Partners in Design (Part Two)

In our two-part series on yacht design and yacht design trends, we interview Theodoros (Theo) Fotiadis, a talented Yacht and Marine Designer, who collaborates closely with PrivatSea and especially Kyriakos Mourtzouchos, Technical Manager in the Projects Department at PrivatSea. Theo explains his background, his approach, his development and his partnership with PrivatSea.

Role of Theodoros Fotiadis:

“I specialise in Yacht and Marine Design, and some residential interior design (the latter usually when the owner owns a yacht and it’s a challenging project). We have two studios: a design studio in Salonika in Greece and Elysian Brands in Berlin, which produces renderings. In total we are 46 people. Currently we have 11 yacht projects over 80m and 7 real estate projects.”

“In October 2017, when we were small, I was approached by a large design studio in Sweden, who were designing a new cruise ship and initially they just wanted the CGI rendering. We then worked on the design for five years and delivered everything and they were very happy with it. This project and others helped us to grow from 6 people to 18 and eventually to 30.”

How did you get into yacht design specifically?

“I grew up in Salonika in Greece and was raised there. I studied automotive design in Stuttgart hoping to become a designer at Mercedes or BMW. In summer 2003, I went to visit my brother in Corfu, who is with the Coast Guard there and he said ‘I want to show you a boat in Gouvia at the marina’. He wanted me to experience a Magnum 50 Bestia, a power boat, not a superyacht, we went out for a ride with the Captain Mike Stocker, who said: ‘Let me show you how she goes’. 76.6 knots with GPS – it’s super-fast. We were airborne, it’s an amazing machine.”

“I fell in love with ‘floating stuff’. Transportation is my love, whether it’s a boat, a train or aviation. I realised that is what I want to do. It is a very targeted area and you have to push at the barriers. It’s tough to convince someone to go into that. You need brave owners. The question was, can I study at Fort Lauderdale in Yacht and Marine studies? That would cost $65,000, which I didn’t have. Captain Mike said: ‘Let’s ask the owner of the boat if he can help’. So I wrote to the owner, he replied back. ‘The Captain says you are friends, and I like your car designs. I think you have a future in the yachting industry. We grant you the loan and you’re going’. This was my benefactor and he has been one of the best guys I met in my career.”

Theodoros Fotiadis Yacht and Marine Designer – Theodoros Fotiadis, Yacht Designer

Theodoros Fotiadis Yacht and Marine Designer – Interior of a Yacht with a large table

When you work with architects, do you prefer to be involved at the outset of a project or after the architectural side is complete?

“I prefer to work in parallel with architects from the beginning. The construction usually comes to us ready-made from the architect and then we dress it. We create the story inside. We need the architects to give us the freedom to create. For example, with a high ceiling two storeys can be better than one, it might be a beautiful chandelier or a mural or something like that. Our clients are not just looking for ‘real estate’, they want to tell their story and show this to their friends. So the client gives us their overall idea, and we create a beautiful world and bring the story and materials inside. We’ve been working on an office in the centre of Athens, and we’re effectively creating a ‘superyacht on sevens floors’. The meeting room is a dining table with a kitchen, because the client says that food is what connects him to his clients.”

How would you describe your approach to yacht design?

“We don’t have a brand-led approach. Every design is original and bespoke, and speaks for the client. How bespoke depends on the purpose. I ask the client, ‘do you want to keep the boat or in 3-7 years or do you want to make an exit and sell it?’ If they want to sell it, then it won’t be super-bespoke, because it’s not easy to sell if it’s only for one guy in the world. That’s why I don’t guide clients to the super-bespoke, because at the end of the day, it’s a valuable asset.”

Can you tell us more about your yacht design work?

“I start with the idea that no-one needs a yacht, but I persuade the owner he cannot live without it. From day one when we meet, we move forward with design, proposals, renderings, materials, fit-out, delivery, after-market, the whole process. Our clients have to love this.”

What is the key factor for you in yacht design?

“We need to understand the brief really well. This includes the materials they want to touch. It goes beyond design, it’s about personality and chemistry. You listen to the client. Does the client need a yacht for the family or for business reasons, or both? Then it gets tougher and the challenge makes us better.”

