Lucio Micheletti appeared in the boating world about seven years ago. With his soft voice and unanticipated drawings, he brought his world view into interior design and yacht styling. ” When an element is added to the shape, you have to be able to reduce colour and vice versa: the achievement of simplicity is the secret but also the hardest work”, he explains.
Complementary is the foundation of the creative process. According to him, light needs transparency, colour needs light and the matter gives them expressiveness. “A wrong colour can make the product value opaque as well as a right colour can emphasize it. The essential condition is always shape. And, of course, a beautiful shape needs no colour”.
What Micheletti follows in his projects is a simple system based on beauty and functionality. These concepts always permeate the works of this 54-year-old architect from Milan, regardless their final destination: automotive industry, housing, hotel, museum and theatre architecture, sculptures and art installations.
The originality of his approach is immediately evident. For him, computer technology is a secondary moment in planning, necessary only once the boat and its details have taken shape and have been draft by hand, like in the past.
After six projects carried out for Solaris, the Vismara-Mills 56 and some other “top secret” projects, the designer has been recently contacted by Baltic Yachts to design the interiors and the deck of the new Baltic 142.
We met him to learn about his thought.
You designed the interiors and the deck of yachts ranging from 45 up to 140 feet, passing through 70′ models. What changes when sizes change? What do you focus on when a boat increases in size?
I wouldn’t talk about sizes but rather a philosophy made of spaces and volumes. A state-of-the-art sailing boat should be a volume of pure technology: the main player. What changes is the approach. In a good naval interior architecture, the measures of spaces never follow a codified abacus; they consist of the reciprocal relationship between single elements, creating different sceneries according to the volumes available.
What happens on smaller boats?
Together with the team of Solaris, for which I worked on boats ranging from 47 to 72 feet, we’ve improved the perceived quality by enhancing volumes and covering interiors with noble coatings which almost hide materials’ musculature. It was a precise strategic choice which allowed us to build more welcoming spaces and a technological boat where wood, glass, steel, leather and tissues communicate to each other in a scenery made of artificial lights and large openings. This resulted into well-balanced and ergonomic spaces which offer a new vision. I must thank Solaris and all its team because they taught me how to develop the nautical theme creating different boats with different contents.
And what happens when sizes become more generous?
Structural problems increase, laws of physics can’t be avoided and technology becomes strong. So, you have to accept some restraints. The Baltic shipyard, for example, always focuses on lightness combined with robustness. Pre-preg carbon, Nomex and titanium, for instance, are used on the Baltic 142: they, too, have to find their place in the whole. I come from automotive industry and I personally find generous sizes loaded with technology which need to be adjusted in order to achieve more balance and a smart use of materials. Sofas start to float, the pieces of furniture can be free-standing while structures and laws are evident. This is how the most exciting sceneries are generated. In order to obtain a harmonious result, however, sizes have to be taken into account. You can’t create a reasonable scenery without rolling your eyes, without reading the sixteen levels of black sail which tilt and push the boat. You have to adjust everything. What’s at stake is a whole of structure where it’s wonderful to get lost..
Can you tell us the Baltic 142 in a nutshell?
The first thing to explain is the environment where the Baltic 142 is created. It reminded me the self-denial of scrolling monks in the 13th century but what we use now are cutting-edge materials and technology. I read and interpreted the project of the Baltic 142 to highlight the typical contents of Baltic philosophy.
It’s a very clean design which hides very high quality and technology. When I started my project, I started working in an abstract manner so that the space was able to read and adjust itself with everyday life. It was an almost magic vision which, however, despite its imaginary belonging, has something true. I wanted a new space where the sea element was evident in all its purity. Just one note. Designing for Baltic Yachts is a different thing… maybe because it’s not a simple shipyard but it represents a school of taught, a faith, a way of being.
What was the hardest thing you’ve faced to in a project like the Baltic 142?
The greatest difficulty was to adjust the idea I had in my mind without intervening on waterlines and the sailing area. A boat must be designed, above all, to sail. Consequently, interiors have to adjust themselves to the hull and vice versa. I’ve always thought that a tight-knit team is the key of a successful project.
You come from automotive industry: what can be introduced into boating on a design and construction level assuming that numbers are inevitably different?
I spent the first phase of my career as a car designer. Over the time, I’ve found many similarities with yachting. For example, in the past, coachbuilders were guided by customers – pilots or gentleman drivers – who specifically asked for precise projects. This is a constant still today in yachting. In this case, of course, the customer is not a pilot but a sea enthusiast who already owns a boat and asks for a pure design work.
How is your typical customer?
We’re living what we call the “iconic” decade. Our customer has some very clear models in mind, generally shared by the whole community.
