Besides the possibility to view some of the most exciting new launched charter yachts at the 2011 Monaco Yacht Show, CharterWorld had the opportunity to interview Hot Lab’s designers and talk about their latest projects, such as the 27M displacement yacht for Posillipo (Cantieri Navali Rizzardi) shipyard, the Oceanco PA 168 superyacht and the stunning NOOR motor yacht, a two-time nominee in the upcoming Showboat Design Awards. In this exclusive two on one interview with Antonio Romano and Michele Dragoni, two of the three Milan based designers and creators of the Hot Lab yacht design studio, will also reveal how exactly does an idea become a yacht concept.
CharterWorld: Hot Lab was founded in Milan, in 2004 by three ambitious young men, Michele Dragoni, Enrico Lumini and Antonio Romano. You have started in the automotive or interior design industry and decided to moved into yacht design. What prompted you to move into motor yacht design and create the Hot Lab yacht design studio?
Hot Lab: Hot Lab was born after an excellent meeting with the Raffaelli shipyard at a Genoa Boat Show. Thanks to Raffaelli, we had our first commission to create a custom made interior for Ontera 66′ yacht. With this project we opened our doors as Hot Lab – yacht & design.
All three of us, including Enrico and Michele, worked in a product design studio. Previously, before entering the workforce, I have attended a design university in Rome. I was taught by a great man and a professional of the industry, Gianni Zuccon, to whom I can be thankful for my passion for yachts and yachting. Michele was also very fortunate to work with an equally renowned professional, Cristian Grande, during his years in the car design industry. Furthermore, our interior architect, Enrico, apart from the years of experience in interior design, spent a large amount of time on boards of yachts (and under water) as a professional scuba diver. Although we all have different backgrounds, we all share the same passion for the sea, which we are trying to translate into our designs. I have to point out, that since we have started three other members joined our team at Hot Lab. We have a pleasure to work with such great people as Antonio Scognamiglio, Valentina Magnolfi and Silvia Iraghi.
CW: What influence do your previous experiences in car design and/or interior design have on your current occupation as yacht designers? Are there any similarities when it comes to these areas of design?
HL: Our background in car design is often present in our work. Take for example, one of our latest projects, the Oceanco PA168 superyacht. Her entire aft area was inspired by the Renault concept DeZir and during the design process of the ‘Gotcha’ runabout for Blue – Yachting, we have studied several solutions, accessories and graphics strongly inspired by racing cars.
CW: Faced with a new project, you must have a number of ideas run through your mind. What is the first step taken when creating a new yacht design?
HL: Most of our work includes private clients, in which case we receive very precise suggestions and requirements. Following this, teams in our studio commence to research the market, work on general arrangements and the exterior view, to create a base for Hot Lab’s exterior designer, Michele Dragoni.
CW: Your work is being recognised all over the world. In your opinion, what differentiates Hot Lab from other yacht designers?
HL: Hot Lab’s designs are clear with elegant lines trying to follow simple rules of proportions. We do appreciate the works of important and established yacht designers, however we believe there is always a room for improvement. Our aim is to follow the tradition incorporating small aesthetic innovations and pay extreme attention to details.
CW: Every designer cultivates its own style. How would you describe the style that Hot Lab has to offer its clients?
HL: Our yachts are sophisticated with slight aggressiveness. When commissioned by shipyard however, we try to incorporate its style and identity into our own vision. We aim for elegant clean look, with interesting design elements, yet timeless in fashion.
CW: Where do you draw your ideas from?
HL: The ideas come mainly from the clients, really. We try to get to know their style, their passions and desires. Hot Lab creates a design based on clients’ personality, finding out perhaps what car they drive, what clubs they are frequenting, their favourite artists as well as the style their home represents. This enables us to create a perfect ‘second home’ for the Owner or potential charter guests, where they can feel comfortable and at ease.
CW: What are the main aspects taken into consideration during a yacht design process?
HL: There are number of things to consider. Hot Lab is always trying to create a warm ‘family feeling’ on board. Apart form clients’ wishes, we have to examine the current yachting market, what type of features and yachts are the most sought after. At the moment the owners look for open spaces, large windows and natural flow between the interior and exterior areas. The Owners as well as luxury charter guests want to feel the closets possible to the nature and thoroughly enjoy the beautiful horizons and the sea. Having said all this, we also need to take into consideration the shipyard’s requirements and what our competition is offering. After which, we can let all the ideas flow and the designs will take shape naturally.
CW: Customer’s wishes and requirements are very important. How do you find the right balance when it comes to these, your own beliefs and ideas, and the collaboration with the shipyard?
HL: It is all about collaboration and communication. As per the exterior design of the yacht, very rarely do customers specify design elements as such. They perhaps express their opinion on what type of layout they have in mind, details about the sun areas, jacuzzi and so on. On the other hand, the owner will pay much more attention to the interior. As mentioned before, we try to find out what type of interior would make him/her feel comfortable and at ease. When it comes to the shipyard, respecting their technical capabilities as well as the limits and possibilities of a given platform, we can design pretty much freely.
CW: Futuristic look is a trend that appears to be very popular with selected yacht designers. Do you see these designs becoming more popular with the clients or do costumers still prefer a more timeless, down to earth design?
