Yacht Design Intelligence: JustLuxe Interviews Patrick Knowles

Patrick Knowles Designs

Le Corbusier, the great Swiss-French architect once said that good design is intelligence made visible.  This dictum has shown itself to be true in many areas, but especially in contemporary interior yacht design. 

Patrick Knowles Designs endures intelligently as America’s top yacht design firm specializing in custom Mega Yacht, Super Yacht and aircraft interiors. Combining decades of experience in the marine and the aviation industry, Patrick Knowles and his team consistently gratify clients with their unique skills blend --exceptional creativity, attention to detail, active listening and Stoic commitment to on-time delivery. This last attribute was held especially true in a project that had to be completed in 161 days. It was the ALTA Mega Yacht, from IYC, The International Yacht Company. 

With 161 days to complete the task, and essential items left in place, work began quickly to transform ALTA into the modern beach house aesthetic desired by the new owner. 

Patric Knowles Designs-Master Salon

Plans for ALTA’s refit and repurpose were stunning:  a revamp of all nine bathrooms, a refinish of all millwork, a renovation of the staircase and installation of leather panels, removal and replacement of all stone (with the exception of the sky lounge bar), reupholstery and repainting of all overheads, a replacement of all carpeted floors with wide wood planks, a replacement of all plumbing, hardware, lighting, lighting controls, and outlets, and a full audio-visual upgrade, all finished in 161 days. ALTA will be available in 2022 for charter through IYC.

JustLuxe was fortunate to have a conversation with Mr. Knowles about this project, and about his aesthetic and practical commitment to award-winning design in this luxury space.

JustLuxe: What 2 or 3 specific space and flow challenges are faced by a yacht interior designer in contrast to a home interior designer? 

Mr. Knowles: Yachts by default are simply a tighter space no matter how large the vessel, and we encounter the same challenges similar to what a residential designer might encounter as well - finding unique storage options, working with a variety of owner and family needs in one space, and creating a path for the eye that makes a room feel more spacious to name a few. 

Of special note are the unique challenges involving traffic flow, specifically as it pertains to crew services which can at times be a daunting task when engineering a GA (General Arrangement AKA floor plan) as the owner typically demands top level, instant service which we need to calculate into our design while at the same time keeping such crew services and activities as stealth as possible. A unique challenge given the fact that a yacht is a confined space unlike a home in which there are grounds to which staff can escape and recharge from the call of duty.....deck spaces can only remove one so far.

Patrick Knowles Designs-Sky Lounge, ALTA 

JustLuxe: There is an old saying that the profession chooses you — if this is true, what aesthetic abilities did you have — have you always had— as a designer that allows you to become a well-known yacht designer? 

Mr. Knowles: I've always had a keen interest in all things mobile (namely boats, planes and cars) as well as a critical eye for their aesthetic composition. Many times as a school aged child I would see a car or a boat and do sketches of how I would change it. So yes, I am hardwired for design as well as a sensibility of how things are combined together with an aesthetically pleasing result- a blending of patterns or the right mix of building materials such as wood and marble. While other children were watching TV, I was sketching, and so design overall has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I actually began my career in aviation, but when the opportunity to work on a yacht came around I took on the project, and the rest is history! 

JustLuxe: When you designed ALTA, and in such a short time frame— what practical or aesthetic problems did you tackle first? I would like to understand the process. 

Mr. Knowles: The practical challenge? There are three of them:  1. Time! 161 days is not a lot of time to COMPLETELY reinvent a yacht of this magnitude. It has taken an incredible amount of planning, coordination and staging to pull off such a massive scope in a very challenging time frame. 2. Supply chain issues. 3. The entire project being produced in the midst of a global pandemic. 

The aesthetic challenge? Coping with an interior envelope fabricated entirely of wood species that have become very dated....and the wood was EVERYWHERE. This called for the brilliance of a Finish Master to pull off the refinishing of all wood surfaces according to my specifications of the perfect shade of white with a dramatic pairing of deep dark espresso finish....the result is stunning!

Also, every species of stone on-board also had an expired timestamp which, if not removed, would have worked in opposition to the result of the new aesthetics of Motor Yacht ALTA! 

Patrick Knowles Designs-VIP Bedroom

JustLuxe: In re-designing ALTA, which interior design issues did you find easiest to handle, and which did you find most challenging?

