How ‘lifestyle-boutique’ designers created modern interiors that embrace the sea and the adventure of sailing
“It’s a bit like designing 10 hotels that happen to float,” Virgin Voyages senior vice president of design and customer experience Dee Cooper tells Passenger Ship Interior & Refurbishment Review about the company’s upcoming new cruise ship Scarlet Lady.
While Ms Cooper was new to the cruise industry when she took the role at Virgin Voyages, she comes from a Virgin Atlantic background. “I am an industrial designer by trade, and at Virgin Atlantic, I was involved in everything from aircraft interiors, to uniforms, club house lounges and terminal buildings all around the world. I was very lucky that I was working in a highly constrained but creative environment.”
Therefore, she explains she was not fazed by IMO restrictions on materials. “I was used to those constraints and rules because getting fabrics and seats approved for an aircraft was very complex.
“The thing I underestimated was the sheer scale of the ship because of the number of public spaces. It is the scale that blew our brains from a design point of view.”
Virgin Voyages stands out from other cruise companies when it comes to the way it created the interior design of the ship: it worked with multiple designers who had never worked within the cruise sector before. The company’s ‘creative collection’ comprises some of the most sought-after interior designers, artists and architects including Roman and Williams, Tom Dixon Design Research Studio, Concrete Amsterdam, Softroom of London and more.
These companies are responsible for creating stylish boutique hotels and resorts across major cities in the US and Europe, a crucial factor for Virgin Voyages. Ms Cooper explains “Because Virgin is a lifestyle brand with a youthful mindset and modern approach, we knew that our customers are very demanding of us in the same way as people are demanding when they go to Miami, New York or London – you want great bars, restaurants and coffee shops, so we took a boutique hotel approach to the design.
“We wanted spaces to feel loved and wanted to work with designers who had that type of lifestyle-boutique design approach. If you think about amazing hotels like the Intercontinental which are great but huge, then think about boutique hotels, it is much more relaxed, feels very special and cool. That’s why we approached it from that stance and that is why we purposely chose people who hadn’t worked with cruise ships.”
Underlining the difference between the design of a boutique hotel and a large international chain, she says “Sometimes spaces are so big in hotels that you see the designer gets bored and overstretched – there are too many deadlines, so they think they will repeat that solution throughout the ship as the client likes it.”
This is an approach Virgin Voyages did not want. “We wanted people who would love every square millimetre of the space – we have all created spaces to love and that people will enjoy hanging out in.”
The designers and the interiors of the cruise ship are bound together by the theme ‘modern romance of sailing’.
“We got them together with the brand promise of the modern romance of sailing. They all bought into that, the concept of being inspired by the past and executing it in a modern, bang up-to-date way and that glued us all together, as did the passion to change the industry for the more youthful mindset.
“We all want time to stop and breathe and enjoy being at sea and that love of the sea and history of the sea really helped us.”
The ‘modern romance of sailing’s concept can be seen throughout the ship. Ms Cooper explains “What we tried to do was to have design nods and touches that embrace the sea and the adventure of sailing.” She singles out the example of using dichroic glass.
She explains that the glass is like a “prism that cuts light but makes it more purple or pink depending on the time of day. The glass plays up to the amazing views, big skies and sunsets of the sea and builds the environment of being in these different lights”.
The glass is present in the main entrance atrium, in cabins and suites and in “little touches” throughout the ship.
One feature that encompasses the modern romance of sailing is the cut-out triangular catamaran net on deck 16. “We call it the longest daybed at sea,” says Ms Cooper. The net has room for 30 people.
Another example is that the ship has been built on ‘frame lines’ which are used as a positional guide. Ms Cooper and her team decided to take some of these and make them design features. “We took the frame lines out and numbered them, so you can see them outside the coffee shop and gym. We made them into a light feature using metal and brass finishings, so they are beautiful in a ship’s architectural context,” says Ms Cooper.
She singled out that while other cruise operators have included “amazing” features, “we did not want features that can only be used for a short amount of time, like a theme park ride, we wanted architectural features that are part of the experience, so that is why we looked at the design of the ship in terms of fitting in with sailing.”
Snapshot CV: Dee Cooper (Virgin Voyages)
After serving in a consultant role for three years, Dee Cooper officially joined Virgin Voyages in 2015. As a founding member of the Virgin Voyages team, Ms Cooper’s creative vision has helped guide the brand since its inception. Before joining Virgin Voyages, she led the design for all aspects of Virgin Atlantic from airport lounges to aircrafts.