Making Waves

By Guy Bird for Business Jet Interiors International, Feb 2010

What can yacht and business jet interior design learn from each other?

Immersion in industries other than your own – for however short a time – can often reap benefits in understanding and knowledge that can then be applied back to your chosen field or specialism. But in the case of yacht and business jet interiors some designers have seen sufficient synergies that they’re now making a healthy living majoring in both disciplines.

So what is it that makes them so similar? Of course both are forms of transport design involving moving people from A to B in restricted spaces but both additionally specialise in moving very wealthy and influential people with exacting standards and expectations from A to B in considerable comfort. Given the speeds of such transport both also are restricted by safety regulations affecting, shape and materials. Spiky controls or sharp corners next to non-flame retardant upholstery would be rejected out of hand in either context.

Both involve moving people from A to B in restricted spaces but both additionally specialise in moving very wealthy and influential people with exacting standards from A to B in considerable comfort


Both usually feature bespoke designs and the owners of business jets often have a yacht too. As Rick Roseman of Texas-based RWR Designs – a significant player in both fields – puts it: “Large custom yachts are purchased by the same social and economic class of client as aircraft. Therefore a yacht designer will automatically have a grasp of the level of design and fit out that these customers expect. Knowing and understanding the uniqueness of this particular ‘shared’ and very high-level market strata – is huge.”

Designers of public transport might not have such an immediate empathy with their customers. The design software used in both industries is often similar, recognised by engineering and suppliers alike, and includes AutoCAD, Alias Maya and Rhino. Budgets and timescales for these projects can even work out at similarly too – although for very differently sized vehicles and different reasons. Roseman says a Boeing business jet or a 50-60-metre yacht could both come in at approximately $18-20m and take two years to complete. The per square foot price of the business jet is much higher due to the greater engineering work and materials needed (see later) but on the other hand the yacht will need more design as they tend to be bigger floor spaces. Both can take the same amount of time due to the extra work needed to pass regulations in the aircraft industry.

Indeed, the aviation industry has some of the most stringent regulations of any, such are the dangers of a part failing or a certain material catching fire thousands of feet up in the air. So much so that Rupert Mann of London-based Rainsford Mann Design (RMD) which set up RMD Air specifically to service its growing number of yacht clients who also wanted private aircraft – feels the need to have the support of an STC (Supplemental Type Certificates) design consultant to provide all certified drawings for construction. By contrast RMD would provide the equivalent full drawing packages for the yacht work it carries out by itself.

RWR’s Roseman believes reading up and fully understanding these regulations is the single most important aspect a yacht designer should remember when thinking about pitching for a business jet interior project. As he makes very clear: “The biggest pitfall facing a young designer who has accepted an aviation project, is proposing his/her concepts to the client – and then having to back-peddle because it simply isn’t build-able as presented. This will automatically disappoint the client – not to mention quickly eroding his confidence in the designer. Knowing the ground rules is the best advice to adopt for any young designer.”
Understanding the subtle differences in use of space in different kinds of transport is also important. Adriana Monk, founder and design director of AM Design and a close design collaborator with high-end and ultra modern yacht brand Wally, explains: “In a car it’s about the driver and how he or she interacts with the machine sitting down plus maybe a few passengers. In business jets you can take more guests who can move around a bit more and treat them all equally. But it’s still a restricted vessel, so you have to think about the activities that may take place. In yachts you can cater to multiple guests who can move around much more freely still. It’s almost like a hierarchy of luxury.”

Business jets are by definition mostly about doing business as a mobile workplace, while yachts tend to be more about pleasure

Aside from greater potential for space and movement in yachts as compared to business jets, the reason for the mode of transport in question itself becomes fundamental. Business jets are by definition mostly about doing business as a mobile workplace, while yachts – although great places to impress a client or have a business lunch – tend to be more about pleasure. A further design consideration follows from this general distinction. Business jet design – especially in the case of Head of State or VIP aircraft – needs to take greater heed of security than yachts, especially in the design process, a factor that as Florida-based Patrick Knowles Designs concedes, makes conducting the design process – let alone talking about and publishing pictures of it – very sensitive. 

