Creating a Luxury Interior Design without a Client – Considerations when Designing a Yacht on Spec


We’re often called upon by a builder to create a luxury interior design for a yacht that is being built for the speculative market. These projects – called “spec” builds – require a careful balance of design and decor so as to appeal to as wide an array of tastes and lifestyles as possible while showcasing the boat in its best light at the same time. 

We’ve done a number of spec build designs for yacht builders over the last decade, and have been fortunate to be contracted by several prominent semi-production builders, including Ocean Alexander, Westport, and Nordhavn. This has allowed us to work with a wide size range of yachts, 54’ to 164’ in length.  The general rule of thumb? Make the boats attractive and don’t design or execute anything that would give anyone a reason not to buy the boat. When creating a luxury interior design for the speculative market the end product should appeal to anyone in the market for a new yacht.


Restraint is key when designing on spec, so as to not offend the style or sensibilities of a prospective buyer – or yacht broker or industry leader. Yacht designers should take into consideration current design trends – are brushed or metallic accents more en vogue, are preferred woods and stonework trending lighter or darker, hi-gloss or matte… Whatever interior we incorporate must complement the exterior styling and the overall vibe of the boat and can’t be too indulgent of any singular trend, be it modern, traditional, nautical or minimalist. At the same time, elements of personality should be incorporated to augment the boat’s overall design. This can be done as simply as the selection of soft goods and artwork, so as to allow the buyer to visualize the finished space.

Mixing metal finishes, for instance, were once unacceptable in both wardrobe and décor. This stylistic faux pas, however, is now being sought after and embraced in both yacht and residential design. Because the recent Westport 125 project, now known as Castlefinn was a spec build, we decided to keep the permanent fixtures – the plumbing, door, and cabinet hardware – in polished chrome, and introduce gold accents in the accessories and artwork, which created a delightfully unexpected yet sophisticated statement. While silver and gold are timeless materials, a buyer opposed to gold can easily change it out.


In the near-decade that we designed interiors for Ocean Alexander, we have analyzed the similarities and differences in American vs European style and lifestyle preferences. Listening to our other clients’ requests has allowed us to provide the best advice here, as we’ve worked closely with both American and European clientele and understand how they prefer to use their yachts. 

In the smaller size range, European day boats are known for their sleek, purposeful exterior lines and curb appeal, but the interiors also differ in usage from the American counterparts.  European yachts are built for the Mediterranean lifestyle and culture. Europeans want a yacht long on entertaining possibilities and have a preference for entertaining on their exterior decks. They tend to have many guests and use their yachts for day trips and sleep ashore at night. Their ergonomic requirements are smaller than the Americans and as a result, the accommodations are considered by American standards to be confined and have less storage.

Europeans usually have a chef or crew to do all the cooking and prefer a smaller galley closed off from the salon. Typically, Europeans do not want to see the crew working at all unless they are serving. This requires additional passage space and stairways apart from the owners’ space.

Many American owners of yachts in the under 125’ size range often like to do the cooking themselves or be a part of the social interaction, desiring an open country kitchen setting – thus demanding a larger galley, with more counter space and more storage. 


In today’s interconnected market, one common request is to create a luxury interior design that appeals to a worldwide audience. Such was the case aboard the 85’ Ocean Alexander, for which we designed the first two hulls – the first a European-centered interior and the second designed to appeal to both audiences.

Within the design of the second hull, we strove to bring Ocean Alexander’s customers the best of both worlds by incorporating the interior space desired by Americans as well as the options for outdoor entertainment that appeal to Europeans. We stylized the hull’s bulwark and transom further and added a passerelle for stern-to mooring, which meant redesigning the crew quarters so we did not encroach on headroom. We also added a hydraulic swim platform. 

The galley was designed to be larger than the first hull, with more counter space and storage, but was still kept private from the salon. Following the European standards for excellence in quality materials and execution, we redesigned the cabinetry to have flat panel stile and rail construction doors and drawers. We also changed the wood to a rich dark satin walnut, which created contrast against the absence of color and pattern in the materials, making for a serene interior yet providing a softer, neutral shade of wood that differed from the standard cherry seen in so many American yachts. 


In my experience, it is easier to provide a desirable interior for both American and European clientele in a 100’+ yacht than it is for yachts under 100’. Megayachts simply have the length and beam to accommodate massive exterior decks and provide more than adequate interior storage and provisions for owner privacy.


The 125’ Westports now known as Eccentric and Castlefinn, needed to be appreciated for its good design and also be practical and easy to maintain, especially in this size range. Making the boat practical does not mean making it cheap, however. It just means that it is more easily taken care of. We kept the quality high and paid careful attention to material compositions so as not to use anything too delicate that the Owners would constantly be worried about maintenance and replacement.

We incorporated a few unique details without being too flamboyant, bizarre, off the charts or questionable so as not to offend anyone. And we, of course, put in as many amenities as one would expect to have on a yacht of this caliber and included enough accessories to make it attractive but not to obliterate an opportunity for the new Owners to put there own personal touches on the boats. A few well placed accessory items to complement the interior were considered but no so much that a possible Owner would feel that they could not personalize it later themselves.

We may not always have the opportunity to address every single personal need of a possible Owner, but we leave the opportunity for that to be effortlessly achieved after they buy the boat!

Finished Interior Photos Of Castlefinn by Dan King Images

12 thoughts on “Creating a Luxury Interior Design without a Client – Considerations when Designing a Yacht on Spec”

  1. This is really great information! I never realized there was such a difference in the way Americans and Europeans used their yachts. Thanks for a great post!

    1. What a gorgeous yacht Castlefinn has become due to your unique talent.
      I especially noted how your use of both silver and gold finishes gave the spec buyer a choice of either one or both finishes without much change.
      Very smart!

      1. Thank you for your beautifully written comments! Please look out for our next blog post which will focus solely on the interior design of the 125′ Westport Castlefinn! I welcome your comments on that post as well!

  2. That is some really great info!! I personally thought it was interesting that the Europeans prefer the crew members to not be seen unless needed to on the boats. In my opinion I think it would be better to see the crew members at all times to ensure a safety feeling. But all in all I really enjoyed this blog post and I love the work that you do keep it up can’t wait to see what more is to come!!!

    1. Thanks for your comment Efrain! Yes, there are so many differences in the ways Europeans and Americans use their yachts – too many to mention in this short post! So happy you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for much more!

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About the Author

About the Author

Destry Darr Pethtel is an award-winning interior designer based in Florida. Her designs have been featured in several luxury yacht publications such as Showboats, Boat International, Yachts International, Yachting, Luxe Magazine to name just a few! Read More About Destry >>

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