HL: At Hot Lab we would like to see our yachts on water and in style in many years to come. Although some futuristic yachts have that ‘wow’ effect at first glance, often they do not stand the time, when it comes to their design.
CW: New materials, products and features are coming out each year. What do you think does the future hold for superyacht owners, when it comes to superyacht design? Are there any new and exciting materials that we can expect to see in the near future?
HL: There is an ongoing research in the yachting industry. So there are always new materials coming out as well as new technologies. These can include new types of flooring solutions, new ways of working with glass or new entertainment systems as well as new construction materials or coatings.
CW: Another important issue is the ecology and environment. How does it affect your design process?
HL: Apart from the well known solutions when it comes to the structural aspects and the exterior design, at Hot Lab we are trying to seek new eco-friendly materials for our interior projects . There is a range of new ecological, recycled or recyclable materials on the market suitable for superyachts, without loosing the glamour and the luxurious atmosphere. There are stunning fabrics made of natural fibres, such as rice, organic cotton, wool and many others. Me and my partner Enrico are also teachers at the private IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) university in Milan. During our courses specialising in Yacht Eco Design our students are encouraged to come up with different environmentally friendly solutions and we see an enormous amount of great ideas emerge every single year.
CW: Moving onto the stunning 37 metre motor yacht NOOR, finalist at the 2011 World Superyacht Awards and a finalist of the ‘best interior layout’ and the ‘best interior’ at the 2011 Showboat Design Awards to be held on the 25th of October. You must be very proud of her, congratulations! What were the biggest challenges you faced during the design process of her interior?
HL: Thanks! One of the main challenges was the staircase. We spent long hours and designed numerous solutions before coming up with the perfect and the most reflective of the Owner’s wishes and desires. Having said this, we enjoyed every moment of her design and are very proud of her.
CW: Sir Alec Issigonis once said: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” Was superyacht NOOR’s interior a creation of one key designer or does the complexity of a large yacht interior require a team effort?
HL: It definitely is a team effort. There are parts of the project that are done by one designer only, and there are others, where we all sit together and work through ideas together.
CW: What do you think sets NOOR apart from other yachts of her size?
HL: Attention to detail! In all of our projects we strive for a unique and noteworthy design. All of our concepts feature interesting design elements, that are not necessarily visible at first glance, but with closer inspection beautiful ‘treasures’ can be revealed. Superyacht NOOR boasts a very particular layout. Her dining area situated on the upper deck has been placed behind the wheelhouse in order to flow naturally with the deck. Great attention was paid to her lighting, where we designed large wide windows to ensure flow of natural daylight into the interior, while innovative indoor artificial light has been achieved thanks to a clever combination of led lights built into the walls, cabinet panels as well as baseboards. We have used numerous skylights to create a light and airy atmosphere throughout. Only five types of materials were used to create NOOR’s interior. Creating numerous combinations as well as different types of workmanships we achieved a one of a kind, yet fluid look.
CW: Apart from new designs, Hot Lab design studio also specialises in refits. As designers, how do you approach an already existing yacht interior/exterior and turn it into something new and fresh?
HL: There is a considerable difference between a completely new project and a refit project. Of course there is a larger amount of limitations involved. The layout is practically unalterable as well as most of the various spaces on board. Our approach depends on numerous aspects, as for example, the vessel’s age. A motor yacht from the 1970′s would have a very different layout to one launched fairly recently. Back then the emphasis was on the interior spaces, whereas today we tend to ‘live’ more outside and focus on the exterior areas of a yacht. So in those cases, for example, we would aim to open up spaces by means of specific design elements and features. Whatever the project might be, our objective is to ‘breathe’ a new life into the boat and give her a fresh, elegant and sophisticated appeal.
CW: Are there any new superyacht projects that we can expect to hear about in the upcoming weeks/months?
HL: At the present we are working on 3 displacement yachts in collaboration with Sergio Cutolo for the well known shipyard Posillipo (Cantieri Navali Rizzardi). The 27-metre motor yacht is currently under construction, whereas the information about the 33 and the 38-metre yacht is still confidential. Your readers might, however, read some additional news related to these two yachts, soon.
In regard to the new project, the 27M diplacement yacht, which we are developing in collaboration with the Italian Posillipo shipyard, we can reveal that she is a three deck Navetta, featuring a very large beam as well as low fuel consumption. The Posillipo 27m Navetta yacht will boast large interior spaces to comfortably accommodate the owner and guest alike. Hot Lab is in charge of both the exterior as well as interior spaces.
Beside these projects we are still working on some improvements to the PA 168 yacht design for Oceanco, a concept based on the highly regarded Oceanco yacht platform. Regardless of her impressive dimensions, Oceanco PA 168 superyacht features neat external lines, giving an impression of a much lighter vessels. Her layout and deck space designs have been carefully studied to communicate a visual sense of lightness, yet provide ample spaces outdoors as well as indoors.
In addition we are at an early stage for one new interior design project for private clients. A 37-metre superyacht, also with an old traditional Italian boat builder. This collaboration is still under discussion, however we would be very proud to realise this project.
We have also received interests from certain Dutch shipyards that we are currently discussing. Following the upcoming Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show we will certainly have more to talk about. The rest is top secret, I’m sorry …
CW: What advise would Hot Lab give to other aspiring designers entering this industry?
HL: To create motor yacht designs with dedication and passion. To develop projects that are visually appealing but at the same time functional.