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David Collins Studio have redefined the ocean liner with Cunard’s Queen Anne

London’s David Collins Studio, together with Sybille de Margerie, Richmond International, creative director Adam Tihany and art consultancy Double Decker, have taken cruise shipping into the first division of hospitality design with Cunard’s latest ocean liner, Queen Anne

Back in the 1920s, Golden-Age ocean liners defined themselves by their speed and engineering. A hundred years later, it’s their interiors that reveal their ambition and soul. Aesthetics are today’s signifiers of an elevated endeavour, from hotels and restaurants to ships. And by this metric, Cunard has dug deep with their newest liner, the Queen Anne.

Reputedly housing the world’s largest floating art collection (with some 4,300 curated works), the Queen Anne is the product of some of the most distinguished names in the interior design world. The design element began in 2018 when Cunard – the venerable British line owned by global ship operator Carnival – enlisted veteran New York designer Adam Tihany of Tihany Design as creative director. Tihany curated three major global design studios, with London’s David Collins Studio taking on many of the ship’s most visible spaces.

The studio – whose portfolio of clients includes The Wolseley, Alexander McQueen and Mandarin Oriental – was entirely new to the cruise-ship industry. “We wanted to challenge people,” says Tihany; “and we wanted David Collins Studio to do something they had never done before.”

Design director Lewis Taylor led the project for David Collins Studio. “The brief,” he tells Effect, “was to create interiors that blended luxury, elegance and modernity while paying homage to Cunard’s rich maritime heritage.”

To distil this heritage, the studio began with a visit to the Cunard Archive at the University of Liverpool. “It was an incredible design resource to have,” says Taylor. “It informed our design in so many different ways. It was important to us that all the design codes we put into this new ship had their DNA in the references we found in the archive.”

Our goal was to evoke a sense of nostalgia, but to reinterpret these themes in a contemporary context.

Lewis Taylor, design director, David Collins Studio

At the same time, Taylor draws a careful distinction between inspiration and pastiche. “Cunard is closely associated with the Art Deco era, but we had to be selective in how we used those motifs – we didn’t want to create an Art Deco-themed ship. Our goal was to evoke a sense of nostalgia, but to reinterpret these themes in a contemporary context.”

This balance of heritage with a contemporary sensibility manifests itself throughout the spaces designed by the studio. The Princess Grill Restaurant, for example, has custom-embroidered floral walls which are impeccably du jour – yet the motif is inspired by the trailing arbutus flower of Nova Scotia, birthplace of the shipping line’s founder Sir Samuel Cunard.

The Commodore Club on Cunard’s Queen Anne. David Collins Studio incorporated Art Deco notes and braiding inspired by a commodore’s uniform (Photo: Christopher Ison)

And in the David Collins Studio-designed Commodore Club – the ship’s panoramic signature cocktail bar – gold braiding on the chairs and cushions recalls the epaulettes on a commodore’s uniform, while the stripes on the columns match the ratios of the bands on a commodore’s sleeve. The bar’s ceiling features a gold concave centrepiece, with concentric circles rippling outwards, inlaid with geometric textured panels. They evoke Art Deco while feeling entirely contemporary, all the while suggesting the interlocking parts of a vintage navigation instrument. A liberal use of plants creates intimate zones within the large lateral space while contributing a biophilic dimension. And, as is the case throughout the ship, the art – curated by Double Decker – creates a continuous thread that ties the space’s themes together, anchored by several substantial sculptures.

This collusion between art and design is seen most emphatically in the Grand Lobby, another key space designed by the David Collins Studio. With its sweeping staircase descending through the triple-height atrium, the lobby encapsulates the iconography of Cunard’s Golden-Age heritage. “It’s the beating heart of the ship,” says Taylor, “and it’s where the design began.

The Grand Lobby is the “beating heart of the ship,” says Lewis Taylor, design director of David Collins Studio. It features a triple-height brass engraved mural by Ian Kirkpatrick, curated by art consultants Double Decker (Photo: Christopher Ison)

“We’ve echoed the wood finish of the classic Cunard ships while using more contemporary finishes – and finishes for the future. The handrail is beautiful polished walnut – so you still get those Art Deco sensibilities. Every element has been carefully curated to evoke a sense of timeless elegance and luxury.”

This means an inlaid marble floor, curated seating and cabinetry (which, as with most furniture in David Collins schemes, is designed in-house and made local to the project – in this case, Italy, where the ship was built). Pulling the space together is an extraordinary brass mural by Canadian artist Ian Kirkpatrick, hanging the full length of the three-floor atrium, depicting the different stages of a Cunard journey. “It’s an example of how we and Double Decker were integrated,” says Taylor. “You can’t just design a space and then layer the artwork in afterwards – it has to be integrated in terms of how the material sits, the artist’s perspective, the lighting. It’s a team effort.”

