Exceptional spaces in the cruise industry

Studio DADO’s founding partners tell Jacqui Griffiths how the firm combines ingenuity and insight to create unique interiors for cruise brands

Exceptional spaces in the cruise industry
Studio DADO's team prides itself on its open-door policy and personal service

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Studio DADO may be young, but it carries a wealth of experience. Based in Miami, US, the firm was launched in 2016 by Greg Walton, Yohandel Ruiz, Javier Calle and Jorge Mesa, combining four unique creative perspectives with almost 60 years of collective experience in cruise ship design. The team prides itself on its open-door policy and personal service. “We become advocates for the brands we work with so we can design an experience that is unique to each brand,” says Ruiz. “Our clients can call us whenever they want. We engage them in a continuous dialogue to understand the brand, where it is now, where it wants to be in the future, and what its guests are looking for.”

The team’s experience in both newbuild and refurbishment projects is enhanced by its strong relationships with shipyards and contractors. “We can collaborate extensively with shipyards because we understand cruise ship design, client requirements, budgets, which materials and products will work, and the conditions involved,” says Walton. “It makes the process a lot easier for both the client and the shipyard. We also understand how the contractors work, and we have the relationships in place to complete our refurbishment projects quickly and smoothly.”

Studio DADO’s designs combine longevity with visual impact. “Cruise ships are in constant operation so their interiors get a lot of abuse, but we know our spaces influence every guest’s onboard experience,” says Ruiz. “We work closely with clients’ housekeeping departments and onboard engineers to make sure the materials we specify, from the fabrics to the type of furniture and finishes, will last a long time. We put great thought into how we can ensure the project stays beautiful right up until the ship goes in for refurbishment.”

Foresight and ingenuity are key to achieving that goal. “Our creativity really comes into play in maximising space and storage,” says Calle. “We have to think in terms of vertical as well as horizontal space, often incorporating dual functionality in items of furniture.”

“We also think about how technology influences guests’ use of space, now and in the future,” says Ruiz. “For example, smartphones have revolutionised the way people shop and communicate, and we have to work out how to take that experience onboard: where will guests put their phones? Is it more feasible to put a USB port on a light fixture they’re going to switch on anyway, rather than on a nightstand?” We’ve all travelled as guests on cruise ships and we walk through that experience so we can anticipate guests’ needs.”

Understanding how the space creates value for the client is intrinsic to Studio DADO’s design process. “We bring conversations about the functional, operational and revenue generation aspects of a project to the forefront of the process,” says Walton. “For example, we’ll consider what we can do to bring down the cost of a stateroom so it generates higher revenue. On refurbishment projects we’ll look at adding accommodation to generate revenue that offsets the cost of the refurbishment.”

Studio DADO’s current portfolio testifies to its strengths in both newbuild and refurbishment – and to the faith existing clients have in the team behind the new venture. “We’re working on both newbuild and refurbishment projects with Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line,” says Ruiz. “We’re excited to be designing Seven Seas Explorer II having worked on the original Seven Seas Explorer, and we’re about to start work on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Project Leonardo. We’re also working with Carnival on its new fleet of XL vessels, and on a newbuild project with Princess Cruises.”

Walton and Mesa are also helping to develop the industry’s future talent as Studio DADO leads a cruise ship design course at Florida International University. The pair began teaching the course when they worked with CallisonRTKL and their focus on nurturing marketable skills has paid off, with alumni working at several large cruise companies. “We give the students a real-life, real deadlines approach so they leave with a full design package for their portfolio,” says Mesa.

Having established Studio DADO’s place in the industry within just a few months, the partners are looking forward to moving into new offices by the end of the year and growing the firm’s portfolio. “We’ve already exceeded our own expectations since launching the company,” says Walton. “Now we want to expand our existing relationships and grow to work with new clients. There are a lot of opportunities out there, and a lot of brands we’d like to work with.”

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Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths
Tuesday, February 13, 2018