The sleeping quarters are where marine fabricators can really show off their design chops, but for bedding projects that impress, asking clients the right questions and thoughtful preplanning are essential.
By Pamela Mills-Senn
Boats give marine fabricators plenty of chances to showcase their skills and some of the best areas on the vessel for doing so are the sleeping quarters. Whether people are bunking down in the main cabin or luxuriating in a stateroom, bedding projects in particular allow marine fabricators to fully unleash their interior design creativity.
Consider a refit project worked on by Captain Krisha Plauché, principal designer/owner of Onboard Interiors LLC. Located in Marblehead, Mass., the full-service design company specializes in custom marine interiors for private and commercial power and sailboats, as well as superyachts and historical J Class yachts.
“The vessel’s name was from Lord of the Rings and we ran with the theme on board,” Plauché recalls. “We designed a custom bedspread for the master stateroom with a giant black dragon tail monogrammed into the top of the bedspread—it looked like the dragon had crawled under the bed. We also used glow-in-the-dark thread with secret messages in the fabric.”
The bedspread took about a month to finish (the entire project was nine months in the yard). Because the company used a custom monogrammer based in Maine—making preplanning key—the team had to mark the fabric ahead of the quilting and sewing, mailing it back and forth, adding to the spread’s completion time.
Katie Bradford is the owner of Custom Marine Canvas, headquartered in Noank, Conn. The company creates custom-designed and handcrafted canvas-based products for boats and waterfront homes and also offers full sail service. One of her favorite bedding projects involved a fishing boat where the wife wanted to do the interior in a “grand style.” For the bedding, Bradford selected coordinating fabrics in brown, rust and gold, complementing the carpet.
“I had pretty much carte blanche for the design of the quilting and the pillows,” she says. “It was a winter project so I could take all the time I wanted. I made custom buttons out of polycarbonate and foam that were the diamond shape of a motif on one of the fabrics. It took about two months to finish.”
Bradford says today’s bedding trends are mirroring those in hospitality decor where the current preference is for all white. Consequently, boat bedding has greatly toned down from 10 years ago, she says. Lines are clean with neutral and solid colors rather than multicolored. For durability, Bradford will serge or French-seam all the seams and will put sheet elastic in a casing rather than serging it on.
“By the time we’re done tailoring a sheet, it’s two and a half hours of work, which is very expensive,” she says. “But by putting the elastic in a casing, it can be replaced when it wears out rather than having to replace the entire sheet.”
Plauché always suggests marine-grade fabrics for their toughness, saying that thanks to the residential market driving fabric innovation, outdoor-fabric mills now offer an ample selection of colors and patterns. Trends she’s seeing are coordinating bedspreads and shams together, using neckrolls for accent pillows rather than square ones, and cord trim instead of fringe.
“We’re also designing more duvets for staterooms, which has been popular for offshore-flagged vessels,” she adds. “But now duvets are making their way into the States.”
However, Rebecca Delano, owner/design and product development for Alfred’s Upholstery & Co., says her company’s clients are opting for fitted coverlets over duvets. Located in Alfred, Maine, Alfred’s Upholstery builds custom furniture and creates tailored upholstery for yacht interiors. As for other bedding trends, Delano says blue and nautical themes remain popular, with green and coral popping up as accent colors.
“Aesthetics are considered first and foremost,” she says. “The colors in one area of the boat must flow with the other areas. It’s a whole-boat design concept.”
Giving clients what they want means, first, finding out what they want—taking time during the consultation to uncover their expectations and desires, says Delano.
“Ambiguous details slow the process,” she says. “Time spent up front saves time and mistakes and the potential time spent to redo the item in the fabrication part. There are so many questions—it requires detective work and some mind-reading.”
Questions she poses include asking how many bedding layers the client would like, if sheets or a blanket are included, the item’s function (sleep or decor only), the budget, how durable the bedding should be, favorite fabrics and patterns, if they have any dislikes and if the client can provide photo examples of what he or she wants.
“The height of the mattress is central to creating the right product,” Delano says. “Does the height of the bed change when you add multiple layers? Does the client want to see the bottom trim of the coverlet? What is the client’s vision? Do they want a clean look, do they wish to brighten the room or do they wish the area to calm? Does the client plan to use the pillows or are they for decor-only purposes? Do they have room to store them? Do they want washable fabric or dry-clean only?”
