The secret to designing ship interiors that remain relevant for years

Designing spaces onboard vessels is challenging. Johan Nordberg shares Viking Line’s considered approach with Rebecca Gibson

The secret to designing ship interiors that remain relevant for years
The Seamore restaurant on Viking Grace shows Viking Line's signature timeless, yet modern, design style

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.

Viking Line has often been considered an innovator thanks to the pioneering propulsion on its contemporary cruise ferries, which operate between Estonia, Finland and Sweden. Viking Grace, for example, was the world’s first large LNG-powered passenger ferry and as of 2019, the first to use wind propulsion generated by a rotor sail. When the line’s newest LNG-powered cruise ferry Viking Glory debuts in January 2021, she will be the most efficient vessel of her kind in the Baltic.

However, Viking Line does not want to be known simply as a leader in sustainable propulsion; it also wants to be recognised as a brand that delivers an onboard experience with a ‘wow’ factor. To achieve this, the company must consider several factors.

“We sail into small harbours and narrow passages in the Åland Islands, so this has an impact on the regulations we have to follow and limits the dimensions of our vessels,” says Johan Nordberg, architect for Marine Operations and Newbuilds at Viking Line. “This means we have less space on the inside the ships, so we must think very carefully about what onboard facilities we incorporate.”

Designs must also cater to every passenger demographic. “We welcome passengers from Estonia, Finland and Sweden, as well as tourists from other European countries and further afield,” says Nordberg. “Some are travelling for business purposes, so they want amenities that will enable them to work onboard. Tourists might be sailing with us to get to their holiday destination, but they want good views of the Åland Islands, so we must have large panoramic windows. Meanwhile, locals who want to have a party weekend on our vessels expect high-quality entertainment. All these people will be travelling on our ships at the same time, so interiors designs must meet all these expectations.”

Once Viking Line has decided what type of facilities to include, it faces an even greater challenge – creating contemporary, yet timeless, interior designs that stand the test of time. Incorporating the latest design and architecture trends can be tricky, particularly because interiors have to last for several years in between ship refurbishments.

“We try to not focus on trends too much because the shipbuilding process takes such a long time that there’s a risk that whatever trends were popular when we first designed the interiors would be out of fashion by the time the vessel hits the waves,” explains Nordberg. “In addition, design trends will not always be equally popular with all passenger demographics. What may be considered fashionable by our Swedish passengers, for example, may be viewed as dated by our international tourists. This makes it tricky to choose which trends to prioritise over others.”

However, Nordberg and his team have a simple trick to keep interiors current. “We create neutral backgrounds using different types of wood, other natural materials, and carpets and fabrics with subtle patterns and colours, then we add on-trend decorative details at a later stage of the design process,” he explains.

The beauty of this approach is that these decorative elements are usually relatively quick, easy and inexpensive to upgrade to meet newer design trends during refurbishments. “By reupholstering furniture, adding a few trendy new chairs, hanging contemporary artwork, swapping curtains, or even upgrading the menus and crockery in the restaurants, we can quickly give spaces a new lease of life and bring them up to date,” says Nordberg. “LED and colour-changing lighting systems also allow us to completely transform the atmosphere of public spaces throughout the day. Sometimes something as simple as altering the type of background music we play is sufficient to create a new feeling in an otherwise unchanged space.”

Regardless of whether it is considered ‘on trend’, every interior must have a high-quality finish. “All materials must be strong, quick and easy to clean and maintain, and simple to replace if they are damaged,” explains Nordberg. “For our guests to be satisfied and have an enjoyable onboard experience, all of our interiors must be in perfect condition – even if the ship hasn’t been refurbished for several years.”

To achieve this, Viking Line must choose designers, outfitters and other contractors carefully. “Some contractors don’t understand our need to have decorative elements that are simple to maintain and possible to upgrade,” says Nordberg. “For example, when we ask for non-visible screw fixings on decorative elements, most people would suggest using glue, but this makes it very complicated to renew these items during refurbishments. However, contractors who are familiar with the passenger shipping industry will be able to come up with innovative solutions.”

Although the shipyard typically chooses outfitters and subcontractors, Viking Line gives the final approval. “We closely analyse their past projects to ensure they will complete our vessels to a high standard and deliver them on time and within budget,” says Nordberg. “We continuously follow up with these contractors during the design and construction phases by reviewing workshop drawings, mock-ups and any prefabricated pieces or modules to ensure everything meets our expectations.”

Once ships are in service, Viking Line sustains this quality by inviting passengers and ‘mystery shoppers’ to share feedback. “Ultimately, we want our guests to have an enjoyable onboard experience and we’ll do everything in our power to achieve that aim,” concludes Nordberg.

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
Monday, July 15, 2019