interior.

“A boat is a real-estate machine. Every angle is important,” says Dan Lenard, who designed the Lexus LY 650 interior.

For Nuvolari Lenard designer Dan Lenard, exploring the cultural and artistic relationship between Italy and Japan was a natural fit when designing the interior of the new Lexus LY 650, built in partnership with Marquis Yachts.

Italian and Japanese design have influenced each other for more than half a century, Lenard says. “Italian design was inspired by Japanese design in the 1950s and ’60s,” he says. “It took inspiration from the minimalism of Japanese and added the subtle opulence that the Italian culture has — a little bit more than nothing.”

In looking to unusual influences for boat design, Lenard is far from alone. Designers in the marine industry are constantly pulling inspiration from other industries and cultures, trying to stay four or five years ahead of trends because it usually takes a few years to develop a new boat model. They attend trade shows that display the latest in kitchen, bath and other home designs, then figure out how to apply new ideas to the functional needs of life on the water.

Being discerning in design is more important than ever, numerous designers say, because boaters are demanding more from their interiors than in previous years. Just as clients have become more knowledgeable about horsepower, stabilization and glass cockpits, so, too, have they learned about different types of natural stone, sustainable woods and other interior options.

“In the past, a boat was just filled with a little bit of high-gloss cherry and a cream sofa, and everybody was happy,” Lenard says. “It was basic. Clients are demanding even that in the very simple part of the market today. You go on a 30-foot motorboat and instantly see the research in the fabric, stitching and upholstery. Everything is more challenging than it was 20 years ago.”

Automotive Inspiration

Members of the Grand Banks team come from diverse backgrounds and are interested in design disciplines including furniture, architecture and automotive, says design head John McKay. “We might draw inspiration from the shape of a sports car and transform that to a curve of a new window.”

Even still, designing boat interiors comes with different challenges than designing automobiles. “When you sit in the car, you only watch the direction that designer wants to you to watch, which is forward,” Lenard says. “A boat is a real-estate machine. Every angle is important.”

Yacht interior designers draw inspiration from a range of sources, including many outside the 
marine industry.

Yacht interior designers draw inspiration from a range of sources, including many outside the marine industry.

With the Lexus yacht, the key was to take some of the familiarity with luxury cars and adapt it to a boat. For example, the LY 650 helm mimics a dashboard, as opposed to being “just a surface to hold screens,” Lenard says. “Every piece is designed and put into one connecting and flowing interior. This is how you transfer the car interior into a boat. The boat is having flow from beginning to end of the interior; everything is purposely designed and built. There is not one thing you can buy on the market. Beds, sofas — and even the shells of the sofa are completely designed for this project. This is where the connection is.”

The boat also incorporates materials found in high-end automobiles, such as leathers, woods and hand-stitching. “We emphasized a lot of curved, extended shapes you will find on the ceiling, and on the floor where we put the nice Lexus logo, which is kind of like a wave,” Lenard says. “It makes more decoration than just a logo on the floor. You have to understand you’re in a Lexus boat to understand it’s a Lexus logo.”

Born of Necessity

In addition to yachts, Winch Design in the United Kingdom works on private jets and homes, and draws inspiration from those industries. In the aviation industry, for example, lightweight design is key, so the Winch team applies similar principles to designing sailing yachts, which includes the Jeanneau brand.

“Our inspiration comes from basically everywhere, whether that’s an art exhibition we go to or a museum,” says Joost Roes, senior project manager at Winch Design. “Because we’re such a diverse studio, we draw inspiration from each other’s projects, as well. We also gain inspiration from nature. We had a project where Andrew [Winch, the founder and creative director] found his inspiration at the beach from a stack of beautiful pebbles. That inspired us for one of our architectural projects.”

Designing sailboats creates even more challenges around functionality than in the motoryacht segment, Roes says. “A sailing boat, in the end, is a working product. Every part on the boat has a function. We can design beautiful pieces of furniture, but if a client is not able to hold on to the furniture when the sea is rough, the furniture doesn’t have a function. Usability is an item that we always take into account. These items don’t justify not designing it beautifully — that’s the added challenge.”

Sea Ray is bringing the interior concept topside, where people spend most of their time on board.