When they’ve homed in on the client’s concept, Delano says she and her team create a paper presentation, shipping this with fabric samples to the client in order to provide the best possible vision of the project.
Plauché always asks how the customer is going to use the vessel, such as for extended cruising or shorter trips. Other good-to-know information is if family members or pets will be on board and what the customer uses in the home.
“They want similar items on board,” she explains, adding that in the case of mattresses, Onboard Interiors will try to build the marine mattress with similar foams and densities. “If anything, they want to upgrade since yachting is a luxury sport and many will want all the best they can buy.
“Write everything possible down on the template,” Plauché says. “Try to use the pattern material that is clear so you can see the twists and turns of the mattress or deck. Take the bevels measurements in small sections and mark them—take your straightedge with you. And take photos.”
Anticipating where things may go awry and proactively strategizing to avoid these issues will help keep bedding projects on track. Consider measurements. Getting them right the first time and having all those you need is ideal, but sometimes doublechecking is needed, posing a problem for fabricators if the vessel isn’t accessible, says Plauché. Now, she’ll ask if the yard or owners have FaceTime, enabling her to talk over questions or see the area in question without having to get back on board.
Toppers can be an area of concern, as a miscalculation here can compromise comfort. For these, Bradford advises using gel rather than memory foam since the latter can get “rock hard” in cold weather. She has samples of varying thicknesses and firmness in her showroom for customers to try out.
“A 24-inch-by-32-inch is big enough for the customer to lie on with hip and shoulder to test,” Bradford says. “Toppers can be 1 or 2 inches thick. We’re lucky enough to have our foam supplier help us by cutting the top 1 or 2 inches off the existing foam and then we glue on the gel foam. The customer gets much more comfort without having to make new covers.”
Mattresses can also prove tricky. Delano cautions fabricators to keep in mind that the crown is frequently higher than the sides, requiring a crown allowance. As for bedding, she’s discovered creating a sheet set from flat yardage, rather than taking apart an existing fitted sheet, is a better strategy.
“In the past, when taking apart a fitted sheet, the organic cut is not big enough to cover the size we need for the new sheet,” she explains. “If someone wants a specific brand of sheet, we ask that they supply two king top sheets. That way we can ensure the project is of the utmost quality.”
Another common misstep marine fabricators risk making is failing to measure around the entire bulk of the mattress and accounting for the built-ins or bulkheads, says Plauché, as is not accounting for the bevels, which can “throw off the design on the thickness/drops.”
Although these and other details are important considerations, keep in mind the overall impression, cautions Delano.
“What is the focal point of the space when you come down the stairs or turn a corner into the berth area? What do you see first and how will your pattern fall in that space? These factors have an artistic impact on your project,” she explains. “It’s important to make sure to order enough fabrics, especially if a pattern is involved to ensure optimal placement of the fabric on the berth. Marine bedding has a very different focal point than home bedding—pattern placement and focal points are important to recognize.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a writer based in Seal Beach, Calif.
SIDEBAR: Bedding hacks worth trying
Instead of adding a triangular gusset to the inside corner of a mattress or cushion, Katie Bradford, owner of Custom Marine Canvas, Noank, Conn., uses a boxing technique. “To hold the inside corner in place, we sew a Velcro® tab to the sheet and the opposite Velcro to the underside of the mattress/cushion cover,” she explains. “If we can’t get inside the cover to sew the Velcro to the bottom, we’ll make a Velcro/elastic strap to go the whole way across the underside of the cushion.”
A favorite technique of Captain Krisha Plauché, designer/owner of Onboard Interiors LLC, Marblehead, Mass., is using self-welting as the outline for the bedding. Compared to just cutting the bedspread to shape, this helps hold it in place and gives the fabric more structure.
The lead custom stitcher for Alfred’s Upholstery & Co., Alfred, Maine, uses a French seam to hide raw or surged edges, says Rebecca Delano, owner/product design and development. “We’ve also found that using double-sided tape and ¼ [inch] masking tape to hold stretchy fabrics when sewing works well.” Also, Delano adds, “It’s much easier to produce quality if you have the right sewing machines. We use a walking foot for the heavy multilayers, a straight stitch for the lighter sheet sets and an industrial serger to ensure strength and washability.”