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Iona in focus: talking cabins with Richmond International


Richmond International is the expert design team behind Iona’s accommodation. Here, Director Terry McGillicuddy talks about the process of designing and building the cabins, the challenges and the rewards, and what guests can expect when they step inside…

Terry McGillicuddy

Terry McGillicuddy, Director of Richmond International

1: You’ve worked with P&O Cruises before. In what way does Iona’s design brief differ?

The Richmond team were the interior architects for all the public areas and guest cabins on Britannia, and we were invited to work with P&O Cruises again to design some of the public areas, as well as the accommodation for Iona. Britannia’s interior design concept was based around the brief of a ‘5-star hotel at sea’, whereas Iona’s direction is ‘British contemporary luxury’. We’re focussing on a seaside feel and embracing the concept of the ‘sea as the star’.


2: How important is it to get the cabins right? 

Guests spend a lot of their time in their cabins – sleeping, dressing and relaxing – so it’s particularly important to ensure the rooms have good storage solutions, great lighting and control, quality furniture and materials and an excellent level of personal comfort.


3: Can you tell us the basics of how you set about designing a cabin?

Cabins and suites on large cruise ships are normally complex spaces that require careful planning to maximise circulation and storage. In addition, the design needs to respect the structural coordination and accommodate all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing services of both the individual cabin units and the overall ship construction. We work to clearly defined briefs that outline the full service requirements and guest expectations.

The comfort and flow of the circulation in the cabins are extremely important factors to ensure guests feel relaxed and have a non-stressful experience. Internal planning is key to the success of a great accommodation design. The choice of furniture – light and fresh materials and colours, plus soft detailing of all the elements – is important to achieve a more spacious and relaxed ambience.


4: Where are Iona’s cabins being built? Can you tell us a bit about that process?

The cabins for Iona are being built in Germany in a factory close to the shipyard. They’re manufactured as complete individual enclosures with all floors, ceilings, partitions, windows, air conditioning, lighting, electrical and plumbing services, bathrooms, decoration and furniture fitted. The individual cabin construction and finishing process is carried out on a large, slow-moving conveyor belt system that passes through each technical construction and fit-out zone. The result is that completed cabins ‘roll off’ at the end. This is an amazing process to experience – it’s similar to a car manufacturing plant, but the major work is carried out by a skilled, hands-on workforce rather than robotic automation. These fully completed units are then transported to the shipyard and inserted one by one into the hull carcass. They are then finally connected up to the ship’s main services and structure.


5: What is the design mood for Iona’s cabins?

We’re experts in the field of hotel design trends and have also studied future trends in yachting and airline accommodation to define our direction. The mood is contemporary and stylish, yet with a sense of fun and being at ease – we want the space to create a relaxed holiday feeling. At heart, there’s a classic nautical mood with clean lines, a core colour palette in white, sands and natural hues complemented by accessories and soft furnishings in navy blues and gold. The interior aesthetic celebrates the sea and light with decorative touches such as the contemporary porthole mirror collection on a feature light-blue wall behind the beds. 


6: The Conservatory Mini Suite cabins are new to P&O Cruises. Can you tell us more about them?

The new Conservatory Mini Suite cabins create an exciting addition to Iona’s accommodation options. We’ve created a personal, versatile outdoor/indoor room that can be an extension of the room – a space to either relax or entertain in. This space can be closed off in the morning for guests to enjoy a quiet early morning ‘coffee moment’ while everyone else is still asleep. The Conservatory Mini Suite area can then open fully and directly onto the balcony to provide the connection with the sea. It creates a cool, shaded area to chill out in by day. In the evenings, it can transform into a space for private celebrations or a social zone for pre-dinner drinks with friends and family.


7: What will make Iona’s suites distinctive?

Suites on P&O Cruises ships are always special. They provide guests with separate lounge and bedroom areas with segregated dressing areas and en suite bathrooms. They have additional space to enhance the luxury experience, and the special design features and finishes provide an extraordinary quality of detail. Iona’s Suite design direction takes its cues from creating the feeling of a being in a luxurious haven – contemporary, comfortable and elegant rooms with interconnecting doors that can be fully opened to create a larger studio ambience. The light colour palette is soothing and sophisticated: sands, beiges, whites and neutrals are complemented by light and dark wood finishes and soft furnishings and accessories in rich mustards and gold. The impressive bathrooms offer double sinks set in unit of stunning dark marble – a striking contrast to the wider use of elegant white marble and tiling within the space. All Suites also have direct access to large balconies, personal dressing zones and in-cabin dining facilities. Of course, Suites also come with a range of exclusive services to complete the luxurious holiday experience, including a personal butler. 


8: When looking at fittings, fixtures and décor, what are the key considerations?

Functionality, aesthetics, comfort, quality, style, tactility and simplicity are all considerations that need to be addressed within the design and selection of items for the cabins and suites. These all need to reflect the overall design ethic of the brief and attain the comfort and demands for the guest experience. At the same time, we need to respect the strict maintenance and cleaning regimes to retain the high standard our guests expect. We work closely with the shipyard and their sub-contractors to select, specify and design every single element and ensure that the required quality is accomplished. Every detail is inspected and approved prior to final sign-off and installation.The finishing touches, such as artwork, are also important. The selection of art to hang in the space should enhance the interior and create another dimension to the accommodation story.


9: What’s the most challenging aspect of the build?

The most challenging aspect of the cabin design is achieving the client’s vision and the guest expectations in both the design and budget. The final design must create surprise and excitement for the guest but also address their day-to-day functional requirements and comfort.


10: And what’s the most rewarding aspect of the cabin phase of design and build?

As hotel and hospitality designers, Richmond have created many bedroom and suite interiors. However, I’m always amazed that every design induces a different emotion on completion of a mock-up. The mock-up phase is extremely important to the project process. For each cabin a prototype is built with all the fixtures, fittings and decorative elements in place. It’s the first time the creativity, design development and services all come together in a final full-scale working model that reflects the concept and reinforces our vision. All the cabin design elements can be physically touched, tested, inspected and approved. The Iona cabin mock-ups achieved a positive response and won the approval of the client team in May this year with the wonderful ambience and sense of comfort that we’d created. Obviously, some small adjustments are then necessary before the final sign-off, but this mock-up phase is incredibly exciting. It’s the first celebration landmark for the project team and a key pointer to the successful vision that has been created.


Find out more about Iona, coming 2020 >