If the Grand Lobby is the heart of the ship, the David Collins Studio-designed Pavilion is its central square. Fiona Thomson, principal of Richmond International (one of the Queen Anne design teams that did have prior cruise ship experience, having designed P&O’s Britannia and Iona), makes the point that unlike the itinerant population of a land-based hotel, a ship’s cohort arrives together and stays for longer, circulating around the same spaces potentially for weeks. This means the design of these spaces has to work harder – particularly as they rotate through different times of the day.

The Pavilion on Cunard ship the Queen Anne, designed by David Collins Studio (Photo: Christopher Ison)

This is particularly true of the Pavilion, which acts as a beach bar by day, sundowner lounge at dusk and an entertainment venue by night. A tiered piazza on two levels, centred around a swimming pool, the entire space is covered with a retractable glass roof engineered by the architect behind the Louvre glass pyramid.

David Collins Studio took their design cues for the Pavilion from materials unearthed during their research at the Cunard Archive, including the scalloped balconies, which create intimate seating zones overlooking the atrium. “Menu cards from the 1920s and 30s informed the colour combinations,” says Taylor, indicating the navy blues of the chequered floor, the sun-bleached yellows of the loungers, and the coral pink notes of the terrace furniture.

The challenge faced by the designers when compared to land-based hospitality is also underscored by the Britannia restaurant – one of the largest spaces on the ship. “We are used to creating restaurants with around 100 covers,” says Taylor. “The Britannia is 1,000 covers. How do you create intimacy? How can you make every seat feel like it’s the most special seat in the restaurant?

“We had to work hard to screen areas of the restaurant, breaking the space up into smaller pockets, to make it feel not like you’re walking into a cavernous space but one that is human in scale.”

Their efforts have resulted in a room that delivers the wow-factor of dramatic scale while maintaining the beguiling sense of a room that does not reveal itself at a single glance.

“There are a lot of tricks we use to create this,” says Taylor. Soaring columns and etched glass screens are beautifully executed and define the zones physically, but there are also more subtle techniques at play. For example, the colour palette evolves as one moves through the dining room “We used the four seasons of the year as a starting point for this – and again, Cunard’s archives were the catalyst for this. We found a frieze from the old Queen Mary representing the seasons.” On the restaurant’s lower deck, it’s the blues and golds of summer while the upper deck interprets warmer, more autumnal colours.

We are used to creating restaurants with around 100 covers. The Britannia is 1,000 covers. How can you make every seat feel like it’s the most special seat in the restaurant?

Lewis Taylor, design director, David Collins Studio

The restaurant also offers a glimpse at the practicalities of designing for a ship. All major hospitality projects are fully modelled and planned well before installation dates but this is even more the case on a ship, where weight and movement of materials and furniture is of critical importance. Jason Stewart, associate director of David Collins Studio, who has spent much of the past six years immersed in the project, describes how all the large tables and major furniture pieces are hard-fixed to the deck and cannot be moved.

Stewart also points out the lacquer that coats all marble and natural stone surfaces on the ship. A new innovation, it’s a necessary sealant that maintains the look while satisfying the stringent regulations that govern the materials that can be used at sea.

Elsewhere, the studio’s CEO Iain Watson describes how each cabin is created as an individual pod, built upside down, and then plugged into the ship’s mainframe during the assembly process.

The interior design team of the Queen Anne, speaking on May 1, 2024 in the ship’s Commodore Club. From third left: Fiona Thompson, principal of Richmond International; Lewis Taylor, design director of David Collins Studio; Melita Skamnaki, co-founder of Double Decker; Sybille de Margerie; Adam Tihany (Photo: Christopher Ison)

Walking the ship, one feels the unmistakable aura of confidence. In one sense, that is obvious – a company will not spend £480m ($600m) on a ship without confidence – but it goes further than that. After an existential crisis during Covid, the cruise ship industry is now booming. Shipyards are working at capacity; building slots are booked 20 years ahead, and the main shipping lines are filling their liners the moment they receive them.

With the Queen Anne, Cunard is setting out in emphatic terms their vision for the next phase of the industry. There’s an originality to the partnerships they seek out – an example being with the British Film Institute (BFI), who curate the short independent films screened in the Pavilion. By partnering with designers of the calibre of David Collins Studio and Adam Tihany, Cunard are demonstrating a clear commitment to a more enlightened form of hospitality, one that embodies the innovation that has made them, at 184 years old, a brand still sailing towards the future.

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