Creative design for comfortable compact living

During a conversation at CSIE, YSA Design’s Derek Barkas explained to Jon Ingleton how and why crew quarters on passenger ships are evolving

Creative design for comfortable compact living
“Investing in crew accommodation is good business,” said Derek Barkas

Crew retention is a key goal for every passenger ship operator. One of the key factors influencing whether crew members decide to stay with a particular company – or move to another – is the standard of their accommodation and facilities.

“Crew members are highly valued resources – a ship will perform better and guests will be happier if they are both served by a cheerful and motivated team,” said Derek Barkas, design director for the UK at YSA Design. “Investing in crew accommodation is good business, it’s a simple trade that yields countless benefits.”

However, space is a precious resource in the lower decks of the ships where crew members live, so every millimetre is scrutinised to design and deliver comfortable and inspiring compact living spaces.

“We’re studying every detail to make space perform more effectively,” commented Barkas. “As there’s no daylight, the design task requires some very clever light engineering too. We’ve researched every interaction that crew members have with their living accommodation – how they can manipulate furniture to change its function and rework space. It’s compact living but it doesn’t have to be boring or sterile.”

Empathy is a fundamental attribute when designing crew spaces. “We need to take them away from their working environment during their downtime by providing common land-based distractions such as coffee rooms, gaming areas, lounges and takeaway food outlets,” said Barkas. “In the past, socialising centred around alcohol but now that people want greater choice, the space allocated to bars and clubs has been reduced. Consequently, alcohol consumption and the problems associated with it have decreased too.”

Improved connectivity has led to the other big behavioural change. “Now that wi-fi is more readily available, crew members feel less disconnected from their families and the outside world,” said Barkas. “The impact of this change on how space is used is now actively being examined.”

Every small social change has to be examined to reimagine past design choices and, as Barkas explained, this is tricky when interior elements have multiple functions. “In compact living environments a picture isn’t just a picture – it’s also a fold-down table and a shelf. Everything has multiple uses – an ottoman is a cushioned footstool but if you take off the top, it reveals a storage space and if you flip the lid, it becomes a coffee table. A greater requirement for wardrobe space or a bigger bed may mean sacrificing one or more other functional choices.”

Unfortunately, there are always operational barriers to overcome. “There’s never going to be the same budget for crew spaces as there is for the guest-facing spaces and that often means we need to find compromises – perhaps a veneer rather than ceramic, or plastic rather than chrome,” explained Barkas, adding that he is resolute about one element that will never be compromised. “We design crew areas with the same amount of passion as any other space because they deserve it. A smaller budget doesn’t diminish our design responsibility; it makes us work harder.”

YSA Design is both curious and imaginative, which is why Barkas thinks the company has not yet exhausted the opportunities for innovation in compact living design. “The bed and wardrobe are really big pieces of furniture and they can certainly be improved – whether it’s the mechanism that transforms the bed into a sofa or how the wardrobe’s multiple functions collaborate,” he said, noting that no ideas are off the table. “This is a truly continuous circle of innovation. We revisit previous innovations to ensure they have remained relevant and if one is not, we’ll redesign it so it is.”

Spatial arrangement is a continuous dance to find a contemporary ideal. The challenge is particularly pronounced for specialists in compact living design where social habits must be minutely examined to find the optimum result. Thankfully passenger shipping has a wealth of expertise to call on, including from Barkas and his team at YSA Design.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
06 April 2020

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