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Remember how Westin’s Heavenly Bed changed the paradigm for hotel guestrooms back in 1999? It was the harbinger of a sea change that transformed institutional hotel interiors into residentially styled spaces. Today, design is a big differentiator in the hospitality value equation, especially in the luxury segment. On cruise ships, design is a “passion point” for passengers that travel agents often overlook when determining the right cruise brand for their clients, says Chris Austin, Seabourn senior v.p., global marketing & sales.

Indeed, when I stepped onto the newly launched Seabourn Ovation a few weeks ago it felt like embarking on a gorgeous luxury yacht, elegant and modern, tactile and inviting. The travel pros sailing with me agreed: “My first impression was how extraordinarily beautiful the ship is,” says Wendy Romanow, director, cruise sales, Virtuoso.

Behind the beauty are carefully thought-out solutions by esteemed hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany, who also designed the Ovation’s sister ship Encore that was launched in 2016. Passion point #1 for clients: Seabourn’s partnership with one of the world’s most famous interior architects.

Seabourn Ovation
Left to right: Adam Tihany, Richard Meadows, and Chris Austin.

“With Adam Tihany’s design of Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation, we’ve taken big steps forward with both large things and small things,” says Seabourn president Richard Meadows. Here’s the skinny on what I learned during a “Seabourn Conversation” about design and on a ship’s tour with Tihany:

  • In a design departure from other Seabourn ships (and thinking of older clientele), Tihany rounded out the corners and softened the hard edges so that no one will get bruises from bumping into things.
  • One of Tihany’s go-to phrases is about “making it sexy.” This translates into tactile surfaces and high-end materials throughout the ship so that everything you touch, from mahogany staircase railings to bed linens, feels nice.
  • The biggest design challenge was low ceiling heights. However, passengers don’t feel oppressed by low ceilings because Tihany used a variety of techniques with ceiling trim and other “design tricks” to create the illusion of height.
  • As a veteran restaurant designer and long-time collaborator with chef Thomas Keller, Tihany knew to make the aisles in The Grill restaurant wide enough for the signature tableside service carts. But he also didn’t want wide aisles to deter a convivial social atmosphere. His solution: comfy swivel dining chairs.
  • Marble bathrooms in every category of guest suite rival any land-based hotel for luxury. The weight of the marble is also a stabilizing element on the ship, says Tihany.
  • A spatial design change starting on the Encore was to open up the Seabourn Square information hub and cafe so that the central concierge area was no longer enclosed. Now it’s a friendly, light-filled space where the concierge staff interact with guests face to face.

    Seabourn Ovation
    Ovation Atrium Central Staircase. (Photo credit: Regina Baraban)
  • Fun design facts: There are 12,032 handmade Venetian glass bowls in the largest chandelier in The Restaurant, 14 different fabrics on the sofa pillows in the Observation Lounge, and 1,600 pieces of art by 120 artists throughout the Ovation, strategically curated by ArtLink.
  • The biggest design wow on the ship is the atrium stairway. Tihany thought through every element, from the polished mahogany handrails and blue carpeting that convey a luxe yacht feel, to the dramatic curved stairs that give star power to everyone on them.
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