In His Element
For Frédéric Méchiche, designing an ultra-luxurious yacht interior couldn't come more naturally.
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 7/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Frédéric Méchiche clearly remembers the first time he saw Element at the Cantieri di Pisa shipyard in Italy. "Out of the water, she looked like a multi-story building," the interior designer says. "Quite incredible."
It's easy to understand his wonder. So big that her hull and lower deck were built in one shed, the main deck in another, and the upper deck and sundeck in a third, the completed motor yacht comes in at 138 feet long and 27 feet wide. She can sleep 12 passengers, plus a crew of 10, and cruise at a speed of 28 knots.
Méchiche, however, is no stranger to big boats. He's completed seven others—in France, the U.K., Greece, and Italy. (Element often docks in Monaco.) Stylistically, the interiors have ranged from classic club chairs and mahogany paneling to a futuristic composition of black, white, and brushed stainless, and this breadth of experience has led him to develop a number of general rules. 'The name Element just happens to encapsulate his philosophy. "It's important to keep things simple," he says. "You should never lose sight of the sea. Even the most luxurious yacht should give you the same pleasure as a little fishing boat."
That translates, first of all, into a relaxed elegance just as likely to date from the 1930's, the 1950's, or today. But ease shouldn't imply sloppiness. "It's different from a house, where each room can have its own ambience, and family heirlooms can mix with new acquisitions. On a boat, you need more coherence," he explains, citing the ebonized oak used for Element's furniture and cabinetry from bow to stern. "The ebonizing adds energy and keeps the design from being wishy-washy."
Méchiche has also become expert at overcoming such nautical drawbacks as low headroom. Element's is frequently only 7 feet, so he clad the plane in squares of cream leather and chose similarly light-toned sea grass for the floors. He further emphasized verticality by inserting squared-off "pillars" between windows.
Beneath many of the windows, he installed runs of cabinetry to store tableware and conceal flat-screen TVs. Virtually invisible, the teak doors are discreetly equipped with push-latch mechanisms.
Discretion, Méchiche points out, is precisely what his clients were after: "Something extremely comfortable and spacious but not at all ostentatious." The master stateroom, for example, has two en suite heads with travertine basins and a cabin that measures an impressive 170 square feet.
The master stateroom shares the main deck with the salon, ' dining room, and galley, the latter designed after lengthy consultations with the cook. A stainless-steel island provides a central spot to prepare large fish for grilling. Encircling the top of the island, a handrail gives the cook something to hold onto when the boat heels.
On the lower deck are a second stateroom and four additional guest cabins—two twins and two doubles—as well as the captain's separate quarters. The lower deck's other facilities include an ultrasophisticated engine room decked out in white lacquer, white resin, and chrome. "You can walk barefoot in there," enthuses Méchiche. "It's absolutely sublime."
The lounge on the top deck is appointed with leather-covered sofas. In order to ascertain the precisely right height for them—"to make sure you could see out the windows"—Méchiche worked with full-scale mock-ups of the furniture.
Equally meticulous about lighting throughout, he installed recessed spots with a narrow beam spread, sculpting the yacht's interior and making it more dynamic. Long-life incandescent tubes, placed behind the bamboo window blinds, create a glow in the evening.
Fabrics and finishes received their share of attention as well. In the salon, for example, Méchiche mixed the coarse sea grass on the floor with the linen on the sofas and throw pillows. For walls throughout, he selected teak veneer, cut it into squares, textured it, and applied a transparent stain, followed by a clear varnish, to create the effect of cerused oak. "I imitated furniture from the 1930's—the wood appears to shimmer," he explains.
That level of refinement makes itself evident in a panoply of details. As Méchiche likes to say, "We worked on every square millimeter." Indeed, he not only designed the table and bed linens but also had the on-board stationery specially engraved. The engraved silverware bears a simple e for Element. Fittingly, the pattern Méchiche chose was initially designed for the ocean liner Normandie.