For some high rollers, boats provide opportunity to show off extravagance Owners turn yachts into castles on sea


A home is a necessity. A boat is not. A boat is an extravagant, complex water toy. And of course it must be decorated.

"A yacht tends to be a display of wealth, so people tend to spend more money on a boat than on a home," said Bill Langan, chief designer at the boat design firm of Sparkman & Stephens in Manhattan.

Decorating at sea reflects decorating ashore in all its quest for status and fantasy, only with fewer inhibitions.

Indeed interior decorators and design companies are often called upon to decorate boats for clients whose homes they have done.

These days the interiors of yachts may look like wood-paneled English manor houses; sleek, lacquered Manhattan penthouses, or cozy country cottages. Some are waterborne art galleries. Others are minimalist statements.

A tidy $224,000 will buy a First 45f5, a 45-foot sailboat by the yacht builder Beneteau in St.-Gilles-sur-Vie, France. The boat was designed by the naval architect Bruce Farr. The interior is by Pininfarina, the design firm in Cambiano, Italy, known for Ferraris, Alfa Romeos and Fiats.

The First 45f5, Pininfarina's first sailboat interior, was introduced at the Paris Boat Show in December 1989 and 200 have already been sold worldwide, said Christian Iscovici, president of Beneteau U.S.A. in Charlotte, N.C.

The interior, a study in Italian minimalism, gleams. "They used traditional materials in a modern way," Mr. Iscovici said. The banquette, table, bulkheads, decks and cabinets are made of burnished mahogany; the upholstery is white leather; counter tops are white or green marble.

The curve of the table and banquette echo the hull's curve. The table, like a ship's compass, is mounted on gimbals so that when the boat heels, the table remains level.

L Ornament is absent; art would be superfluous on this vessel.

But not on the motor yacht Il Massimo, a golden art deco cocoon of burled woods, silks, paisleys and butter-soft leather.

"I didn't want red, white or blue, or nautical colors, because that's too corny," said Robert Metzger, who designed the interior of the Massimo, a 76-footer capable of speeds up to 55 knots (63 mph).

It is a Super Cobra 76 made by Tecnomarine in Viareggio in central Italy. Mr. Metzger had already designed two houses for the client, a New York businessman who wanted his boat to look like an apartment.

Mr. Metzger's design pays homage to Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, the designer of the 1920s and '30s whose furniture had simple lines but was made of rare woods, ivory, shagreen and other costly materials. So is Il Massimo, whose decorating budget Mr. Metzger estimates to have been $75,000.

In the main stateroom, the walls -- bulkheads, of course -- are squares of sueded buffalo hide.

In the salon, the hexagonal tables are of elm burl and the curtains of textured ribbed silk. The elm burl bulkheads are bordered in black lacquer.

Counters in the bathrooms are made of thin sheets of marble on aluminum honeycomb, a structural material that is used where weight must be kept low. Mr. Metzger said he wanted the salon to look like a Chanel suit.

The American owner of the Virginian, a 204-foot motor vessel, wanted a gentleman's yacht with a traditional decor. What he got was a floating 18th-century English manor house with paneled cherry bulkheads, pear wood dressing tables inlaid with ebony, gilt-framed oil paintings, solid marble bathtubs, fireplaces and a galley that can feed 300.

David Anthony Easton designed the interior of the Virginian after designing two houses for the client.

Mr. Easton said: "As a middle-class kid growing up in York, Pa., to me a boat was a canoe, a rowboat, a motorboat. This boat feels like an apartment. It is an extravaganza, and there's an extravagant attitude that goes with it."

Mr. Easton refused to say what the boat cost, but he said the decorating budget was 5 percent of the purchase price.

Suffice it to say that when he discovered that ordinary swing-arm wall lamps wiggle too much on a boat, he went to Paris, where he commissioned Enterprise Meilleur, a company that made yachting fixtures early in this century, to make new lamps from old models.

For carpets he went to Woodward Grosvenor & Co. in London, where he found old documents with nautical motifs like stars, sea anemones and sand dollars. The designs were turned into carpets by Vigo Carpet Gallery in London.

Each glass, from flute to snifter, has its own custom-fitted cubicle.

The overheads, or ceilings, are a mere 7 feet 3 inches -- "you have to keep a low profile for stability," Mr. Easton said -- but the furniture includes antique Regency and William IV mahogany pieces, new pieces and custom-made sofas.

The dining saloon seats 32; coffee is brewed in a $10,000 Italian espresso machine.

Even the bathroom deck has allure: It is covered with a mosaic of an octopus.

Completed in January, the Virginian took three years to build at the C. Van Lent & Zonen shipyard in Kaag, the Netherlands. Four months were devoted to designing the storage alone.

Charade, a 153-foot motor vessel built by Feadship-DeVries in the Netherlands for an American owner and launched in November, was decorated by Dale Montgomery with Luis Rey of McMillen, the Manhattan design firm.

The designers used exotic materials: shagreen for a coffee table, lacquered goatskin on a bulkhead, silver leaf for the table in the dining saloon, which seats 10.

A bulkhead leading to the owner's cabin is covered with 1-inch pieces of bleached bone from Colombia; they look like ribs of stone or bamboo. The origin of the bone is unknown.

"It sounds awful," Dale Montgomery said, "but it is very pretty."

There is no rule that says art must be earthbound. The American owner of the Other Woman, a 192-foot motor yacht being built in Brisbane, Australia, plans to display 42 pieces on the boat, including works by Dubuffet, Chagall and Matisse.

"It's a floating art gallery," said Paola Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who is designing the interiors. Each artwork will be individually lighted.

"It's better to have a unified look, because it makes any boat look bigger," Ms. Smith said. "No matter how big a boat is, it still gets to be small after so many days."

For the 60-foot-long saloon, which has a baby grand piano with a bar around it, Ms. Smith designed several sofas, each covered in a slightly different off-white fabric.

Guests aboard the Other Woman will dine at large jewels: slabs of lapis lazuli, 36 by 24 inches each, will be transformed into three tables.

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