Sea Ray is bringing the interior concept topside, where people spend most of their time on board.

Sea Ray designers say they follow trends in recreational vehicles, aviation and other industries that require livable interiors in a defined space. “A lot of our customers have those types of recreational things, as well, so we like to look at that from a familiarity standpoint,” says design director Charlie Foss. “But you have to think about different use modes. It’s challenging to design around an object that not only is able to move, but is able to be used at rest, as well.”

People change the way they interact with boats in various usage modes; an ideal layout at anchor would be completely different from an ideal layout underway, Foss says. “You have to think about how you can design a layout that potentially accommodates both or potentially transforms,” he says. “That’s where you’re seeing a lot of transformational seating come in. It’s the same with interior spaces — you’re seeing them evolve quite a bit.”

More than half of a 40-foot cruiser used to be interior space, he says, but that’s changing because boaters recognize that they spend the majority of their time topside. “Customers are thinking more about how they’re spending their money and want to put the money where they’re actually using the boat,” Foss says.

Changing Demands

The fact that clients have become more discerning also is influencing trends, Lenard says. “People don’t like to pay for something that looks like it’s been done in 10 minutes,” he says. “They want to see the sweat behind it. They want emotional surprise. The trouble is, you have to accept that the client is demanding. The industry is still struggling to recognize this demand from the clientele. They’re still following that old client that they know very well.”

Designers sometimes work closely with clients. If the clients are production boatbuilders, then the designers work with OEMs and market researchers; if the designers do custom work, they often work directly with the boat’s owner. “We have many owners who come visit us right at the start of their new build to talk about their vision for the boat,” McKay says. “Having a close link between our owners and the entire build process is something that we are proud to offer, and creates a lot of enjoyment for the owners and for myself and our team.”

Winch Design maximized the volume of Jeanneau sailboat interiors to create a “sense of space” (Jeanneau 51, 54 and 64 shown).

Winch Design maximized the volume of Jeanneau sailboat interiors to create a “sense of space” (Jeanneau 51, 54 and 64 shown).

Consumers are increasingly attuned to what’s hot, but incorporating the latest and greatest of anything requires a balanced approach in boat design. Refits are expensive, and people usually keep their boats for years.

“We implement the trendy colors on scatter cushions and accessories that go throughout the boat, which means you’ll be able to replace these after a number of years,” Roes says. “While creams, oranges and reds were very on trend in the previous series, in the future you might go more toward neutral or black and white. If you can easily change the covers on your curtains and the artwork you hang throughout your yacht, you can update interiors more easily.”

Aesthetics, Today and Tomorrow

Grand Banks also is using more natural tones in upholstery, mixed with bold accent colors in soft furnishings, so they’re easier to update, McKay says. High-gloss cherry and other wood finishes seem to be a thing of the past — a trend that some designers applaud. Grand Banks uses more satin finishes on its woodwork to result in a calmer space, McKay says. “The key is placement and not overdoing it,” he says. “A timber piece in the right area adds to the elegance of the finishes.”

Like other builders that have leveraged natural light and new LED options, Grand Banks is using more indirect lighting to create mood and ambience, with the added function of the lighting being practical for maintaining night vision.

Looking ahead, Foss says, the demand for more “honest and real” products will continue. “When you start adding bow wood and types of materials like that, people start to wonder whether the product’s really authentic or not,” he says.


The authenticity desire spans generations, but other desires, such as the overall feeling of the interior, does not. “In our newer projects we try to maximize the interior volume to create a sense of space,” Roes says. “Our aim is to attract more and younger people to buying sailing boats, hence our approach of creating similarities with apartments and creating interiors that are easy on the eye, spacious and very comfortable.”

Sustainability and technology will continue to dictate trends too, designers say, and Roes speculates that there might be more contrast on future Jeanneau yachts. “The real challenge for us is to reduce our environmental impact, which is something we keep working on as designers and lovers of the ocean,” he says. “We are really trying to put that into projects, to be more environmentally conscious. We are trying to use by-products in interiors, and new ways to apply new material which is by-product or waste. But this is a good design challenge. It’s not just a trend; it’s the way we have to go.” 

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue.



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