Studio DADO’s founding partners explain their design approach and considering operations and revenue implications
Less than three years since its inception, interior design firm Studio DADO already has a large and impressive portfolio of both newbuild and retrofit cruise ship design under its belt.
It all started when the four founders, Greg Walton, Yohandel Ruiz, Javier Calle and Jorge L Mesa met for lunch.
Mr Walton reminisces, “The four of us had a conversation and said ‘what if?’ We felt the timing was in our favour. We had all been working together at a previous employer for a number of years. It was a natural progression and the time was right to say let’s roll the dice and set up our own firm.”
“We wanted to break away from the traditional corporate model. It was time to do something with a bit more of a studio feel, where creativity and design is the focus; the overriding factor to everything we do. We wanted to create an environment where we could go back to the roots of design.”
Studio DADO started with four partners in November 2016. In just three short years, the firm quickly snowballed to reach its current size of 19 employees, with continued growth.
Newbuild and retrofit line-up
From its inception, Studio DADO secured a promising line-up of projects, starting with select spaces aboard Norwegian Bliss and followed by Carnival Cruise Line’s newbuild Mardi Gras. Mr Walton notes, “Norweigan Cruise Lines took a gamble on Studio DADO, for which we feel immensely grateful.”
Studio DADO’s design approach is considered straight forward; getting to the essence of a brand within the first iterations of a project, and always taking revenue and ROI into consideration. Mr Mesa explains, “When we design a space, we dive into how we can elevate the guest experience while still providing a positive ROI for our client. We particularly look at the direct or indirect way of increasing revenue in each space.”
Mr Mesa further explains, “If we are designing a restaurant, we look at how to make the flow of waiters easier. We design the layout with operations in mind; taking account of reducing or limiting the steps required to reach tables. Enhancing the guest experience in small meaningful ways is behind all our design decisions.”
Studio DADO focuses on the ability of their designs to extend the memory of the guest experience.
Mr Calle provides an example, “Creating a memory may come from a throw on the bed that is not just decorative but practical; for occasions when a blanket is needed. At Studio DADO we approach each space from the perspective of the guest who will be experiencing it. Each of our spaces has a story to tell as you walk through them. We consistently think of ways to extend the memory of a guest’s experience.”
When it comes to design, one very important ingredient to the partners is authenticity. IIDA’s interior designer of the year, Mr Ruiz states “We try to make sure the design does not feel contrived. Our spaces are meant to be experienced in an organic manner. A manner that delights the senses and creates a memorable moment. With each design we always question ‘does the design speak to you, does it feel genuine?’ Confirmation that it does is how we know we are on the right track.”
Studio DADO works across the cruise line spectrum from working aboard the most luxurious ship at sea, to the mainstream and more popular cruise lines. When the team kicks off a new project, the partners emphasise the importance of knowing and understanding each brand and its guests.
“We focus on identifying and understanding all the touchpoints for the guests. Understanding those points as well as the brand is a big driver for us in design. Before we put pen to paper, we do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions,” notes Mr Calle.
“People want a design that speaks to them and feels authentic. The only way to achieve this is to really understand what they want in their travel experience.”
Applying world experience
When asked about design influences, the partners are passionate about applying their own travel experience to their creations.
Mr Walton says, “The inspiration for me personally comes from world experience and travel. We are fortunate enough to work in a profession that enables us to travel. We learn, see and experience different cultures and draw inspiration from that, so taking the time to absorb where you are is very influential for us.”
Recent projects for the group include the first-in-class Princess Sky Suites, a suite design that sets the benchmark for all Princess vessels moving forward.
Mr Mesa says, “When we were approached, Princess Cruises wanted to take their brand to the next level. While staying true to their core values was important, they wanted to create an evolution of the brand for the next generation of travellers. We created a more open and modern space. The design of the Sky Suites still aims to keep within the elegance and sophistication that Princess is known for while integrating some modern touches.”
In another great feat for the start-up design firm, Studio DADO was tapped to lead the interior design overhaul for Oceania’s R-class ships for its US$100M OceaniaNext initiative. DADO was able to capture the essence of Oceania which translated into stunning, refreshing designs that preserve the essence of the Oceania brand.
Mr Ruiz notes, “It is an amazing accomplishment, to be the main architects on this class of ships. We had to keep a lot of the architectural structures in place because of the tight timeframe and cost involved, but we gave Oceania Insignia a complete refresh. The transformation is night and day on the R-class vessels.”
Highlighting the main features that illustrate the “night and day” transformation, Mr Ruiz says, “I would definitely say the grand stairs and atrium are the standout spaces. The ship was originally very traditional in look and feel. Our task was to make it transition to a more contemporary space. The furnishings and colours were upgraded and refreshed, giving guests the experience they were walking onto a totally new vessel. It is just a small glimpse into the direction Oceania is going.”
Next on the horizon is DADO’s work on Norweigan Cruise Line’s newbuild Encore. The four partners are particularly excited to discuss the spaces they designed aboard the ship. They raised the bar on the BBQ experience with their restaurant Q. The space was a major departure from the typical ship experience. Mr Calle explains, “The BBQ restaurant was quite a drastic evolution where the owner wanted that authentic BBQ joint feeling of reclaimed wood and metal. It is meant to feel as if you stumbled upon it on a roadside in Texas.”
Another newbuild the team is working on is Carnival Cruise Lines’s Mardi Gras. Studio DADO’s spaces include the spa, staterooms and some of the suites.
Walton explains, “We took some of the key design elements Carnival really liked in initial designs provided by UK firm DCA and built upon them to design what we now have in the staterooms and suites.”
Regent Seven Seas’ Splendor is yet another newbuild Studio DADO is delivering in the coming months. Key elements aboard this vessel differ from its sister ship, Explorer, including a show-stopping observation lounge styled as an English garden and tweaks to the penthouse suites including a walk-in dressing room in place of a closet.
Studio DADO has previously said it has a “penchant for problem-solving that looks beyond design and considers operations and revenue implications”. These themes are clearly seen across its portfolio of work.