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ON THE WATERFRONT

Boat Decorators Stray From Nautical

June 03, 1989|SHEARLEAN DUKE | Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

The trend of staying put and redecorating rather than moving into new and higher-priced quarters is not confined to the shore. Boat owners are doing the same thing.

"People are keeping their boats and redoing them just as they are redoing their homes," says Catherine Jagger, who operates Kiwi (she's originally from New Zealand) Marine Interiors in Long Beach. "They are deciding that the boat they have is quite serviceable, and they just want to update it."

What's in nautically also coincides with what's in on the home scene, says Jagger, a Westminster resident. But Jagger and others who specialize in yacht interiors remind boat owners that just because something works on land doesn't mean it will work at sea, where constant exposure to moisture and sun can ruin the wrong kind of carpet and rot the most expensive drapes.

And you can forget red, white and blue and the traditional nautical motif. Think high-tech. Chrome, brass, glass and highly lacquered surfaces. Pastel wallpaper and teal cushions. In other words, anything goes.

"It used to be that everyone stuck with nautical," says Lisa Van Vleck, a designer with Shores Interiors, a Newport Beach firm whose business is 25% to 50% boats. "Now everyone is getting open-minded and going into pastels or any color really. And any fabric."

"You can put anything on a boat--but whether it will be practical or not that is another thing," says Vicki Perno, owner of Johansen & Co., an Orange County firm that has been doing custom boat interiors since 1960. "For example, people want cotton, and they use cotton. But cotton will rot faster than a synthetic fabric."

Perno, whose company does an average of three boats a week, advises her customers to stick with a fabric that is at least 50% synthetic. "It will last longer," she says.

Nearly everything you put on a boat--especially if it goes against a window--has to be treated, says Lisa Van Vleck. "And the drapes have to have a no-stain lining so that they don't get any discoloration from the sun."

Anita Unger, an interior designer and owner of Anita's Interiors in Newport Beach and Long Beach, says: "If it doesn't stand up to the sun then it won't be any good on a boat. In addition, you've got problems of moisture and mildew. If you don't like problems, you shouldn't be in boats," says Unger, who has been specializing in yacht interiors since 1984. "Working with boats involves so many things. It is a challenge. You have to be a problem solver."

For Unger that has meant designing a comfortable chair, small enough to fit inside the cramped interior of a boat, and designing an end table that doubles as a tackle box. "You really can't go to a store and say, 'I want that,' " Unger says. "Because it probably won't fit aboard the boat."

Most designers say the toughest part of the job is working within the tight--and oddly shaped--interiors of vessels. "To get a sofa out of a boat I was doing I had to destroy the sofa, break it up and take it out in pieces," says Unger, who replaced the sofa with a sectional that would go aboard in pieces through the boat's under-size doorway.

The interior design of yachts does not leave any room for error, designers agree. "The angles have to be right. The hull shape and cushions change dimensions. Everything is irregularly sized," says Catherine Jagger.

"Any time you are working on a boat you have to be much more precise with your figuring," agrees Van Vleck. "Everything has to be perfect."

Although most manufacturers do not make carpets and fabrics specifically for boats, Unger says a good source for fashionable, yet sturdy, materials is within the hospital industry. "A lot of things (such as carpets, fabrics, etc.) used in hospitals can be used in boats," Unger says. That's because fabrics designed for the hospital environment are made to withstand harsh chemicals, Unger explains. "A carpet that will do well in a hospital or a rest home will do well in a boat."

The first step in redecorating a vessel is deciding what to replace--whether it be carpet and drapes or the entire interior--and then getting an estimate from a marine design expert. "We set up appointments and make 'boat calls' where we drag our books out with us so the clients can choose the fabrics they want," says Perno, who is not an interior designer, but who has been working in the marine industry since 1974. "We take all the measurements."

Unger, a professional interior designer and a member of the International Society of Interior Design, works in much the same way. "I generally meet the people on the boat and find out what they want," she says. "I take all the measurements and get back to them with an estimate. The cost depends upon the carpet, fabric and drapes chosen."

And it doesn't take a fortune to redo a boat, says Unger, whose decorating jobs have ranged from $100 for a few new pillows to $210,000 to redo a huge Catalina passenger vessel in San Pedro.

Jagger says her clients typically spend about $3,000 to redo a 30-foot vessel, "depending upon the fabrics."

At Johansen & Co. the price tag for redecorating a 38-foot sailboat recently was $3,000, Perno said. "That included cushions, upholstery, draperies and carpeting--everything but the canvas work."

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