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Designing Boat Interiors

Designing Boat Interiors

Boats provide many options for decorating, especially those with interior cabins. These spaces can be decorated with your own personal style, much like a room of a house. With many options and small details to consider, having prior experience designing the interior of a boat is invaluable. Dianne Katra of Classic Marine Trimming offer basic advice in this two-part series about decorating boat interiors. This first part focuses on designing the general areas on a boat, while the second part will focus more on specific aspects, such as furniture material and accessories.

There is often limited space available on boats, so functionality is key. Boat owners must ask themselves how they wish to use the space, how many people will be using the area, and what they want as a theme. We usually suggest to clients that they keep the overall palette fairly neutral, and add colour in soft furnishings, particularly with the interior. The exterior furnishings will often be driven by the colours used in canvas covers.

SPACE ADAPTABILITY. With space at a premium on a boat, adaptability of the designed area is very important. For instance, a dropdown table next to the lounge setting with an infill cushion can become another bed, or custom ottomans can be used both as storage and seating, or mesh screening on a flybridge can make a nice area for entertaining without baking in the sun. Areas on a boat need to be flexible, and are generally used for a multitude of purposes.


When considering carpets and flooring, how you use your boat is critical to this decision. If you go out with the family and stay on the boat, chances are you will want the comfort of a carpet when getting out of bed in the morning. If you take your mates out fishing, you are going to want flooring that will take people tracking fish guts through your saloon! When choosing a carpet, make sure it is totally synthetic and has stain protection built into the fibres. Rugs on a boat can move around a lot and be a slip issue, so make sure if you choose a rug that it has a non-slip backing or you can get one put on it. Stay away from wool rugs – they don’t smell nice when wet.


How you use your boat is important when contemplating changes to bedding and bunks. If you do sleep onboard regularly, you will want a mattress that is as good as your one at home – even oddly shaped beds can have inner spring mattresses custom made. If yours is more of a day boat, you might just want foam with a water resistant fabric to cover it, so if anyone throws wet towels on the bed, or wants to lie down with wet hair, you will not worry about it.

The odd sizes and lack of maneuvering space can be a real challenge when making beds on a boat. However, custom-made fitted sheets and bedspreads really take a lot of the hassle out of this task. Make sure the bedspread, once made, can be slept under, as storage is often an issue on a boat. Keep that in mind when choosing cushions, too; you have to have somewhere to store them when you go to bed.

If you are changing the bed set-up, consider making the space underneath the bed into storage with either gas lift struts to lift up the whole bed base, or by installing drawers.


Comfort and cleaning are the two main things you need to consider when making changes to lounges and seats. Good quality foams and materials, which are easy to clean and are not likely to hold stains, are essential. If you are changing the actual lounge carcass, think about incorporating drawers or storage under the seat cushions, or how to make the lounge into a pullout bed. Also, consider rub rates for materials – the likelihood of sand coming in contact with your lounge is highly likely and is quite abrasive, especially when people have to skirt around a fixed table to sit down.

For more storage space, consider ottomans with storage inside that can be made to take wine bottles while doubling as extra seating in a saloon area.


When considering a bathroom makeover, try to keep the colours light and neutral. Bathrooms on boats are usually small spaces, so light and bright, and easy to clean are key design ideas. Choose materials that are marine-grade, including 316 stainless steel fixtures and fittings, where possible. You can add colour to your bathroom with shower curtains, towels, bath mats, and soaps. Try to make sure there are no sharp edges, and put as much storage space as possible.


If you are decorating an area for young children, be practical by making sure there are no sharp corners or edges in the space that kids could fall against if there is a bit of a swell. It is important to make sure anything you install in this area is easy to clean. Colourful bedding will make for an inviting space.


There are aspects of interior design that can be undertaken by the boat owner. But aspects that require large-scale design alterations should be entrusted to an expert. Deciding on a new material to re-cover your saloon lounge is one thing, but doing that in conjunction with new bedding, curtains and carpets, is another. The more you want changed on your boat, the more you need expert advice to make sure it all combines successfully and contributes to increasing the value of your vessel.

Choosing the right interior designer for your boat is very important. Look for someone that you are comfortable with, and that you feel takes on board your personal wants and needs. After all, the only person who knows how you use your boat is yourself, and the design should reflect your personality and what your boat means to you.

Done well, an interior makeover will not only increase the value of your boat but make it easier to sell, too. Buyers can easily be put off by shabby lounges and disintegrating curtains, especially if they are not seasoned boaties, and are not sure of the costs of replacement or refurbishment. If you are looking to sell in the foreseeable future, try to be budget-conscious, and make improvements to things that have the biggest impact on the look of your boat.

The second part of this series can be found here: Making Boat Interiors Look Good



Interview by Andy Kancachian