Boating and automotive industry share the same philosophy: we craft very solid pieces with few cuts. Production cars, for example, often feature interrupted lines because they follow a trend focusing on cost saving.This way, in fact, when a product is industrialized, many small pieces, easy to replace and repair, are created. In the case of boats, things are different since the “body” is an almost single solid and sculptural piece. That’s our approach: we try to build only few pieces, or better, an almost single one so that lines can easily run on the surface.
Does the so-called “Micheletti’s deck” originate from automotive world?
We’re trying to work on a new “evergreen” design. Not a trendy design which is good for this year or the next five ones but lines able to satisfy for a long time. A boat deck must last long; thus, it must let you like it for many years and design must be consistent with itself.
Some products, such as the Vismara-Mills 56, are destined to remain unique. Will any other boats reproduce these concepts?
I like involving my customers in the choice of lines even though the final decider is not the customer, rather the market and the trend. As Enzo Ferrari said: ” We need to look around and understand how market and design move”.
What’s the difference between designing a car and designing a boat?
Boats are more complex since the owner becomes part of aesthetics, which doesn’t happen any more in car industry. Moreover, boats must not only be beautiful when stationary but also when sailing in order to involve the customer, who must live inside it, in all senses.
Why do you have such a “nonconformist” boat design vision?
Starting from 2000s, boat lines have started to become more extended and pointy. I decided to do the opposite and give a different proportion. I wanted that openings weren’t not only an interior light source but a sort of windows. The aim is to integrate the deckhouse with the deck in order to make it a single thing. A larger single surface allows me to play with lines and make shapes more dynamic.
Light is a leitmotif in your boats. How important is it for you?
Light is the main point. I like the idea of telling the sea by linking it to the surrounding environment, enhancing it with design and openings, creating sceneries and re-igniting a continuous relationship with sea, light and wind. I desired a space able to tell the soul of places. Every product or space has its own quality and, consequently, we seek a specific solution for a precise moment, enhanced by plays of lights. Illumination design becomes essential to create areas of shadow and light: I’ve always thought that there’s no light without shadow. Light, material and colour communicate to each other in an innovative way.
What do you do with external light?
It’s the most interesting part. It needs to be managed because it offers the colours of time. “Time” becomes the main player of a simple clean scenery which is, however, loaded with contents. Not abstract time but that which represents this moment of great transformation, our time, the time we have to manage everyday. As Marcel Proust said: “ the time we have everyday is elastic; our passions expand it, those we inspire make it smaller while habit fills it “. Light is everything.
Do you usually have carte blanche when you work on a project?
My customers are great. They usually don’t set any boundaries, we create a dialogue and a functional path which becomes our guide. I like this approach and I’m always ready to work with them to understand their philosophy and lifestyle. This has always allowed me to produce a tailor-made boat.
Once the work is started, does the customer follow the boat development?
As an architect, I’ve developed an unusual work method with my customers over the last years. I listen to their dreams and desires, then I show them my project draft by hand, a sort of draft brief. They’re black-and-white sketches showing spaces and volumes. Then, they slowly take shape, coulor and details. We talk about light, wind, the way the boat should be lived and we finally produce a render with technical drawings. When the customer is finally satisfied and he recognizes the boat as his own boat, I can complete my work with the shipyard.
Is there anything you’ve started to do as boat designer which could be useful in the automotive industry, too?
Passion is something to transfer and the nautical world is rich of passion and love for the sea.
What did you learn and what did you introduce in boat design?
This is a beautiful question, I’ll answer carefully. I’ve always believed in projects full of contents. Design constantly evolves, whether it proposes something innovative or something old. I believe that it’s correct to consider design as a constant evolution. Design is shaped around needs, every project has different features and finds its expression within different contexts. Consequently, we have to understand the nature of the product and then develop it according to its context. I love boats and I love living and designing them entirely to make them unique.
Working and designing with a nautical team means to understand and be aware of the fact it is an industry which produces “machines to sail” through the art of naval engineering. The “sea” becomes the main player of a simple clean scenery which is, however, rich of contents. Not the abstract sea but that which represents our experience, our sea, the sea we have to manage everyday.
Sea interpretation is the final goal of an innovative consistent path, developed with care and awareness, where all elements are interconnected. Spaces, volumes, sails, seats, materials, lights and objects have to work in this sense by interpreting it in a more contemporary concept. When you live your boat, you must listen to its message and abandon yourself to its voice, which means to abandon yourself to your most secret and craziest voice.
What’s your next goal?
Talking of goals is maybe incorrect. I try to be direct, linear and clear. I like describing my path as the desire to give my projects a second soul, a shadow. I would like that every object had its own “shadow” where there’s no start, no end. Maybe naval architecture shouldn’t invent. It should transform and arrange the changes of what already exists. I would like that the customer joined the interpretation of the whole project and read it like a travel with his passions and mysteries. I would like that those sailing on my boats had the same sensation I have at the end of my holidays: when I come back home, I want to come back to the place where everything has begun, that is water