Design & Decor: What’s Hot in Boat and Yacht Interiors
Published: Friday, October 18, 2019
By: Zuzana Prochazka
Influenced by both shifting tastes and new technology, the design of boat and yacht interiors changes on average every five years and this has repercussions on the sale of new vessels as well as the resale value of pre-owned boats.
Here’s what’s new from large yachts to pontoon and towboats that’s made vessels of all sizes a sight for sore eyes.
The Ins & Outs
With the addition of large sunroofs, disappearing doorways, and well-appointed flybridges, the line between the indoors and outdoors has blurred. Fabrics are the workhorses of innovative décor and, with high-end textiles, there is very little difference between indoor and outdoor materials.
“My Sunbrella library of sample books is 8x8x3 feet,” says designer Shelley DiCondina. “There are amazing chenilles with pearl and beading accents that can withstand being outside in the cockpit or on a sunpad. We focus on a selection of sensible materials that will survive in blended indoor/outdoor environments.”
Carpeting is becoming a thing of the past. Family touring boats used to have some form of outdoor carpet that was tough to maintain and suffered in the sun. Progress in woven vinyl has produced non-slip, cool surfaces in multitudes of colors. For example, faux teak now comes in various textures, densities, and shades that have long passed on basic brown. Patterns and graphics can be incorporated allowing builders to brand various surfaces including swim platforms. These surfaces look and feel better and are easier to maintain. For example, DECKadence, made of thick strands of woven PVC vinyl, has had success on fishing boats because fish guts and blood can be hosed right off, so the boat looks and works better.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Posh details that were once the domain of superyachts can now be found on production boats from 35-50 feet. Check out the attention to detail on a Beneteau Gran Tourismo or Jeanneau Prestige and you’ll notice leather-wrapped handholds, chrome accents, color-matched shower details, and complementary solid surfaces in the galley.
Even trailerable towboats are getting a designer feel with high-tech upholstery that looks hot but is not. Every boater knows the pain of “butt burn” – sitting down on dark vinyl that’s been in the sun. However, a few years back, textile pioneer Syntec introduced their CoolTouch vinyl that stays up to 10 degrees cooler even in colors like brown and black. This has opened up a new world in terms of primary and accent colors in seating and sunpads on boats such as towboats and runabouts. Copycat manufacturers jumped onboard. Mastercraft now offers their entry-level NXT boat brand with a version of cool material called Cool Feel so boats at every price point can benefit from this technological evolution.
The most noticeable trends are in color. For years now, the dominant approach has been “greige” – a neutral palette consisting of grey and beige. Although this mineral color scheme is still dominant, it’s now accented with bright turquoise or coral splashes. Following real estate, boat designers are also opting for heavy use of white with small pops of vivid color.
One wood tone that has surfaced everywhere, whether on 100-foot superyachts or 30-foot production boats, is walnut. Interpretations of the shade vary but the trend is unmistakable. A recent stroll through new models at the last Fort Lauderdale Boat Show also underscored the return to high gloss finishes on paneling and cabinetry.
Color is heavily influenced by lighting, which today is almost entirely LED-based. Several shades of white are now available in LEDs, which is key because a white that works in a showroom may turn greenish or blue once aboard. Instead of ornate chandeliers, indirect lighting has become popular with light cords hidden behind valences and under furniture edges. The effect is a soft glow rather than a high intensity down spot and courtesy lighting has been popping up everywhere from superyachts to pontoon boats.
A special nod goes to bedding. You’ll not find a bedspread on a stylish yacht today. Instead, quality linens, high-thread count Egyptian cottons, duvets, and cashmere coverlets adorn the beds in master staterooms. Colors are often matched to wall coverings and stone surfaces in individual cabins.
Color plays a role in heads and galleys too. The use of natural or synthetic stone (think Silestone) is still de rigeur but gone are the marbled colors, specks, flecks and sparkle of yesterday’s slab granite. Instead white and off-white countertops highlight a cleaner, sleeker aesthetic.
Less is more and that applies to both the amount of décor and the hiding of the details of functional necessities. Minimalism is an overused but descriptive term and Beneteau, for example, adheres to this concept that originated in Europe. Stylish stainless steel appliances and galley tools are hidden by cabinetry and camouflaged with both soft and hard surfaces so you can hardly tell where meals are prepared. Televisions disappear into furniture or behind artwork and even switches, outlets, and charging ports have been tucked into lighting fixtures or under furniture on boats of all sizes.
Quieter by Design
Finally, functional décor is also about sound attenuation. There are ways to create a peaceful, quieter place with decorator details.
Sylvia Bolton of Sylvia Bolton Design describes how noise and vibration impacts our boating. “If you’ve ever had a vague sense of discomfort aboard but don’t know why, it may be due to fatigue from noise. Sound is carried by, or bounced off of every boat surface from built-in cabinetry to those beautiful teak and holly cabin soles, and everything is always in some form of motion.”
Walls and bulkheads can be softened with fabric treatments. One contemporary go-to for Bolton is leather-covered panels that look modern but serve to keep things quiet. Master staterooms often butt up to the engine room, which can be a specific noise challenge. Putting a padded leather headboard on the bed and adding fabric-covered acoustic headliners on cabin ceilings can do wonders. These can be done in modular panels and changed out if damaged or when the décor needs to be refreshed.
“Noise can be managed on a new boat or added aftermarket,” says Bolton. “And it often helps give an older boat a facelift.”
Form and Function
Experienced interior designers know that just about anything is easier to work with than a boat. Space must be used effectively and weight kept to a minimum. Also, boats live in a demanding and always-changing environment. Texture, light, space planning, and scale of furnishings must work in harmony so serious décor is far beyond adding a few throw pillows, although if you’re planning to sell your boat, those may not be a bad investment to raise the general eye appeal.
About the Author
Zuzana is a freelance writer and photographer with regular contributions to over 18 sailing and power boating publications. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana is the founder of a flotilla charter company called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations around the world.
Zuzana serves as an international presenter on charter destinations, safety issues, and technical topics, and she's the Chair of the New Product Awards committee for innovative boats and new gear. She is a member of the American Society of Authors and Journalists and a board member of Boating Writers International.
This article first appeared in the Fall Issue (Sep/Oct) 2019 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.