Combining exploration, nature and luxury

Elly Yates Roberts speaks with Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Mathieu Petiteau about the design considerations for Ponant’s latest luxury icebreaker, Le Commandant Charcot

Combining exploration, nature and luxury

Ponant/Gilles Trillard

Jean-Philippe Nuel Studio incorporated leatherwork, handles and drawers into the suites and staterooms

Designing the interior spaces of cruise ships is a complex procedure that includes everything from organising the project schedule and familiarising architects with the yard process to making final decisions surrounding colour schemes and onboard ambience.  

However, the ultimate aim is to meet and exceed customers’ expectations, says Mathieu Petiteau, director of newbuilds and research and development at Ponant. The cruise line works closely with its interior designers to deliver these experiences.  

“At the very beginning of the project, we issue a mood board for the vessel and outline the atmosphere we want to achieve,” says Petiteau. “This acts as inspiration for the architect to find the right colours and materials, and strike the best balance between exploration, nature and luxury, all while delivering the distinctive French touch of Ponant. 

“Our newbuild team spends a lot of time onboard our vessels so that they truly understand the way our vessels operate and what our guests want. This is how we are able to create aesthetic and practical onboard interiors.”  

As the only French-owned cruise ship operator, Ponant offers a unique approach to sea travel, with small capacity ships that provide an intimate, elegant and welcoming atmosphere. The line’s new luxury polar exploration vessel – Le Commandant Charcot – which was delivered in 2021, offers a new signature style from French designers Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Jean-Philippe Nuel Studio to position the ship among the most sophisticated on the planet.  

Jean-Philippe Nuel Studio has been working with the firm since the launch of Le Boréal in 2010. His work on Le Commandant Charcot comprised the restaurants, theatre, conference room, the main lounge, and the staterooms and suites. For the latter two, Nuel wanted to emphasise the concept of traditional sea travel, with leatherwork, handles and drawers recalling the cabin trunks of the past. He also used natural materials such as stone, wood and warm woollen fabrics, and a colour scheme centred around grey-blues and beige. 

Wilmotte was responsible for several areas including the atrium, the wellness area with its winter garden, the Observation Lounge, the outside area and two Blue Lagoon pools on Deck 9, and the Expeditions Rooms.  

“The founding idea was to use real materials that enable us to highlight the ship’s rigour, serenity, light, warmth and fluidity,” says Wilmotte. “We wanted to offer optimal comfort and also establish a dialogue between the interior and exterior of the ship. We chose a range of warm greys, black and white marbles, stoneware and rough sawn wood. These materials are used to either catch the light or absorb it, to structure the spaces or bring fluidity, magnify the minerality and invite touch.”  

Despite the creative freedom of projects like these, there are restrictions.  

“The International Maritime Organization rules are changing to improve the quality of the materials used for shipbuilding,” says Petiteau. “For example, we decided to install a lithium-ion energy storage system onboard Le Commandant Charcot, so we needed to secure the recycling process of its batteries at the contract stage.  

“There is increasing pressure to develop vessels that reduce negative environmental impacts by considering all stages of their life cycles. This includes emissions and the energy used during the construction, operation and deconstruction of a vessel.”  

From an interior perspective, Wilmotte emphasises the importance of natural light and quality insulation to help reduce energy consumption. “We have always been attentive to ecological contingencies. We use recyclable materials, wood with a certified origin and natural textiles rather than synthetics. Onboard we worked with sandstone, schist, Calcutta marble and oak which has simply been sanded down or stained.” 

During the construction of a ship, interior designers are often faced with resolving the conflict between creating spaces that are on-trend and trailblazing, and maintaining the authentic style of a brand. Wilmotte has found his own way to balance these elements.  

“Ponant gave us carte blanche to give the common areas a personality that corresponds to our agency’s signature style,” he says. “I like using understated and unexpected materials to create a timeless feel. Comfort and elegance can be expressed simply through beautiful finishing touches and in the softness of the armrest on an armchair. I am particularly proud of the staterooms and suites where we have used stones with veins to reflect the ice blocks outside. 

“Le Commandant Charcot is first and foremost an exploration ship, which caters to a clientele in search of comfort, adventure and discovery. Our job was to offer a remarkable experience and quality of life onboard, without overshadowing the true mission of Le Commandant Charcot to celebrate the planet and its most extreme regions. Understanding this balance is where the best design lies.” 

This article was first published in the 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Interiors for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.

Share this story

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts
17 June 2022

Theme picker