The final major contrast between the two relates to the fundamental difference in approach to transportation. Aviation designers have to consider the weight of parts and materials with much more care because not to do so would affect performance and running costs dramatically. As RWR’s Roseman points out: “Weight is a huge issue in aircraft – each pound affects range and potentially maximum gross take-off weight. This doesn’t mean you can’t have the same look you might be going for in a yacht – but it definitely means how you get there will be will be different. It will require different materials, more stringent burn requirements and rigorous 16 G certification requirements – not to mention considerably more engineering to support it all.”

The benefits of understanding such rigorous restrictions and material considerations can be significant when back designing yachts. According to Patrick Knowles, who started out in business jet and VIP aircraft, the positive design influences from aviation to marine are mainly technical. He cites two great examples. The first is a weight-saving design technique that allows yacht interiors to feature normally heavy marble and granite surfaces by water-jet cutting ultra thin slices of those materials and bonding them to an aluminium substrate rather than using full thickness stone. It’s a process that can reduce weight by up to 75%. Also through business jet work he discovered a high-density foam with excellent fire resistance called Divinycell that can be formed to house and protect delicate crystal and crockery in yacht cabinet drawers.

In terms of other influences Knowles says LED lighting and huge, plasma TVs got their first application within aircraft and are now filtering across to marine and indeed automotive and domestic interiors. In terms of influence back the other way Knowles believes the biggest factor is probably in the area of aesthetics. Rupert Mann of RMD agrees, believing the aviation industry to be a little behind the yacht world: “It's my perception that the level of design for the aviation VIP industry is where the yacht interior industry was eight years ago – in other words the aviation industry is just catching on to the value of good design and aesthetic. The creative explosion is taking longer in the VIP industry because these assets are business tools first and leisure assets second. In addition the regulations have been such that material choice has been restrictive. Now though, with the advent of improved technology, designers have more scope with the material finishes and aesthetic, digital veneers being a good example.” 

Mann also senses that business jet customers’ tastes are changing as he continues: “We must also recognise that owners are getting more ambitious with how they want their aircraft to reflect their lifestyle and are requiring designers to push the boundaries more.” Designers with more diverse backgrounds will certainly help. Ivana Porfiri of Milan-based Porfiri Studio is pushing modern design through influences well beyond aviation, as she concedes: “Absolutely I am not a specialist. My experience is in many fields, in yacht design, as well as in product design, in housing and working spaces. I think multi-design experiences are always better as they make for a more rich vocabulary and allow the circulation of ideas and innovation.” Her recent yacht project ‘Guilty’ is a good example of such a challenging approach.

Ultimately though design progression and business success in aviation has to come in tandem with pleasing the customer. And as pointed out earlier, given that many yacht and aviation customers are the same people, those that get it right will benefit twice over, as RWR’s Roseman concludes: “If you can make him or her ecstatic over the results, which ideally means giving them more than they expected, you WILL be doing more work for them – be it yacht, aircraft, home or what have you. This is a ‘theorem’ that is absolute.”


Case study: The top-end yacht designer

Arguably, Adriana Monk helps design the most avant-garde yachts in the world. A former car designer for the likes of Jaguar – she was chief designer for the interior of the acclaimed C-XF concept car that spawned the Jaguar XF production car, in the last few years she has turned her attention to designing vessels for yacht maker Wally. Recent projects include the interior of the latest Wally lightweight racing yacht and the initial concept exploration for a concept yacht developed in collaboration with fashion brand Hermes, (called the Wally-Hermes Yacht or WHY).

“My clients don’t want gold taps or fluffy, cozy sailing boats”

With her latest venture, AM Design, which has an HQ in Switzerland and a design studio in the Côte d'Azur, France, she still works for Wally but is also branching out with other clients and potentially ones in the field of aviation too. For her, “ultimate luxury is free time”, and design can help create that, for example by improving ergonomics and reducing the switch count and functionality in yachts to reduce the number of crew needed to man it, otherwise, as she reasons, “you’re not alone any more and so you’re sharing your private time.” Her design philosophy is unashamedly modern, as she jokes, “my clients don’t want gold taps or fluffy cozy, comfy sailing boats.” Such design for Wally doesn’t come cheap – the cool carbon fibre toilet on some Wally yachts costs a cool 7000 euros but it only weighs 7kg rather than 23kg so the yacht’s performance benefits, and as she concludes, “it’s not really about endless budgets. These customers are pretty clever and have money because they know how to spend it. Even in the interiors you have to prove why you want to use certain materials.” / / / /

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