Nathaniel Herreshoff may be regarded as the Gandalf of all things that float. But interior living and creature comforts? Well, not so much. We know a bunch about design practice since that Golden Age of American yachting.
Take Herreshoff’s classic 60-foot class, the New York 40. Browse through the 14 boats that the Herreshoff Marine Museum, in Bristol Rhode Island, lists as original New York 40s, and it’s clear these classics did in fact set the bar for weatherliness, toughness, and outer elegance. But take a look down below, and it quickly turns into an off Thursday night at the local pub: Dark, cramped, lo-tech, and what is up with all the leather and rivets?
Last year, we got a call from one of our favorite clients, Todd French, a partner over at Belfast, Maine-based builder French & Webb. One of Todd’s clients was utterly devoted to restoring his beloved New York 40, Marilee. And he needed help rethinking the pinch of an interior inside this classic. He gave us carte-blanche to rework her arrangement to his desire, develop unique furnishings, and find an overall interior look and feel. The goals: design a layout that offered unimpeded sightlines from stem to stern, offer a modern crew comfortable spaces for sleep, work and meet — some actual live-aboard boating.
Last week we got some photos from a favorite shooter Alison Langley of Marilee’s new inner look. And looking at these fabulous shots, we realized we learned a whole lot on this job.
Classic Boat Interiors Tend to be Slammed Together. It never ceases to amaze us how little the human form mattered to designers 100 years ago. The interior bits were bashed into shapes that do not work. There were strange little caves that no real human could use. Doors would not open fully. Heads were in strange places. Basics like drawers and storage were always exhausting. If your classic yacht is bumming you out down below, it’s for a good reason: many elements like this were not a priority back then. They were simply overlooked.
Odd Spaces Required Odd Solutions. The trick was chiseling out the sense of “wide open” in a long, narrow space defined by low freeboard and slack bilges. Any sort of 1914 doctrinal thinking about finding “enough space” for a stateroom or settee was quickly deleted. Instead, Marilee presented us challenges forcing us to think outside the box, begging around for tiny pockets of space that we could leverage into comfortable more useful areas. Take the fact that large crews need lots of seats and a certain amount of open space for traffic flow. (We are geniuses, aren’t we?) Problem is, the hull shape of the NY40 is not beamy, resulting in a cabin sole that’s narrower than many boats by today’s standards. So how did we find a crew-scale settee? We raised them up from the sole on plinths, and pushed them outboard and under the deck, near the gunwales. We’d flunk you immediately from our design classes if you came up with that nutty-sounding idea. But in this boat, once retrofitted in, this kind of under-deck seating is a game changer. It is entirely usable, roomy and comfortable.
Workspaces Were Easy. Marilee is actually at her best when people have jobs to do. The navigation station, for one, turned out to be a favorite: Open, spacious, and situated at the end of the starboard settee, this corner sits outboard of the starboard-mounted engine box, in what was wasted space. But this is now the heart of a working boat. You’re right where you want to be, just under the companionway, within simple shouting-distance to the cockpit. In a place where you probably wont get seasick working the phones and nav tools. When there’s a task at hand, Marilee turned out to be a darn comfy workhorse.
Privacy Was Tricky. Our client wanted an open feel. The idea was to sit on the pipe berth, in the forepeak, and have an unhindered view stem to stern. So, all the fussing and fighting among the interior dimensions and arrangement yielded a marvelous, open interior. This was important to this client, may be not for everyone. Privacy could be a challenge. Achieving a private stateroom was not something this rebuild could do easily. Obviously, the next client will have different needs, but our hunch is when we take on our next Spirit of Tradition interior, modern-scale staterooms will remain a challenge. That trade off is worth thinking through for anybody considering this sort of project.
The Floating Condo. We saved the best lesson for last: Interior redos on this scale opened our imagination to taking on other older boats. And not just strictly classics. All those 20-40 year-old Choey Lees, Bertrams, Hunts or Chris Crafts are now fair design game as live-aboard solutions.
To us, that puts the interior rebuild square in the middle of the fastest-growing housing trend in North America: extended-stay, seasonal living. Considering what an awful deal most warm-weather condos are for the middle class, the redo of the interior of an older boat as a live-aboard residence for say two months a year is now a reasonable spend.
These condos that float, may only leave the dock once every two years. But if you run the numbers of a redesign as “floating condo,” these rebuilds are surprisingly reasonably-priced. They are tax-free living options that anybody who travels in the Snowbird circuit will immediately understand.
And let’s not forget, we’re talking about a “condo” that can be moved safely by most anybody, from say Fort Lauderdale to Panama City, Florida; or from the low-cost slips in the Lido near Venice, Italy to The Ligurian Coast down past Genoa. Or even sailed from the cheap slips at Lantau Island near Hong Kong out to Macau.
We never realized it. But the right interior on the right boat opens a world of value. To us, our big blue globe just got a bit more oyster-like for those looking for a cheap place to live.
And solutions like that are why we got into this boat-design thing.