High Style On The High Seas
In the wake of two hipster hotels, Mark Zeff and Vikram Chatwal reunite on a charter yacht
Peter Webster -- Interior Design, 1/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Scroll through the Web sites for the world's most luxurious charter yachts, and you may be surprised at how many of these sleek pleasure craft have interiors that are disconcertingly, well, suburban. "The problem is that most people look at boats as floating homes," Mark Zeff says. "I completely disagree."
Zeff's idea of what a charter experience should be can be seen aboard Fathom, an eight-passenger, 148-foot steel-hulled motor yacht that Zeff Design outfitted for Vikram Chatwal Hotels. Any resemblance between Fathom's soigneé saloons and Chatwal's land-based boutique properties is purely intentional. "We took the hotel brand and turned it into a boat brand," says Zeff, who designed Vikram Chatwal's Night and Dream hotels in New York. "It's an upscale hotel on the ocean—intimate, well appointed, a little bit racy—rather than your family-oriented South of France deal."
Built in a Turkish shipyard, Fathom was not Zeff's first venture in marine design. (He previously refitted a 165-foot yacht for Ted Waite, founder of the Gateway computer company.) Fathom was originally designed for someone else, but Zeff was able to modify the exterior. With the help of local engineers, he enlarged and moved upper-deck windows, reshaped the handrails and gunwales, and molded the superstructure to give it a sleeker silhouette.
Having streamlined Fathom's topside, Zeff turned his attention belowdecks. "I asked Mark for very linear, balanced spaces with clean, fluid lines," Chatwal says. Working around the hull's fixed bulkheads, Zeff devised a four-deck layout: three guest cabins on the lower deck, a saloon and the stateroom on the main deck, a second saloon on the upper deck, and a top-deck gym.
Public spaces flow into one another as seamlessly as possible. The aft end of the main saloon opens onto a partially covered deck, while bulkheads at the other end narrow sensuously into a funnel that leads past an office and the galley to the stateroom. The upper-deck saloon, which doubles as a library and media room, opens onto a large dining deck aft.
To further unify Fathom's interiors, Zeff limited his materials and colors. "That way, you create the feeling that the boat is one large space," he says. The floors and coffered ceilings in both saloons are ebony-stained mahogany, as are cabinetry and woodwork from bow to stern. White silk upholsters bulkheads in the saloons and also covers the ceilings in the stateroom and guest cabins. And laminated glass that's transparent from one angle, reflective from another, appears again and again: in the cabins to screen the heads and dressing areas, in the gym as folding doors concealing exercise equipment, and in the upper saloon for a cocktail table.
The color palette, seldom straying far from ebony and ivory, adds to the quiet, enveloping sumptuousness. But Zeff animates the pervasive luxe, calme et volupté with texture and color. Rugs and carpets alternate between glossy hand-knotted silk and rugged patchwork cowhide. Throw pillows are covered in coral-pink chenille; curtains area burnished-gold silk.
To make each guest cabin unique, Zeff clad the bulkheads of the first in Hermès-inspired leather panels, the second in orange-dyed handmade rice paper redolent of the Far East, and the third in split bamboo with a French Polynesian vibe. The corridor connecting the cabins is also singular, inspired by the aesthetic of 1930's dirigibles. Bulkheads and ceiling are upholstered in a stainless-steel mesh held in place by stainless ribs. When tiny LED up-lights turn on, the rivets used to install the ribs gleam like strings of cat's eyes.
Zeff paid particular attention to Fathom's lighting. "In public areas, we made the topside windows as big as we could," he says. "The trouble is that, on the sea at night, you're surrounded by darkness, so the openings become gaping black holes." To counter that sensation, Zeff deployed ambient lighting to illuminate each saloon's coffered ceiling. "The entire overhead surface becomes a warm, luminous cocoon," he says. "You get the impression of being securely held in a light-filled vessel, moving through the void."
Fathom's exterior is also carefully illuminated. Not only are the decks, companionways, and superstructure meticulously lit, but there are underwater lights, too. They illuminate nocturnal marine life, which can be viewed on any of the yacht's flat-screen TVs, thanks to a pair of video cameras mounted beneath the aft swimming platform. The lights also create an aquatic nimbus that cradles the boat as it cleaves the waters of the Mediterranean Sea or the Indian Ocean.
"Fathom is the first of what I hope will be multiple boats in the chief international yachting destinations," Chatwal says. Why did he start out with the name Fathom? For its nautical associations, of course. And also, he adds, "because it represents the perseverance of truth."