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Apr / May 2008
Rule Britannia

WRITER: Karim El Imad

In the world of bespoke, it doesn’t get better than creating your own unique super yacht. And in the world of super yachts, it doesn’t get better than the world-renowned designer Terence Disdale. 


At first, a tailor made suit, then maybe a hand-crafted piece of furniture, a commissioned painting, a customised car, a landscaped garden. Before you know it, the price of oil hits 100 USD/barrel and you find yourself in an altogether new league of fantasies, sitting down with a naval architect dreaming up your ultimate creation, your very own super yacht.

In this scenario, Terence Disdale should be your first port of call – excusing the pun. For Disdale is a celebrated figure in the world of yacht design, having created such renown yachts as ‘Montkaj’ and ‘Ecstasea’ to name but a few. His reputation comes from a long and distinguished track record which has seen him complete around 70 yacht design projects, including 33 projects on yachts above the 50 metre mark. His expertise in designing yachts has even led him to design a couple of private jets for good measure, “The design itself had its own challenges, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I am, however, a yacht designer first and foremost and that is where my creative spark burns brightest. I have no desire to design other things, I am perfectly happy where I am now and where I have made my name over the past 30 years,” says Disdale leaning back in his chair.

Located in one of London’s most picturesque garden squares, the famous ‘Green’ in Richmond, Disdale’s office is a converted townhouse, re-developed with modern styling that combines seamlessly with the classic look of the surrounding old terraces in the area. Simply looking at the building gives you a glimpse of the Disdale design ethos, a classic shape with a modern, functional and some might say magical twist.

In fact that is a running theme with Disdale, in his work and in his style. The man has a very relaxed demeanour, one exuded by confident people. Both his personality and his obvious passion for his craft make him a very engaging person to talk to. His skill and deep understanding of all aspects of his trade is apparent from the outset, especially the way he explains complex issues clearly and succinctly. In short, you feel comfortable in his company. Away from a formulaic interview about past achievements and future goals, I wanted to engage him on the topic of design to see some of the passion that has made him so successful in this fascinating world of yacht design.

“The traffic flow of people is an integral part of yacht design, one that differentiates it from house design,” explains the creator of some of the most opulent yachts on the seas today. “I plan the flow patterns both from experience but also from understanding the very personal needs of every client. My Arab clients, for example, tend to want a clear separation between their family sections and their business or entertainment sections; they simply want to be able to spend time with their families away from any work duties or functions they might have planned on the yacht. North Americans on the other hand are happy mixing both work and family on their yachts.” Disdale is very accustomed to working with Arab owners, having completed 10 commissions for Middle Eastern clients, including the largest project to date, the 140 metre ‘Al Salamah’ for a Saudi Prince.

The design of a yacht is a lengthy process, whereby the planning period takes anything up to one year, while the build phase can take on average three-and-half years. “Buying a yacht isn’t an over the counter [purchase]; it is the very opposite. The magic is not only in the owning and using the yacht, but in the slow process of slowly seeing your baby being built and your ideas come to life one by one. I am here to help you achieve that,” he explains. 

Disdale designs both the shell and the interior of the yacht. The only part of the structure that he does not work on is the hull – the only other part of the brief that is known from the outset is the size of the boat. Everything else is designed to order. 

The base planning starts with the shell of the yacht, from designing the outer shape to arranging the internal dimensions and room layouts. This process involves a deep understanding of the service elements of a yacht. Get this part wrong and the dream living envisaged is compromised. The process starts from the lower deck upwards. Once the blueprint draft is finalised, the interior design aspect begins. 

Here again, the client’s needs are crucial, and their style paramount to understand. Disdale tends to favour a more casual approach, using fluid lines and unique materials to create a stylish space. “I guess I am good at maximising the space I am given, that’s one of my strong points. The main difference between a boat and a house is that on a boat, space is very limited, so using it efficiently is a main priority. For example, you will have sofas with the subwoofer integrated inside, and TV screens that hide inside chests of drawers. The aim is to fully maximise every inch of space available. I also like to use the best materials available, and if they are not available I have fun creating them.” Disdale illustrates his point by showing me a TV cabinet made by four different craftsmen, each working on a different material used on the design, as well as a door screen that took over 200 man-hours to create – costing close to an astonishing 300,000 USD.

Disdale uses a small team of mainly British based craftsmen on all his projects. This group has been chosen over the years on the basis of their skill in complementary design arts such as belt-buckle making and jewel design. He sees this mix of craftsmanship as a creative strength in making original and beautiful pieces of interior design. Furthermore, he loves experimenting with combinations of quality materials. “I am just as excited creating a wood and liquid pewter mix material where the pewter seeps into the wood grain, as I am in designing the outer look of a yacht. I guess you could say that creating new materials to work with is still something that floats my boat, excusing the pun,” he says with a hearty laugh.

So what exactly is the Terence Disdale style? There is no one all-encompassing look; it is more in the way of presentation. The classic lines of a super yacht are more in the realms of an established look than the radical. More an E-Type Jaguar than a Lamborghini. “Radical design for the sake of being radical rarely stands the test of time,’ he advises.  In other words, style is fleeting while class is permanent. The same goes for the interior design. “I try to design a yacht to have a natural air about it; after all it’s essentially about relaxation and leisure time. A yacht is somewhere you can lounge around, wearing jeans and a T-shirt and enjoying the world around you. I design my yachts more beach house than penthouse.”

So you would think bigger is better. However, Disdale points out a trend that is going largely unnoticed, “Some people who have experienced large 90 metre-plus yachts are downsizing, having realised they can’t relax very well with 30 or so crew looking after them. This all comes back to the idea that a yacht really is all about relaxation and leisure. It’s a place where you want to feel comfortable in the surroundings.” Asking him what his greatest achievement is he simply and tellingly offers, “My current project.” And that sums up Disdale, a man passionate about continuing his work, rather than sitting back and enjoying his past achievements.

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