The importance of experience in maritime design

We asked a senior panel of interior designers, outfitters and suppliers to explain how they create and deliver outstanding public spaces onboard passenger ships

The importance of experience in maritime design
The wall of trees onboard TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 4

This article was first published in the 2018 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

When it comes to delivering effective project outcomes, there’s no doubt that proven experience can be invaluable. “Having maritime experience is essential as it allows large value projects to be delivered on a fast-track time basis,” explains Stephen Mills, business development and marine manager at UK-based refurbishment firm McCue Marine. “Meticulous planning is key, as is the prefabrication and assembly of all elements.” 

For Anne Mari Gullikstad, CEO at YSA, there is no substitute for ‘learning by doing’. “This is especially the case when it comes to generating the perception of greater spaciousness in public spaces onboard ships than is actually available,” she says. 

Jason Holmes, head of design textiles at Forbo Flooring Systems, meanwhile, says that having maritime experience ensures the right product is recommended for the right application. “In that way performance and design go hand in hand,” he explains. 

“It’s of utmost importance that we help the customer create the atmosphere that fits in with the overall interior design concept,” adds Jemma Masters, Forbo Flooring’s marketing manager. “Forbo’s marine experience ensures that our design teams are able to work with the interior design teams to ensure that all elements work in harmony.” 

Joanna Gonzalez-Guerra, a vice president in the Miami office of the global architecture and design firm CallisonRTKL, says that experience can also benefit the guest experience. “You must understand your guests’ mindset and type of experience they seek, which can be quite different from that of land-based travellers staying at a hotel or resort. Designing for cruise ships means designing a unique escape from everyday life while balancing luxury with adaptability, controlling external factors and providing activities as diverse as what you would find in a city, but within the footprint of a ship. Our expertise in land-based and cruise design and an endless quest for fresh inspiration helps us conceive of innovative ways to address these common challenges.”

Indeed, experience is essential in order to account for the unique factors involved in maritime work that are not necessarily needed for land-based projects. “Being on water as opposed to land has some obvious differences and understanding them and applying them to the design helps to create a better experience for the guests,” explains Alan Whiteley, managing director at Champneys, the UK health spa that has recently announced a partnership with Marella Cruises. 

“Movement is probably the biggest factor, as the ship is in constant vibration and motion. Certain furniture will need to be fixed to the floor, chandeliers will need additional structural support. New lightweight materials are constantly being developed which provide designers with more opportunities to create different spaces.”

David McCarthy, director of Marine Projects and Communications at AD Associates, says that while parallels can be drawn with adopting, for example, energy-saving initiatives, no land-based project will have to contend with stringent US Public Health Service guidelines. “Achieving the luxe levels and adopting approved materials, especially in crucial guest-facing spaces, such as restaurants and bars, is a unique requirement for maritime design,” he says. “Skilfully crafting compliant light features to achieve the ambience during differing times of the day is essential to achieving the guest experience that brands and their customers expect.”

UK-based lighting firm Chelsom is privy to these issues. Recently involved in the design and manufacture of the majority of the public area lighting onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas, the company had to meet a number of marine-specific requirements. “The brief was to meet the designer’s creative vision and the operational requirements, which was challenging,” says John Hadley, Chelsom’s marine director. “Chelsom’s marine experience ensured the effective ‘marinisation’ of luminaires to cope with the continual movements onboard caused by the sea state or vibration. All component parts were modified to be securely fixed and rattle free, whilst still retaining the striking visual impact required by the 12 different designers involved.” 

The industry’s unique regulations also require expertise. “The regulations involved in ship design are a lot more stringent than on land, so the palette of materials can be quite limiting at times,” says Whiteley. 

This opinion is echoed by Forbo’s Holmes: “The main difference is performance and meeting the technical specifications necessary for maritime compliance. In many respects, the design element is unchanged but there is a real need for the product specified to be fit for purpose,” he says.  

 “Whilst Forbo offers a wide selection of floorcoverings for all types of general commercial applications, it is the requirement for International Maritime Organization (IMO)-tested and wheelmark-approved flooring products that sets our marine portfolio apart as a unique offering,” adds Masters. “Also important is that most of our marine products are Lloyds Register certified, to ensure that our customers know that Forbo’s products are tested and fit for purpose.” 

