Navigating new waters in cruise ship interior design

Volume Creative tells Rebecca Gibson about how it is using the power of research and art to drive the growth of sustainability in cruise ship interior design

Navigating new waters in cruise ship interior design
Volume Creative
An illustration of some of the art created by Volume Creative on Scarlet Lady

Established in 2015 to bridge the gap between an in-house design team and an external agency, Volume Creative is a progressive design agency with modern values and a female-led team that has more than three decades of collective experience of designing for major fashion and design brands.

“We’re fortunate to have worked with some amazing people who have allowed us to challenge traditional thinking and build a deep understanding of how brands work,” says Callie Tedder-Hares, the company’s founder. “This solid foundation empowers us to really push the boundaries of what is possible in interior design and try new things so that we can act as agents of change for our clients.”

The company does not have a house style, but it does have a house attitude; a desire to affect positive change through responsible design, kindness, and a willingness to learn. “We are driven by the common sense of urgency to find practical and scalable solutions that will enable us to minimise waste and execute sustainable designs that look amazing, but have minimal impact on the environment,” says Tedder-Hares.

Volume believes in telling stories of better and more responsible design in beautiful and thought-provoking ways and art provides the perfect vehicle for this. Its 2019 London Design Festival installation, ‘Take the Plunge’, was designed to take visitors on an immersive journey into the ocean. Visitors plunged through vertical clusters of white tubes, entering an ‘endless horizon’, a white, mirrored space, and then two multisensory chambers filled with clusters of suspended cardboard tubes coated in an ombré of peach, coral and crimson paper, to depict an imagined sunset under the sea.

The installation was 100 per cent reusable and/or recyclable and told the story of the world’s fragile oceans. With over 1,000 recycled cardboard tubes used in the exhibition, Volume strived to reuse as many as possible. After the festival some of the tubes were pulped to create a new series of decorative vases. Thus ‘Take the Plunge’, which was sponsored by Virgin Voyages, did more than simply capture the joyful elements of an oceanic journey; it also acted as a visual representation for the endless possibilities of great sustainable design.

Sustainability is at the core of every Volume project. “It is fundamental to our design thinking and design consciousness is a common thread throughout everything we do,” says Tedder-Hares. “We design for the long-term, rather than creating disposable objects and throwaway experiences.”

To achieve this, Volume invests significant time and effort into carrying out self-funded R&D projects to explore, for example, how it can reuse or repurpose plastic waste to create new materials and products for its clients. “We share our findings with both our industry peers and our clients because we must all work together if we want to protect our planet for future generations,” says Tedder-Hares. “One study resulted in the creation of ‘Achromatic’, a series of objects composed of industrial plastic waste, which is an aesthetically beautiful and poignant comment on pollution, plastics and coral bleaching. These studies have empowered us with a tangible reference point to help our clients with sustainable designs.”

Volume harnessed this knowledge when it acted as lead curators for the ship-wide art collection for Virgin Voyages’ first-ever cruise ship, Scarlet Lady. The team commissioned bespoke pieces from multiple artists and also produced 28 original pieces for the collection, including everything from light art to wallpaper, sculptures and prints.

Several pieces are made from repurposed materials. For example, Scarlet Lady’s Mexican restaurant, Pink Agave, designed by Tom Dixon, showcases a set of three totem vessels that Volume produced using a mix of 3D-printed shapes made from recycled fishing nets and Jesmonite flecked with repurposed cardboard pieces from its ‘Take the Plunge’ installation. Elsewhere, there is a 3D-printed mermaid’s tail sculpture made from post-consumer plastic waste, as well as a plinth to showcase the ship’s model made from Jesmonite and plastic rubbish that Volume collected during a coastal clean-up at Tilbury Fort in the UK with Thames 21, a charity that puts healthy rivers back at the heart of Greater London.

“For Scarlet Lady all the artwork is purposefully curated to convey Virgin Voyages’ overarching brand identity and its commitment to sustainability and protecting the oceans,” says Kate Brewer, Volume Creative’s associate director of product and art. “We saw this commission as an opportunity to take waste materials and transform them into beautiful pieces of artwork to prompt discussion about the importance of reducing our environmental impact, while also showcasing Virgin Voyages’ ongoing work to keep our oceans plastic-free. Our professional artist brought authenticity to the artwork we designed in-house and we’re honoured that the collection has been shortlisted for an award.”

Volume also fulfilled various other roles during the Scarlet Lady project, working as an extension of Virgin Voyages’ in-house design team from the start. It served as both a negotiator between the cruise line and Fincantieri shipyard and as creative director for 50 public spaces, working closely with the Creative Collective team of international designers. In addition, the company designed the interior of the Extra Virgin Italian restaurant and the retail environments.

“Flexibility is key for onboard retail spaces, so we replaced the traditional static shop floor plan with a versatile, open lifestyle area where brands can sit seamlessly alongside each other and easily increase or decrease their footprint depending on uptake,” says Francesca Henley, associate director of interiors. “The space is experience-led, offering spots like a beauty and make-up bar, a fragrance station, digital mirrors so guests can virtually try on clothing, and DJ points in every space. We used a kit of parts, which all worked together, and then used unusual materials such as chipboard and pressed concrete to define the different spaces. This helped to reduce complexity, while ensuring flexibility and innovative design.”

Volume took its role as Virgin Voyages’ brand guardian seriously and worked hard to help the line-up of designers, architects, artists and producers in Virgin Voyages’ Creative Collective to turn their visions for each space into reality. “We have heart and purpose in everything we do; we challenge ways of working and ways of thinking and have brought together a diverse team from artists to architects to project managers and product designers,” says Emma Lally, associate director of design management. “Everyone has a voice and a unique perspective on each of our projects, we encourage differing opinions and perspectives, these differences make us better designers. We understand how to design the most impactful end user experiences while being mindful of our clients’ operational, financial, customer and regulatory-driven constraints. We listen and walk side by side with them on the journey of creating a new experience or revitalising an existing one.”

Buoyed by the success of the Virgin project, Volume is now keen to collaborate with more cruise brands in future. “We were new to the passenger cruise industry when we took on the Virgin Voyages project, but it’s been a great experience that has afforded us the opportunity to learn about the nuances of ship design from the bottom up,” says Tedder-Hares. “Now, we’re well-positioned to act as agents of change for other cruise brands that want to find new and innovative ways to put sustainability at the heart of their design when they’re enhancing their ships and the customer experience.”

Volume’s role as an agent of change will become even more valuable in the coming months as the cruise industry prepares to restart after a hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“More than ever safety, sustainability and authenticity need to work within lean budgets, to create an amazing experience for cruisers,” says Tedder-Hares. “We’re well placed to bring innovative design into play, to reach those touch points, whether it’s reusing waste materials, smart space design, or compelling storytelling.”

Volume is also exploring how to rethink onboard experiences to enable social distancing and increase safety in ways that will add to the cruise experience, rather than take away from it. “We’ll have to make every element work hard and be conscious of the impact it will have on people and the planet,” says Tedder-Hares. “We absolutely love the travel sector and although we can’t reveal our new projects yet, we’re hugely positive for the future.”

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

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
30 June 2020

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