After dabbling with the idea of becoming a lawyer, Luca Dini’s career as a yacht designer got off the ground when he joined the office of Pierluigi Spadolini, arguably the Jon Bannenberg of Italian yacht design. Since then he has created exterior and interior solutions for over 3,500 linear metres of yachts. Today, he is one of the leading designers of his generation with projects in build for brands such as Heesen, Codecasa and Palumbo Superyachts. We recently met up with the Italian designer at his studio in the historic centre of Florence. Did anything in particular inspire you to become a yacht designer?
It was when I saw Nabila as a teenager. The year was 1982 and I was in Livorno with my family and it seemed like the whole city had turned out to see this yacht designed by Jon Bannenberg. At 86-metres she was huge for the time and she looked more like an ocean liner than a yacht. Her sheer size was shocking, but I thought she was beautiful and that got me thinking that designing yachts might be the career for me.
How important was working with Pierluigi Spadolini in moulding your own design aesthetic?
It was a fantastic experience. I started working with professor Pierluigi in 1997 and during the week he would come to the office and offer some comments. Every time he found, not a mistake exactly, but something that could be adjusted or done differently. He was full of suggestions, and he was always right. I remember very well that he hated things that were too complicated. You know, he created the Akhir for Cantieri di Pisa with just three lines and the first Akhir is one of my all-time favourites. That’s something that is always in our minds: everything has to be clean, elegant and chic. Pierluigi was not just a talented designer; he was a genius.
That’s right, I had that kind of vintage yacht in mind. Not too big (just because something is big doesn’t mean it’s better) with beautiful details and materials that recall the golden age of yachting. We’re actually receiving a lot of enquiries about this design from owners who want something different but also very exclusive, because the intention is to build only a limited series. I believe there’s a niche of clients in the market for something compact that they can drive themselves with their family, without a lot of crew around, for short cruises in a certain kind of style.
One of your best known projects is 50.7-metre Tribù, the explorer yacht originally built for Luciano Benetton. Were you anticipating the whole explorer trend when she was launched in 2007?
Possibly, but this honestly was Mr Benetton’s idea. From the start he wanted something that from the outside looked like a working vessel with an open aft deck, something quite rough and masculine, but the inside had to be very elegant. The hull had a commercial paint finish and in the first drawings we had ‘No Smoking’ in big red letters on the side of the boat, which became a red side-boarding ladder in the finished yacht. Tribù was built by Mondomarine and we’re following more or less the same concept with the new range of explorer yachts by Mondomarine, now part of the Palumbo Group. Like Tribú, which has completed three world tours, the intention is that these are yachts that allow you to go out and stay out on the water for a long time. Photo: Luca Dini DesignHow has the way your clients use their yachts changed over the years?
It’s changed completely. When I started, most owners wanted a villa, a floating palace on the water, and they spent a lot of time inside. So at the time it was important to concentrate on the inside spaces. Then everything changed and we started to live the outdoors again in contact with nature and the ocean. Over the past year or so, we’ve been developing entire open-air platforms rather than just having big windows, folding balconies and sliding glass doors. There are two reasons for this: one is to be able to live more comfortably outside, and the other is to have larger yachts that are still below the 500 GT threshold that depends on enclosed volumes. The combination of these two factors inspired us to develop something very new and the result is the 65-metre Forceful concept. It’s a provocation, if you like, because the exterior styling is totally different from what the market is accustomed to and we’ve created completely al fresco spaces by literally cutting away parts of the hull and superstructure. Another advantage is that you avoid the added cost of engineering complex folding platforms. I think it’s only a question of time before we put something like it on the water.A new collaboration is with Tankoa and your first project together is the Sportiva 55, which introduces other novel layout solutions. Tell us more.
The Sportiva 55 is one in a series of three designs based on Tankoa’s existing technical platform, but the yard had some specific requests. Principally it had to be below 500 GT, which is not easy to achieve on a 55-metre yacht. What’s interesting is that the technical challenges led to creative solutions, especially regarding the layout and liveability on board, which now define the whole design. The best example is the master stateroom on the deck forward, which is full beam on one side with a walkway to starboard. This is to keep the interior volume below the required gross tonnage, but we used the side deck to create an owner’s lounging area with a circular hot tub with sliding glass panels so it can be enjoyed inside or outside. We also put all the tenders on the foredeck, both because it makes tender operations easier for the crew and frees up the stern for a terraced beach club with a large pool and the spa-gym on the lower deck with an underwater window. The main deck aft has become the new sun deck as the place where owners and guests spend most of their time during the day, whereas the sun deck is used more in the evenings. The studio has also diversified into architectural design and urban planning. How did that start?
A couple of years ago we decided to start a new adventure and set up a land-based design department that today makes up about 50 percent of the studio. We’ve always had requests from yacht clients to design their homes, residences or offices, but I usually refused because we simply weren’t geared up to achieve the same kind of results as in our yacht design work. We’ve now teamed up with a leading engineering firm in Milan and have several properties of 10,000 square metres or more under construction and we’re even developing master plans for entire cities. These are big projects but not dissimilar to what we’re doing in the yachting world in terms of investment, quality and customisation.
Do your clients become your friends, or is it a strictly business as usual?
‘Friend’ is a big word, but you have to spend around three years with them on a superyacht project, so if you have a good relationship from the start it certainly helps a lot. You know, these people are not coming to us for something important like surgery; a yacht is basically a toy and I tell them: “We can do this together, but it has to be fun.”
What's the strangest request you've had from an owner?
Some things are too risky to mention! But, you know, sometimes you have funny customers. One I remember had three girlfriends, and they normally slept all four in one bed. So he asked us to design a cabin for him with one bed for him and his three companions. In the end he only had a narrow walkway around the bed because most of the cabin was occupied by the enormous bed.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of The SuperYacht Times newspaper. To receive all future issues straight to your door, subscribe to the newspaper here.