Tina Kjeldgaard, project manager at ship interior consulting firm Danish Decoration, adds that fire and toxic limit regulations also need to be adhered to. “As a mature vendor we have the knowledge of which materials can be used,” she says. “New contractors often find they have to change a large part of their installations as the materials used don’t meet rules and regulations.” 

All this must be achieved in shorter than ever timeframes, says Kjeldgaard. “The timeframe for preparing refurbishment projects is very short and only achievable because we are a mature vendor. With these short timeframes it is crucial to understand the rules and regulations – both the official and the unofficial – to ensure all elements delivered accordingly.” 

And then there’s the higher demand on logistics accuracy. “Air freight, sea freight and weather considerations all need to be made as often there is an exceptionally short timescale to load materials onboard,” explains Tony Body, director of Project Delivery at marine outfitter Trimline. “When planning a marine project, we work backwards from logistics, through procurement and manufacturing to arrive at key time milestones.” 

These aren’t the only limiting factors. YSA’s architect and partner Gunnar Aaserud adds that, as well as the restrictions imposed by IMO and SOLAS on the safe use of space and materials, cruise ships generally offer 25% less area to work with than land-based projects. “These limitations mean that ship interior designers must add expertise on space planning and crew/passenger flow-through to their core technical knowledge to convert aims into desired outcomes,” he says. 

YSA’s senior interior and textile designer Catherine Smith-Kielland agrees, adding that “colour selections and the effective use of mirrors can be key, while furnishing dimensions can be used to create the illusion of greater ceiling height.” 

And then there’s the need to consider workforce welfare. “Travel, accommodation, subsistence, utilities and laundry are all considerations with a large workforce living onboard,” says Trimline’s Body. 

Experience in all of these elements can enable a firm to truly exceed expectations, and this is something that Body says it has done with its recent design of Marella Discovery’s Live Room. “We have worked with Marella Cruises many times, so have an unrivalled knowledge of their interior brand,” Body says. “Trimline transformed the Live Room, which was previously split into two parts, into an open space and the ship’s focal hub. The team refurbed the near empty shell with new bulkheads, deck heads, raised deck and stage areas, and a custom-built bar. This included HVAC and fire suppression system, all within the turnkey package.

“We also fitted an acoustic ‘floating’ deck and install sound dampening to reduce noise levels to cabins situated directly below. And we added contemporary laminate pink and blue design bulkheads with feature ceiling discs and LED lighting, including a programmable system for dimming and changeable colours to suit the requirements of the onboard entertainers.” 

For flooring specialist Bolidt, its 50 years of experience in the industry has helped to offer an unrivalled and unique portfolio of materials formulated to allow designers to convert imaginative concepts into reality. “Our products feature in the most outstanding public spaces on cruise ships and ferries, and our role extends from the laboratory to installation, and includes turnkey solutions,” explains Jacco van Overbeek, director of the company’s Maritime Division. “Bolidt is renowned for design flare and for addressing owner requirements, including noise control, non-slip, environmental protection and special performance. A recent example is the race tracks for Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss, featuring a durable, wear-resistant, non-slip material formulated for go-karting at sea.” 

Whiteley believes that experience enables suppliers, engineers and contractors to go a step further and really challenge themselves within the set parameters. “Just because it is being done on other ships doesn’t mean it is the only way to do things,” he says. “For the Champneys Spa on Marella Explorer, for example, we have introduced a parquet laminate flooring. The individual planks had to be cut down to a smaller size and laid in a specific pattern. It is a common material used onboard, but applied in a different way to create a real difference.”

Ralf Claussen from CM Design also enjoys putting himself to the test. Colours, materials, forms and shapes provide the ‘cladding’ to the functions so that guests only see and feel a ´wow-atmosphere’, he says. “Having maritime experiences and knowing the ´tools´, which are needed to create a nice ambience, is helpful – and enables us to experiment more and think outside the box. For example, in the Tag & Nacht bistro onboard TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 4, the room divider was intended to be birch trees. However, to meet fire regulations, we had to think differently – our concept gave the impression of a wall of trees and solved all of the problems.” C&FI 

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Lindsay James
By Lindsay James
Friday, January 25, 2019