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Author: Jacqui Griffiths/21 June 2019/Categories: Interview, Onboard experience
This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
When four men and a dog founded Studio DADO three years ago, they brought together decades of cruise ship design experience, a passion for creating unforgettable spaces and a philosophy that every project should be a joyful experience. Since then, the company has earned a reputation for its innate understanding of cruise brands, their passengers and the functionality they need. DADO’s work with Carnival Cruise Line, designing spaces aboard Mardi Gras including the spa, fitness room, suites and staterooms, is a case in point.
“Carnival called us to discuss the spa on Mardi Gras shortly after we’d founded Studio DADO,” explains Greg Walton who, with Javier Calle, Jorge Mesa and Yohandel Ruiz – and Enzo the Italian Greyhound – started the company in 2016. “This was going to be the largest ship in Carnival’s fleet, so it wanted to elevate the guest experience and take the brand in a new direction. We knew this was something special that we could really help to mould for the brand.”
The team immediately embarked on a research trip with Carnival’s executives, to gather inspiration from the spas of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. “There are some really beautiful resorts there that they wanted to show us, to illustrate what they were thinking,” says Mesa. “It was very exploratory at first, and then we distilled the design to create something unique to this ship, which touches all the senses.”
The resulting designs for the ship’s Cloud 9 spa are both beautiful and simple, drawing on inspiration from the team’s Yucatan experiences to create a space for mindfulness and tranquillity. “The Mayan culture is very connected with nature, and we wanted to bring nature into these spaces,” says Calle. “We created an abstract tree sculpture which extends across the ceiling in the Cloud 9 reception area, which actually transforms a structural pillar into a work of art. And the illuminated graphic behind the spa reception desk is like a window to the natural world, because in every spa room we saw there was a window looking out to nature. We carried that through to the treatment rooms too.”
Carnival also asked DADO to create a new visual palette for across its staterooms and suites. DADO’s expertise, backed by its network of suppliers and contractors, meant the team could deliver a fresh new look and feel for the rooms that is in keeping with the rest of the ship – all in just two months.
“We worked with Carnival to identify the elements within the original design by DCA that were important to them, and that we needed to carry through,” says Walton. “Then it was a case of developing the colour story behind it. Carnival wanted something that felt light and airy, with subtler tones than it has used in the past, so we took elements of the original design and modified it to develop something that resonated with the brand.”
DADO created a common thread that runs throughout the staterooms and suites aboard Mardi Gras. “The suites have a similar timeless design and colour scheme to the staterooms, with elevated architectural finishes and elegant custom soft goods,” says Michelle Colangelo, senior associate at Studio DADO. “The different categories of suites vary a little in size and shape, but all the suites have a spacious, luxurious feel. The Cloud 9 Spa suites are well appointed and primarily influenced by the design of the spa with key elements. The fresh colour scheme and the layers of lush textures expand upon the spa experience with a more exclusive feel.”
Space is at a premium when it comes to stateroom design, and this provided the team’s biggest challenge. “Taking into consideration that the typical cabins are built in an assembly line fashion, we were tasked with finding a way of designing the rooms’ features so that they are able to be rolled out and implemented in every stateroom type, with minor modifications,” says designer Jovanny Lopez. “This was a way to keep the production process rolling smoothly and reduce cost in fabrication. We began by studying the smallest cabin types, the ‘Inside Stateroom’, and seeing how much closet space and vanity/desk space could fit. This became our guide as to what we could implement moving up into the larger staterooms and suites.”
Adapting features from the original design to maintain the right look and feel within strict budget parameters was another challenge that proved no match for the DADO team’s network. “With the help of the shipyard, cabin manufacturer and Carnival team, we were able to create a product that elevates the Carnival brand in a booming cruise industry,” says Lopez.
From the spa to the staterooms, Mardi Gras is a testament to DADO’s skill at combining design with functionality. Even at the space-planning stage, Mesa says the team is already considering the technical support it will need to fit elements such as steam rooms and holds, and reaching out to suppliers to find the best materials within the budget and timeframe. Its designs also factor in guidelines like the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that aesthetic beauty is combined with accessibility for all. This expertise, underpinned by the team’s ability to build rich relationships with its clients, means that Mardi Gras’ interior spaces tell a tale of inspiration, tranquillity and delight – a tale in which every passenger becomes the star.
“We believe in camaraderie and collaboration between everybody involved in the project, including the client and the people building it,” says Walton. “The creative process is not linear; it’s driven by many things like – in the case of Mardi Gras – a trip to the Yucatan that sparks inspiration. Carnival really understands that, and our relationship with the company has helped to make this project the best it can be.”
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