Mr. Knowles: The easiest was working with the most amazing owners who was very concise as to what they wanted, very generous in spending the time up front to convey their desires and then allowing room for my team and I to operate in a most efficient and effective capacity. Their directives were always spot on and we were sure to reciprocate with copious updates that included videos with voice commentary at every turn of the project -- which instilled their confidence in us, affording them a measure of assurance that we had it covered....after all, producing a project in 161 days with a scope that is usually achieved and reserved for times frames the likes of 400+ days....there isn't much time to spend on going back and forth with the decision making process, therefore confidence is needed on everyone's part to scale a project of this girth in such an impressive time frame.

As for the most challenging? Supply chain issues, securing workrooms, mill shops and other trades needed to accomplish the refit. Because of the magnitude of the scope we engaged in redundant trades such as 3 well-established mill shops, 3 painting contractors, 2 stonemason firms, and 4 decor workrooms! All of which were orchestrated in a tight, rigorous project management schedule which was headed by my lead PM, Stewart Bridges.

Master Bedroom Suite, Alta

JustLuxe: In your experience as a yacht designer, explain the ease and comity of explaining your vision to a prospective client.  Do they usually want a yacht to look like a second or their home? Or do they have different ideas?  What idea or ideas have you found most unique?

Mr. Knowles: The first thing I do when I sit with a client, is just listen. Hearing what the yacht owner wants, without input from the design team, helps us to truly get to know their vision and expectations. Sometimes as I listen I will begin to sketch and usually by the end of our conversation I have put pencil to paper and mapped out an initial design plan. Some do want their yacht to look like a land-based home, and yes, we have had a client or two who wanted their interiors to match their home, but overall most clients want something completely unique. I have worked with a client who wanted a yacht interior that mimicked a five-star Polynesian resort, and even a client who wanted an intergalactic space themed room. We've seen it all and designed it all! 

JustLuxeFrom start to finish, how long, approximately, does it take for the interior design vision to become reality? 

Mr. Knowles: Every project is different. We have projects that last several years, the longest build project in my portfolio was almost 7 years as the vessel was sold during the build process and with the new owner came changes which added to the already 4-year point at the time of acquisition by the new owner. Typically speaking, a new-build, custom superyacht typically amounts to 2.5 to 3 years.

Conversely, during the last calendar year, we have completed 3 yacht refits of varying scopes, but they were all completed within the last 12-month period, one of which is a refit project for a sportfishing yacht that was started and completed in 6 months and it is exceeding client expectations!

JustLuxe: As green initiatives become a larger segment of home design, has the concept of sustainability entered into interior yacht design yet? If so, have your designs used sustainable materials yet?  

Master Bath, Alta

Mr. Knowles: This is a popular topic in design across the board including that of the marine industry. Yachting is becoming more and more conscious of this aspect of design and over the years, my firm and I have been working along with several trades to develop and source sustainable materials that are appropriate to application in the yachting space. To date we have not employed anything newsworthy in that arena however, please stay tuned as we have a few projects on the board in which material selections relative sustainability is in the forefront

JustLuxe: Finally, it has been said that the aesthetics in interior yacht design take on a crucial role: the yacht becomes an autonomous microcosm where the yacht owner can escape from everyday life.  As a designer, do you think that is true, or do you think that designing or retrofitting a yacht has other important client needs to be fulfilled?

Mr. Knowles: While it is absolutely true that a yacht is a microcosm for the owner to escape from everyday life, it goes beyond that as well. It is at the simplest a mode of transportation with the luxuries of home, a vessel for family gatherings, business meetings, charter opportunities for passive income and so much more. A yacht is a symbol of success, a legacy piece to pass down from generation to generation, and a tangible way to say to the world, "I made it."

Patrick Knowles Designs

Susan Kime

Susan Kime's career combines publishing, journalism and editing. She was the Destination Club/Fractional Update Editor for Elite Traveler, and senior club news correspondent for The Robb Report's Vacation Homes. Her work has been published in Stratos, Luxury Living, European CEO, The London Telegraph, Caviar Affair, ARDA Developments, and Luxist/AOL. She was the Editor-in-Chief of Travel Conno...(Read More)

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