Project Altea is a 50-metre all-aluminium superyacht that has recently been unveiled by the Dutch shipyard, Heesen Yachts. On sale now for nearly €36 million, Altea, sistership to “Home” and “Electra”, is set to be delivered in May 2021. Simon Wittenberg caught up with Cristiano Gatto to find out more.
LM: What are your career highlights to date?
CG: I went to the Academy of Arts, where I was trained as a sculptor. When I went into industrial and interior design, I did it with a sculpture-minded approach. Yacht design is at the forefront of what I do, but by virtue of my experience as a sculptor, I approach each and every project as a sculpture, with the overall design in mind, but refining it to the smallest detail.
A curve, a line, a light, a shaded effect, and a pattern helped create the final result. I always look for a balance between function and aesthetics. I love the aesthetics of function and the function of aesthetics.
LM: How long does it take to style the interior of a yacht from start to finish, and how many people does it generally involve?
CG: It’s a journey. There are two different kinds of projects: there are the fully custom projects for which my work starts many months prior to construction, and finishes months after the delivery of the vessel. I work shoulder to shoulder with the owner, trying to turn his ideas into a feasible project. Whatever its technical implications, each design involves emotions and bringing a poetic and artistic dimension with it, and it has to encompass the owner’s feeling and emotions.
A semi-custom project, such as Project Altea, needs a different approach. We need to foresee a future client’s wishes and to offer a wide range of possible changes with minimum impact in an already advanced stage of construction. We develop a sort of canvas on which the client, once they step in, can project their own tastes and way of living on to the yacht. For a 50-metre project, from the moment that we start with the concept in conjunction with the yard, until the yacht’s delivery, the process will involve about 50 to 60 people.
LM: What was the main brief when designing the interior of Project Altea?
CG: Project Altea is the sister ship of two previously designed vessels, namely “Home” and “Electra“. So, when we started this project, I was told: “Cristiano, we want a boat with great personality and that is ready and prepared for the kind of lifestyle that people will want to have in 2021.” We started the project at the end of 2018, and we were asked to deliver something different from the previous sister projects, but to keep the experience we gained from those projects.
For Altea, I was asked to create a warm and welcoming ambience. The aim was to create a feeling of harmony: a cocoon where people can feel pampered and protected. Apart from interior design choices, such as curvy lines of furnishings and surfaces, and soft colours, we worked a lot on materials and details. Wood, textures, fabrics and upholsteries help create a calm and relaxing atmosphere throughout a yacht.
LM: Were there any requirements that were particularly tricky to overcome?
CG: We had to give a new soul to a yacht that would have a similar exterior design to its sister yachts, but yet have a completely different approach to the interiors. The trick was to make it unique again. The reason why it took me so long to think of Altea’s design was that I wanted to make sure that it was not, in any way, a copy of the previous projects.
LM: Will you inspect Project Altea whilst it is in construction to ensure that the specification has been met?
CG: Absolutely, but we have a very nice work methodology. We rely on Heesen’s organisation to ensure quality and good timing, which means we have a tight planning schedule and close collaboration. We have steps, and for each one, there is meticulous control.
We have many meetings to discuss various points and to personally choose the details of the materials, for example, the marble and the wood, which can take us two months. Heesen is very professional about this, so we are able to ensure quality and a balance between cost and quality. We look for long-lasting, high-spec materials.
LM: What have been your favourite projects to work on to date, and why?
CG: My usual answer to this is, the next one. We have so many boats that have been built, and each one for its singularity has a place in my heart. So, I can’t say that I prefer one more than the other. But I can say that there are moments in the process of each project that have become my favourites. At the moment we have seven vessels on the design board, so I am dreaming about the new ones to come.
LM: If social distancing considerations had to be applied to yacht design in the future, what challenges would this pose?
CG: I have to admit that, in my opinion, yachts are the best place to stay during this part of humanity’s history, because you are protected in a healthy environment, surrounded by the sea. You have a perception of freedom, as you have the horizon, and you have the possibility to keep your family safe.
In terms of design, I think the problem is the space limitation in a vessel, especially for the crew, the systems and the services, etc. because we need to implement all possibilities for the healthy lifestyle of the crew and the guests. For instance, as we do for the larger vessels, we think about outdoor spaces for the crew when they are not working.
Among new features to be included in the design of a yacht due to the pandemic is the possibility to have separated areas with an independent air conditioning system in the unfortunate case a guest or crew member got sick.
LM: What is the most luxurious or opulent interior you have ever created?
CG: It depends on what you consider to be opulent or luxurious. Opulence is not only a matter of redundancy in details and decorations. A linear, apparently simple design can be more opulent and richer than one that screams how much it costed! At the moment, I am restoring a castle in the UK, trying to bring it back to its ‘grandiose’ original state. It is one of my favourite buildings in the world.
The interiors are very luxurious and with a lot of elements from the 18th century. I discovered that a lot of materials that came from Venice, which is where I am from, so it is part of my heritage. I can’t reveal too much at the moment, due to a confidentiality agreement.
LM: If you owned a yacht, how would you fit it out?
CG: I always say I will never have a yacht, as I already have 200 yachts on the water! Any time I design a boat I design it with an idea in mind or a way to live on board in mind, because in reality when you design an interior, it’s not just about a colour scheme or the materials, but the kind of lifestyle that you want to have. At the moment, I’m very much involved with a project that I designed for Heesen, the Aquamarine Project, which is based around Japanese influences and philosophies.
When I was starting this project, my process was based on what is called “Mushin”, where you are not thinking of what you are doing, you are just doing because you are so connected to the task – a typical example is the completely flat water in our lake that reflects perfectly the nature around you. If your mind is able just to reflect your surroundings without overlapping your thoughts, the waves on the lake, for example, then you can create something that is absolutely harmonic.
That is what I was trying hard to achieve with that interior, and I am excited to see how it is when it will be finished. I am still deeply involved with this project, so at the moment if you asked me which would be my yacht, it would be this one because I am still so connected to it.
LM: What’s next for you after Project Altea?
CG: Designers are always looking forward, because what I put on paper today will not materialise until maybe three years from now. What is next for me? I hope to be able to travel because, without it, I am not able to be creative. I grew up in a port city, with people coming and going from all over the world, and so part of that is in my blood.
If I’m not travelling or meeting new people, or experiencing different cultures, I cannot adjust my own soul and be able to create something different. What is boring for me is to do the same thing twice. My designs are very personal, and this is why I do not undertake an enormous quantity of projects or have an enormous team as I need to be involved every step of the way.
LM: Thank you for your time Cristiano, and it has been a pleasure talking to you.
Heesen Yachts Project Altea – Where and How?
For more information on Heesen Yachts and Project Altea, visit www.heesenyachts.com.
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