Kid-friendly boat interiors balance durability, safety and plenty of fun.
Kids are fun and adorable. They’re also clumsy and messy. So when boat owners decide to spend time on the water with their children and grandchildren, they need interiors that can stand up to the task.
“Designing with family or pets in mind takes extra attention,” says Krisha Plauché, principal designer of Onboard Interiors LLC in Marblehead, Mass. “A boat filled with children will include spills, crumbs, crayons and milk.”
By asking their customers at the outset about how they will use their boat, marine fabricators can make the appropriate suggestions for fabric selection, lodging, storage solutions and other considerations unique to boating with kids.
Withstanding wear and tear
Fabric selection plays the biggest role in designing child-friendly interiors, as these surfaces need to be durable, easy to clean and maintain, and suitable for a customer’s budget. As a basic approach, a marine vinyl slipcover “takes a beating, prolongs whatever is underneath it and is fairly inexpensive,” says Mike Bennett, owner of Bennett Custom Canvas Inc. in Etobicoke, Ontario.
For another entry-level option, Liz Diaz, owner of North Beach Marine Canvas in San Francisco, recommends slipcovers made from machine-washable solution-dyed acrylic in heavy awning weight canvas with overlocked seams on the inside and heavy zippers.
“In some cases, we have preshrunk solution-dyed acrylic, then reapplied a stain-resistant finish so the covers would not shrink when the family washed them and threw them in the dryer,” she says. “But that would be an upcharge.”
Moving up the scale, boaters can choose from Sunbrella and other mills with exterior ratings. “There are also fabrics with Teflon and Nanotex coatings, which we love from Kravet,” Plauché says. “They really wipe spills clean.”
On the top end sits Ultraleather, leather and hair on hide—the last of which is particularly suitable for boaters with pets (see sidebar).
As Bennett points out, just because a boat owner goes with the least-expensive solution doesn’t mean they won’t be open to upgrades in the future. “A lot of times customers will say, ‘Just give me something cheap and durable, and when the kids are more responsible or less messy, we will revisit a better quality fabric,’” he notes.
Smart, safe solutions
Marine fabricators can present a variety of interior options that place kids first. Bennett has fielded requests from customers who want to do ocean sailing with their kids and keep them from rolling around in the swells and getting knocked out of their bunks. To that end, he builds lee cloths retrofitted to any bunk.
“You install a few heavy-duty fasteners along the edge of the bunk and suspend the cloth from either the cabin roof or the bunk above with snap hooks that release quickly in an emergency but at the same time provide that little cocoon for children to stay in,” Bennett explains.
Because space on boats is always at a premium, designers find creative ways to store children’s toys, blankets and towels, hats, sunblock and the like. On her own boat, Plauché uses plastic baskets and tubs for interior items used by her children, ages 5 and 1. To stow exterior objects such as their blow-up pool, sun tent and floating animals, Plauché crafted bags from Sunbrella fabric. The bags allow the contents to stay on board all the time yet remain protected from weather when not in use. Additionally, pillow shams with zippers serve as extra storage for clothing or beach towels.
Diaz has fabricated and padded duffel bags that are slightly longer than usual. “That way it looks like a neck roll or something that belongs with the furniture inside the boat, and you can still store items inside the bag,” she says.
Above all, Plauché emphasizes children’s well-being in boat interior design. “We all like new, pretty fabrics, but owners need to be educated on the health of the foam used inside the cushions and mattresses,” she says. “Anything with black spores could be breeding mold and mildew, and you do not want children onboard with that health hazard.”
A good rule of thumb is to replace the foam in five to eight years, adds Plauché, who fabricates using mold- and mildew-resistant foam.
Interiors built for activity
Plauché, a licensed captain, practices what she preaches on her family’s Tiara 31 yacht. “My young family enjoys relaxing and spending time together onboard,” she says. Her interior design reflects as much. Plauché custom-made fitted sheets, blankets, bedspreads and shams for the V-berth and salon, as well as a privacy panel to separate the sleeping areas and block light. Other custom touches include carpeting and monogrammed oversized pillows for interior and exterior use.
For the forward, Plauché used outdoor-rated Perennials fabrics in a whimsical fish print, while the salon bunk—where Plauché’s daughters both play and sleep—features ultrasuede quilted in a wave pattern. “Using ultrasuede as a bedspread is a little unusual, but I wanted something soft and durable for this space,” she says. “It has proven to be a great choice.”
North Beach Marine Canvas has completed several noteworthy jobs illustrating a blend of style and function. For a project involving two children’s cabins, Diaz sewed together individual stripes of purple, orange and blue wool, with the purple more predominant in the girls’ cabin and orange for the boy’s space. The overall design reflected the color palette of the parents’ master cabin. Diaz used wool “because it repels most things and it feels wonderful,” she notes.
Diaz also fabricated interior upholstery suitable for the grandchildren of the new owners of Mayan, musician David Crosby’s former schooner. Imported blue wool from Denmark adorns the main salon, while blue high-traffic nylon upholstery fabric from Keyston Bros. resides in the bunks.
In addition to the important fabric, health and safety considerations of designing child-friendly boat interiors, marine fabricators are finding that there’s always room for whimsy—whether that be in the form of kids’ initials, letters from the nautical alphabet or a special color scheme.
“Children love having ownership of something,” Plauché says.
Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer based in Joshua Tree, Calif.
For many boat owners, setting sail without their four-legged companions is unimaginable. Designing for pets, as for kids, centers on protecting the boat while creating a safe, comfortable environment (which they will most likely rule).
Liz Diaz of North Beach Marine Canvas in San Francisco used hair on hide in boat interiors for a client who raises Dalmatians. “It’s gorgeous, and claw marks won’t damage it,” Diaz says of the durable yet luxurious material. On the cockpit cushions, she used Textilene, a strong mesh that withstands dog traffic.
Etobicoke, Ontario’s Bennett Custom Canvas once received a special request from a couple whose cat was “a real escape artist that managed to get out of the cabin all the time,” owner Mike Bennett recalls. He created a reinforced mesh screen that fastened from outside of the cabin entrance, successfully putting an end to the kitty’s attempts to break out.
In another instance, a customer brought his dog into Bennett’s shop so Bennett could measure the pooch’s chest and torso and make a custom lifejacket. Over the years, Bennett has created several pet lifejackets outfitted with handles so that owners easily can pull their furry friends out of the water should they fall overboard.
After a day full of activity on the water, pets expect their beauty rest. The owners of a powerboat reached out to Krisha Plauché of Onboard Interiors in Marblehead, Mass., telling her that one of their dogs would sleep only in the middle of the bed. The solution: custom-made cushions on either side of the bed so the boaters had someplace soft to land when their dog muscled them out.
Plauché completed a similar pet-centric lodging project for a dog onboard a Sabre who took up too much room on the bed he shared with the owners. The dog got his own Sunbrella-covered two-part section of memory foam 48 inches high to align with the main bed.
It’s good to reign the kingdom.