Tell us a bit about your career so far. How did you enter the yacht industry?
I entered the yacht industry back in 1973, as a student at the Sapienza University of Rome, in the School of Architecture. One of my professors asked me to join his studio, where they were designing typewriters and calculators for Olivetti, as well as furniture and yachts.
My first big opportunity in the yacht industry came in 1993 when I designed the Gran Mudder, a 46m boat belonging to a Texas oil tycoon. At the time, a 27-meter yacht was considered big – so a 46m yacht was huge, and its delivery made the front page of the papers!
How do clients influence your design process, and how important do you think the synergy between a designer and their client is?
Every client leaves you something special. When it comes to yacht design, intimacy is very important. Working on a yacht for an extended period of time, you usually end up becoming a friend of the client. You get to know each other’s tastes, aesthetics, values…and not just in terms of the yacht! Dialogue with your client is of the utmost importance, even if they have given you creative freedom. The designer needs to understand the client’s lifestyle, their intended use of the boat, the regions they will visit, whether it will be primarily for charter or private use. Studio Vafiadis works with clients from all over the world, including Russia, Italy, the USA, Greece and the Middle East, and people from each region have their own special tastes and preferences.
What does Greece have to offer the yachting sector, in comparison with other countries in the Med?
Quite simply, I think Greece is the best destination! I’m not saying this because I’m Greek, but because people from all over the world agree and believe it is the best place to come. And they do! Most of the yachts that are in circulation today come to Greece during the summer season.
Our only problem here is that there aren’t enough well-managed international marinas to meet demand, particularly for those who want to leave their vessel here for winterisation…although this is changing. I have seen big improvements in recent years, with yacht charter and brokerage agencies opening up on the islands (particularly Mykonos), so the facilities and services are there for international yacht owners to come and enjoy Greece at the very highest standard. Most local brokerage offices actually have their own agency department to serve yachts whilst they are here in Greece and, as the infrastructure improves, more people will come.
Which of your yachts is closest to your heart?
My son [yacht designer Stefano Inglese Vafiadis] did an interview recently, where he said ‘our best yacht is always the next one’ – and I think this really covers it! Our best yacht is always the one we do next, as every vessel is a new and exciting challenge!
How do you foresee yacht design changing over the next ten years? What are clients beginning to expect as standard, and how do you keep ‘surpassing’ these standards of luxury?
Once upon a time, when a client had a very strange request, we yacht designers used to say “this is not for marine use” and “it cannot be for yachts”. Nowadays, however, we no longer have this mentality because technology has made so many huge advances that there are no real limitations! This makes the design process more complicated than it used to be, but also more exciting. For example, in the
past, a yacht’s lighting design was limited – we could include spot-lights and perhaps a dimmer switch. Only in the last few years has onboard lighting managed to attain the standards really required to match the rest of a super-luxury boat. Nowadays, we have the technology and skills to plan each vessel’s lighting around any eventuality – what looks best in the rain, what looks best when it’s sunny, what’s the best setting for dinner etc. Clients can now demand the same standards of lighting on their yacht that they enjoy in their homes.
What is the most unique or unexpected feature a client has asked you to incorporate into a design?
Zero gravity. We didn’t actually do it in the end, as the yacht was too small and it didn’t make sense. We would have needed 3-4 decks for this feature, which would have essentially been a very big, empty space that would only be in use for 5-10 minutes as a novelty feature. However, it just goes to show how there are no limitations!
Another client asked us to make a pool with sharks! We convinced him it wasn’t a good idea because the rolling of the yacht would move the water and the sharks might be in danger of falling out! To my surprise, he was convinced…
In terms of materials, do you see a shift in what is being used now versus 20 years ago.
Fortunately, the range of materials that we are able to incorporate into our designs has increased significantly. With improvements in glass, for example, many things have changed in yacht design – now we can include huge windows, vast openings and lots of natural light. All of this used to be impossible! Our only limitations come from fire safety rules, but even now 50% of fabrics on the market are fire retardant, compared to only about 20 a decade ago. It is the same for wood – wood veneer is now made so thin that it isn’t included as a fire risk material so we can use it much more frequently inside the yacht. And when it comes to decorations, if it’s on the market, we can use it!
Tell us about your design process: pen and paper, or digital renderings?
Usually, I start a design by sketching with black ink on A4 or A3 white paper – ink, not with pencil! Most of my shirtsleeves end up stained black…(laughs).
Can you tell us about any projects you have recently or are currently working on that you are especially excited about?
We are lucky enough to have some big boats under construction, from 38 to 95 meters. The most difficult and challenging one is a beautiful, very high volume 52m yacht in Italy. It started as a 62 meter and the client kept decreasing the length but keeping the same interior specs. Normally, a 52m vessel has 3 decks, but this one has 4 – it was a very difficult project to design the curves of the boat in a way that give the impression of less volume, but we managed it and it is going to be a very beautiful vessel!