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The evolution of superyacht design, with Zuretti Interior Design
9th June 2023
For over 30 years, François Zuretti has been a purveyor of innovative superyacht interiors. In a rare interview, the enigmatic designer speaks exclusively with Camper & Nicholsons, sharing his thoughts on his most alluring projects to date and how he’s seen the superyacht interior design landscape evolve.

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The evolution of superyacht design, with Zuretti Interior Design

The story of how François Zuretti became one of the greatest superyacht interior designers is serendipitous. In 1988, he helped restyle La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech for the King of Morocco. Mexican media magnate Emilio Azcárraga checked in and asked who did the finishing. “The manager of the hotel said we still have the telephone number of the young designer,” remembers Zuretti with a smile. “That young guy was me.”

Azcárraga passed Zuretti’s number to his architect Norman Foster, who passed Azcárraga’s yacht project to naval designer Martin Francis. Francis shared it with a young employee named Espen Oeino — his first yacht design. The client was represented by George Nicholson, the former chair of Camper & Nicholsons. The collaboration between Zuretti, Francis, Oeino and Nicholson became 74m Eco (now Zeus) and promoted Zuretti to the premier league of interior design for three flamboyant decades. His working legacy acts as a timeline for the greatest evolution in yachting.

The evolution Zuretti witnessed was immense. “When I arrived in this business,” he begins, “Terence Disdale was king of the designers, as he still is.” The era’s superyacht owners were predominantly Middle Eastern and most of their yachts had no view outside. “The clients had mashrabiya screens on the windowpanes,” continues Zuretti. “Their yachts were like a Fabergé egg – everything hidden inside.”

In the 1990s, when wealth was blossoming in other destinations, George Nicholson introduced Zuretti to Azimut-Benetti. The Viareggio shipyard was heavily involved with Hong Kong businessman Ambrous Young. “Mr Young was a gentleman,” recalls Zuretti. “I did many yachts for him like Ambrosia IAmbrosia II and Ambrosia III.” Other Benetti yachts styled by Zuretti in the era include 50m JO I, which currently charters with Camper & Nicholsons in Greece and Turkey. 

Zuretti liaised directly with Young. “Thirty years ago, I had direct communication with my clients,” he explains. For Eco, Zuretti visited a Paris bookshop with Azcárraga, purchased every décor journal that he liked, then flew back to the South of France to design the interiors of his yacht. “That contact is unthinkable nowadays,” he muses. “We have family offices, lawyers, brokers, technical consultants, owners’ representatives.”

The general arrangement of yachts also changed, with Zuretti leading the charge. “Decades ago, the tenders were on the back,” he starts. Then owners requested the aft main deck be used as a beach club. “I remember when George Nicholson asked the tenders to be moved inside a special garage for Golden Cell,” continues Zuretti. “The manager of Benetti said: ‘No, it’s impossible to put the boats inside!’ Yet three years later, most tenders were stored this way.” 

There’s a third progression today. “Now clients desire a spa, wellness and beach club with direct reference to the sea.” So, the tenders have moved once again, this time forward above the crew area, leaving the aft lower deck for guests. “Design never stops evolving,” laughs Zuretti.

When the Eastern European market prospered after the millennium, Zuretti Interior Design grew with it. The design agency now employs almost 50 staff. Four or five luxury yacht projects run concurrently, alongside a similar number of private residences. One of the longest serving employees is current managing director Sébastien Gey.

“I was surprised when I started in this market,” admits Gey, “because the classic boats had limited connection between interior and exterior.” He believes that Zuretti yachts designed during the last decade, which include 100m-plus vessels, “have a wonderful link to the ocean, with full length windows and open balconies”.

A great example is Energy, the last boat Zuretti delivered. “This 78m Amels was a collaboration between all parties, including Espen with his exteriors and Damen for naval architecture, to create a truly continuous space,” continues Gey. A vast top deck flows down to a large aft pool. Huge side decks double as private guest balconies. The same striking design details on pieces of furniture and fittings link inside and out. A continuous ceiling contains huge sliding doors that disappear into hidden pockets. “The feeling is seamless and balanced,” asserts Gey. “Ten years ago, that would absolutely not have been the case.”

Thirty years spent helming one of yachting’s leading interior agencies, which regularly works alongside shipyard giants Oceanco, Lürssen and Feadship, has given Zuretti insight into how design might develop in the future. “The principal point for clients is their request for a relaxed life,” he explains. And whatever the size, “be it 50m or 150m,” they still want a spa, wellness centre and toys.

Curiously, as technology has developed, it has given clients a chance to go smaller, not bigger. “A crystal ball might show smaller boats with a greater tonnage,” believes Zuretti. A clever use of contemporary materials and 3D printing could help that cause. “A lot of our clients have experienced the 100m-plus range,” he explains. “Now they prefer a more reasonable size.”

Gey agrees. “Our discussions for 2023 reveal that clients need less and less to own a show boat,” he explains. The era when wealthy potentates “wanted to show they are the most powerful” is long gone. Younger owners increasingly view their yacht as a tool to access new destinations or experiences. “A yacht can still be luxurious,” states Gey, “but it is not an artefact of your assets.” A decade ago, design requests included a
party deck and a DJ console. “Now clients want to enjoy their vessel with a greater respect for the natural environment. This includes the materials used on board from fabrics to marble, for which sourcing from sustainable sources becomes a real and legitimate concern.” 

Do these clients mind waiting four or five years for their dream design? “We really work hard for them,” says Zuretti. “We push shipyards, cabinet makers and suppliers to protect their interests.” Of course, there are ways to accelerate the process. “Benetti and Feadship always have platforms in build, which can save time for a genie rig and hull construction.” A few years ago, his team built on top of an icebreaker hull, saving one year of construction. For other clients, such is the desire for an exclusive Zuretti design, that the anticipation makes their eventual delivery all the sweeter.