Do you have a private owner’s deck or do you want to connect it for charter? Do you want to have a happy owner or a happy crew, or both?

“We try to give more space to the crew and better compartments and crew mess. If you have a happy crew, you will have a happy owner. That’s why I’m well-connected with captains and crew to understand their needs. The crew will often see something that is a super aesthetic, but is not practical. I’m aware of a new build which is delayed because the design of the funnel was so detailed when the rain came, it retained amounts of water that could damage the teak deck beneath. As a designer, I might think this is a spectacular funnel, but you have to go into the detail.”

Theodoros Fotiadis Yacht and Marine Designer – The rear side of a superyacht

Theodoros Fotiadis Yacht and Marine Designer – A small bedroom in a yacht with a window facing out

How has it been working with PrivatSea on yacht design projects?

“With PrivatSea it has been one of the smoothest collaborations I have ever done. I have to say I was amazed. I grew up in Greece and I know in Greece we have a lot of very capable people: they perform, but they could do more. At PrivatSea they are more like the Germans! They reply to emails in half an hour or they call me. They give me the information I need. We can then move so fast together. On a recent project we could deliver all the renderings in 17 days. They loved it, they came back with their feedback, we fixed it – it was super-nice and super-smooth. It was very easy because they are professional. They know what they want and where they are going, and they have the information ready. It’s not ‘I will ask my colleague’, then the colleague is on holiday. We are all in the project together.”

“If you are in the yachting industry you are not there by mistake. PrivatSea are in it with their heart. They have nice boats and a very big canvas to design.”

“We have done some interesting collaborations, but I can only say what an NDA allows. We’ve done some work with Minerva, including renderings and concepts for their clients.”

Why are CGI renderings important?

“They can show the potential of what the project can be. One project I’m very proud of is a top penthouse at the Plaza Hotel in New York, which will be marketed for $86 million. It’s a beautiful interior, but it’s outdated. So the owner, who has a yacht, came to us asking for a new idea. We are able to show how it can be with a new interior. It’s not built yet, but we have a beautiful rendering and they can use that to market it to show how it can be.”

How is it different designing for a charter yacht than for a single owner?

“When you design for a family, it’s sweeter. You see the faces of the people, the family and the kids. For a charter boat, it is about the entertainment area and practicality. People don’t want to stay in their cabins, they want to be connected. What we see lately is the internet connection is vital, people want to know what the firm is doing in Washington or Shanghai. That’s why Starlink saved a lot of people! The rates have been going down like crazy and it’s working quite well.”

Do you work on both new builds and refits?

“Both. We’ve done a lot of ‘ghost-writing’ work, designing for others, some big names. But we can also be the lead designer for a concept. It might not be the whole solution, we might do the guest cabins and the cabins for the kids.”

How did you develop as a designer?

“My mentor Felix Doelker, who was an engineer and sadly passed away in 2018, encouraged me to be creative and have the confidence to be a designer. He gave me the push to enter this area and gave me many introductions.”

What are the challenges and how do you overcome them?

“My mentor taught me think in the character of the client. We Greeks can be easily irritated! For example, I received an email from a client about a project and she was under pressure. I understand this now, but at the time I didn’t. We were delivering renderings and she said, ‘this is not what I ordered’. When I went through the email thread, it was what she ordered. Before Felix my mentor, I would have replied differently, which is not professional. He explained ‘it’s not against you’. What happened is that the client, after a few weeks realised that I’m there to help her. You can imagine how much also my heart relaxed! In the end it was a five-year project. I had to deal with her all the time for five years. At the end of it, she thanked me and even her boss said, ‘Thank you for helping her and helping the project moving’. Not everyone will like my character.”

In fact, it’s often the wives of our clients, who challenge us. They see a lot and they notice a lot. They often know more about materials than the husband. They relate their tastes to other brands. So we have very interesting meetings! That’s the beauty of it.”

Can you sum up your relationship with PrivatSea?

“PrivatSea say to me ‘if you deliver, we deliver’. So that is an amazing partnership, because as a designer, if I’m good, history will tell.”

Theodoros Fotiadis Yacht and Marine Designer – A superyacht with a Helicopter on the rear

Read our article with PrivatSea’s Technical Manager Kyriakos Mourtzouchos here or contact us to discuss your requirements today.

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