Inspiring innovators: How Studio DADO creates compelling staterooms

Javier Calle and Yohandel Ruiz explain how the firm has rapidly built an industry-wide reputation

Inspiring innovators: How Studio DADO creates compelling staterooms
The custom artwork adds a vibrant pop of colour and a unique design element in all the staterooms onboard Norwegian Prima

By Rebecca Gibson |

By the end of 2023, there will be more than 15,000 staterooms at sea that have been designed by award-winning boutique hospitality design firm Studio DADO. Just five years after it was first established in Miami, Florida, the firm is now renowned for its expertise in creating compelling guest accommodation onboard some of the newest and most innovative cruise ships in the world. 

Every stateroom project begins with Studio DADO cultivating an in-depth understanding of both the cruise client and its guests.   

“It’s crucial for us to fully understand our client’s brand promise, market position and guest demographic, as well as the operational requirements and the type of experience it wants to offer,” says Yohandel Ruiz, founding partner of Studio DADO. “Similarly, it’s vital for us to learn more about the guests, including everything from their likes and dislikes to their motivations for cruising with our client, the brands they shop with, and much more. These insights inform our design choices to ensure we create spaces that resonate well with our client and its guests.”  

One of the biggest considerations is whether the team is designing accommodation for a large cruise ship aimed at the younger market, or a smaller luxury vessel targeted at the older and wealthier demographic. 

“Mainstream operators want ships with multiple dining and entertainment spaces and as many staterooms as possible so they can maximise capacity,” says Javier Calle, founding partner of Studio DADO. “Consequently, staterooms can sometimes be small, which requires us to devise innovative solutions to optimise every square millimetre of space and give guests the illusion they are much larger than they are. For example, we’ll incorporate elements such as hidden storage and multipurpose furniture, and we integrate LED lighting to improve the visual impact and ambience of the space. 

“It can be challenging because these staterooms are often prefabricated, so there’s less design flexibility. Plus, because there are so many staterooms, we must carefully consider materials so we don’t exceed weight limits.” 

Although luxury ships are much smaller overall, their suites and staterooms are comparatively larger than on mainstream vessels. “Luxury operators offer longer itineraries, so guests tend to spend more time in their staterooms,” says Calle. “Hence, we must create a bespoke ‘home away from home’ experience with upscale furnishings, fixtures and fittings. Guest accommodation areas for these vessels are generally built in situ, so it’s easier to adapt the architectural design.” 

Studio DADO also aims to incorporate key trends into its stateroom designs.  

“Now that guests can easily customise products and experiences onshore, individualisation is a major priority for cruise operators,” says Ruiz. “Consequently, we aim to give guests the flexibility to use the space in a way that best suits their personal needs and preferences. For instance, we’ll ensure the design caters to those who want to watch TV from the sofa, and those who prefer to watch from bed.”  

Another simple but effective way to add individuality is through artwork, a technique Studio DADO is employing onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Prima. “We’ve commissioned custom murals for the staterooms, which will ensure they all have a unique visual feature,” says Ruiz.   

Considering all the small details that significantly impact the overall ambience and aesthetic of a stateroom is a hallmark of Studio DADO’s design process, says Ruiz. “We incorporate all the digital technologies and amenities guests enjoy at home so the experience is seamless, convenient and enjoyable.”  

The team considers the needs of the crew members too. “We want our designs to be functional, so we try to anticipate how crew members will operate in the staterooms to identify opportunities for boosting productivity and efficiency,” explains Calle. “For example, we might rearrange the layout or introduce easily manoeuvrable furniture to expedite the cleaning process. This would result in significant time and cost savings.”  

To ensure it has fulfilled these goals, Studio DADO seeks feedback from crew members once the ship has entered service. “We ask whether the spaces are performing as expected, or whether they’ve been modified due to operational issues so we can evolve our designs for future vessels,” says Ruiz, adding that another litmus test for the success of a design is whether it is memorable for guests.  

“The most successful spaces are those with a strong design concept and narrative – they have a soulful atmosphere that captivates guests. If they’re able to share the essence of this experience with loved ones back at home, we’ve done our job well.” 

Studio DADO’s renowned ability to create unique and compelling stateroom designs has led to a growing number of major cruise operators appointing the firm to design spaces such as spas, restaurants and crew accommodation too.     

“We pride ourselves on being curious creatives with an insatiable appetite for pushing boundaries to develop innovative design solutions that will transform the cruise experience for both guests and crew members,” says Ruiz. “We’re proud to have been lead designer for Oceania Cruises’ $100 million renovation of four luxury ships. We’re now carrying out the same role for its new ship Vista, as well as for Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ upcoming luxury vessel Grandeur of the Seas and for American Cruise Lines’ projects to create a new class of modern riverboats and to reimagine four of its existing paddlewheelers. We’re excited to share these spaces with guests soon.”

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

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