Whatever the term “luxury” means to you, it’s not usually associated with plastic bottles, fishing nets and wood chips. But that’s exactly what yacht design studios are citing as sustainable alternatives to indulgent and often rare onboard materials. From banana-leaf leathers to tactile wall finishes from mushrooms, yacht designers are reimagining otherworldly interiors with a lighter footprint.
British studio Winch Design has committed time and resources to ensuring that sustainable design is laced into the DNA of every project, from carpets and metals to special finishes, and trims. It has assembled a library of sustainable materials. Natural textiles like organic cotton, hemp, flax and jute are paired with more innovative materials, such as Econyl, made from ocean waste.
“Econyl is highly durable, recyclable and luxurious,” Alex Parkinson, Interiors Library Manager at Winch, told Robb Report. “This material is being used by top carpet suppliers and fabric houses.”
It’s not just ocean waste getting the special treatment. By-products of the food industry are being transformed by luxury surface specialist Nature Squared. Its eggshell turned into faux coral is a favorite at Winch.
“It has the same texture and feel of real coral without harming the environment and without being porous,” says Parkinson.
For Lay Koon, founder of Nature Squared, artisanal craftsmanship goes hand-in-hand with reusing waste products, including that found in landfill. “Our aim is to use waste material that doesn’t have another value,” Koon told Robb Report.
Current examples include fruit skins, or feathers from pheasants bred for the food industry. As the birds are mechanically plucked, the feathers are destroyed and have no resale value elsewhere.
The surfaces take time to perfect. For instance, it took 10 years develop surfaces made from whole tobacco leaves. But the effort is worth it, says Koon. Bath-tubs lined in eggshell, curved cabinet doors featuring urchin spines, muscle-shell veneers and banana-bark thatching are in high demand in yachting circles.
“Lots of people who make accessories have worked with fruit leathers, but we try to turn any waste into architectural features,” says Koon.
The introduction of “luxury” waste products has entered the world of interior outfitting, too, says Christian Bolinger, managing director at interior outfitters List GC, but in yachting sustainability is still in its infancy.
“Residual material can be used in the production of special surfaces, but the main problem that we encounter is that the need to produce surfaces without imperfections, such as veneers, is often at odds with being truly sustainable,” Bolinger told Robb Report.
Some yacht owners, however, are pushing the sustainable envelope. Two concept yachts that Winch is now designing use only sustainable materials, from wall paneling and floor finishes to sumptuous bed linens.
Heesen’s new 50m yacht, Project Aura, unveiled at the start of 2021, includes an interior designed by Reymond Langton that incorporates faux leather and suede manufactured by Majilite.
“We decided to use Majilite in place of real leather because it is authentic with a luxury feel and can be reproduced in a large variety of patterns, colors and interesting metallic effects,” Pascale Reymond told Robb Report. “It also has exceptional strength and durability and is easy to apply. Most important, it’s environmentally responsible.”
According to Parkinson, the gradual shift in customer demand corresponds with a lower average age of yacht owners, and the expectation for luxury brands to align with their values. “Wealth shifting from industries like oil and gas to e-commerce means clients are becoming more conscious of the environmental and social impacts of their purchase decisions,” she says. “Clients want options. and ultimately something unrivalled in quality and aesthetics.”
And they are receiving the innovative materials—fast. “Nature Squared manipulates existing natural materials in such inventive ways that the results are not only unexpected but cater to clients’ high expectations,” says Parkinson. “The pace at which they’re producing sustainable options is also astonishing.”