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Award winning yacht designer John Munford on what it takes to design a superyacht

Many crew will walk onto their new yacht and not consider what’s gone into the build let alone the creative conception and design of what can only be described as a masterpiece. Today superyachts are pushing the boundaries left, right and centre but some of the most famous and most beautiful are the classically designed yachts that just work perfectly – for owners and crew.

A couple of years ago our very own Tim Clarke caught up with the multi-award-winning and lifetime achievement award winner, John Munford, to find out exactly what goes into superyacht creation and you’ll be pleased to know that the crew are kept in mind from the beginning.

Tim Clarke: Firstly John, how did you get into designing yachts?

John Munford: I actually trained as a furniture designer in the early 60s and was influenced by furniture related to its environment. When I started out there was no such job as a yacht interior designer or stylist. My first job was with a small boatbuilding company in Chichester where we designed and built the interior ‘pods’ or structural elements for most of the companies on the south coast, which they soon adopted and started making themselves. This was followed by architectural firms, exhibition design studios and shipyards, developing practical based designs. In 1965 a chance viewing of SHEMARA in a Camper & Nicholson shipyard on the Solent inspired me as a young man and giving a direction for life. Five years later I was working in their studio and later at Fairey Marine, both being a fantastic grounding in yacht design.

SHEMARA, the yacht that started it all | Image credit:

TC: What was your first design to be built?

JM: It wasn’t until the late 70s that I started my own design studio which by coincidence was in one of the ship’s stores of the old C&N Northam yard renamed Shamrock Quay. Yacht design work had to be supplemented with visualisations, pubs and commercial work to start with. The real break came in 1981 when I was commissioned to design the interior and all the deck structures of gaff rigged schooner JESSICA (now ADIX) soon to be followed by the staysail schooner AQUARIUS. The cherry on top was when Elizabeth Meyers commissioned me to design the resurrection of the J class yacht ENDEAVOUR in 1985. However, the ultimate gentleman’s yacht came in 1989 with the 50m AURORA being the first of 10 yachts with the Feadship yards culminating with 69m ARCHIMEDES that launched in 2008. Of course, there are many fantastic yachts, owners and craftsmen that I have enjoyed working with over my long career in the yachting industry but that is how it started.

TC: What challenges do you face laying out the interior of a yacht?

JM: Many and varied is the easy answer. First, it is necessary to listen to the client’s requirement, motor or sail, private or charter, leisure or performance, business or pleasure, approximate length, how many guests, classic or modern, cruising waters, toys, tenders, equipment, communications, pools; gyms, cinemas and so on. Then you’ve got to think about how many crew are required to run the vessels efficiently whilst maintaining the owner’s requirements. Once you have that the naval architect and designer can form the body of the yacht.

TC: Do you prefer designing for motor or sailing yachts?

JM: Both as either is like a Rubik’s cube personalised for each project. Of course, much depends on one’s relationship with the owners and the other professionals involved.

TC: Is it easier to design from scratch or design a refit to an existing yacht?

JM: New builds are in most cases the cleaner project but working with true classics like ENDEAVOUR, VELSHEADA or FAIR LADY is a wonderful experience as you have to respect the original master designer’s principals.

TC: Which of your designs would you feel was your biggest achievement and why?

JM: Gosh this is a hard one as all the yachts feel like a family to me. JESSICA, ENDEAVOUR and AURORA established my direction in yacht design so they are particularly special. However, ARCHIMEDES is probably my greatest achievement because I was able to inject 30 years of my experiences with many of the facilities I have always wanted to see in a motor yacht. She is the modern classic.

ARCHIMEDES | Image credit: Vdloz Images

TC: Which elements of crew life do you consider when designing the yacht?

JM: The crew is the binding factor onboard and they have to run the vessel like a well oiled machine. First, they have to be accommodated within the MCA, SOLS and other regulations. There has to be uninterrupted access around the ship to all areas that make the yacht function whether it’s the helm, engine room, galleys, pantries or tenders but also to be able to discretely service the owners and guest areas. They are there to perform efficiently. Our job as designers is to secure the right space for them to do that. So, it is as important to consider their living and operating spaces as much as any machinery onboard.

TC: Have there been any extreme requests from clients in the past when it comes to the ‘toys’ to be installed?

JM: Pools and Jacuzzis are common requirements but MARGAUX ROSE was well known for launching a hot air balloon from the foredeck and amongst its tenders, it also had a couple of one-man Messerschmitt super fast jet boats. The 70m REVERIE had a central cast bronze fireplace sculpture in the observation lounge plus a stone clad pizzeria with oven. Apart from the usual gym it also had a fully equipped health spa with hairdressing saloon and steam room.

TC: And lastly, what would be your one piece of advice to someone looking to work as crew in the yachting industry?

JM: We are all there to do a job so take your experience with you but be prepared to absorb new skills with an open mind and anticipate requirements in advance. It is all in the detail and working with the highest standards within other people’s timescales. The camaraderie is fantastic and you are blessed with working with highly skilled people in a wonderful environment so make the most of it!

Award winning yacht designer John Munford on what it takes to design a superyacht

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Tim Clarke

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