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Spadolini: the culture behind projects

A family of architects, a deep knowledge of the sea and boats combined with a personal and creative flair.  These are the secret ingredients for success according to Tommaso Spadolini and his design studio. 

The scenery of the surrounding Florentine hills enchants, repaying us for the trip. And the warm, sunlit and yet breezy, day offers the ideal backdrop. We climb a bit higher up into the hills, the warm colors and the intense scent of Mediterranean vegetation increasingly overwhelming us with an unexpected sense of wellbeing. And yet the city of Florence is right there below us, just 5 a minute or so drive away. And, finally, we have reached our destination. Immersed in the greenery, surrounded by peace and silence, extends the Spadolini family estate. In an outbuilding that has been renovated with all comforts and technology, and which enjoys a breathtaking view, we find the offices of the Spadolini Design Studio. An unusual location for a design studio, one would say, but perhaps this is why it is so original. And equally original — characterized by an unmistakable personal style — are the many projects signed by the architect Tommaso Spadolini and his collaborators, including his nephew Bernardo Papetti. A truly impressive number of boats, particularly motorboats, designed for such internationally famous shipyards as Alalunga, Apreamare, Baglietto, Canados, Cantieri Navali Rossi, Castagnola, Drettmann, just to name a few. Authentic gems of the sea take shape here in the Florentine hills, far away from the sea. Let’s discover how.

Mr. Spadolini, how was your passion for the sea formed?
I could give you a precise year: 1959. That was the year my father purchased a 9-meter Sorrentino boat and, though I was the youngest of his 5 children, I was the first to hop on board. Thus my love for the sea was born very early and it has never left me, particularly when we speak of sailboats. In fact, I recently purchased a Baltic which, despite its age, is giving me great satisfaction. Actually, going out to sea, particularly under the sail, can teach you many things. First of all, respect for the sea, and then contact with nature, the different relationship one has with time which, on the boat, inevitably assumes a completely different dimension.

When did you discover your vocation as nautical designer?
My family life always spoke the language of design. Starting in the 1960s, my father, Pier Luigi, an archiect, was the author of many boat designs, including the renowned Akhir series for Cantieri of Pisa, emblematic of a new way of conceiving shape and function for pleasure craft. In those years, I remember, on Saturdays and Sundays I followed my father to the shipyards and I so admired him as he drew, strictly by hand and using the old instruments of yesteryear. I guess that was when something snapped in me. Later I got a degree in architecture, but I have almost always designed only boats, the sole exception being some sporadic projects for residential construction, generally for customers who already knew me as a yacht designer.

What is your personal approach to a project?
Design is the foundation for everything. Personally, I always draw by hand. It is my personal conviction that this is the only way to impart the emotional context, the soul to an idea. I take particular satisfaction in using instruments such as the drafting machine, rulers, squares, glossy paper and soft white erasers. And despite the fact that my workstation is here, between the walls of the studio, I do a lot of drawing at home as well. Or when I am travelling, both for work and pleasure. I like jotting down the ideas as they come to mind, right then when I get them, no matter where I am at the moment. This is why I am convinced of one thing: If you have an idea you believe in, an idea you are willing to stand up and fight for, never set it aside. Develop it! Once you have set an idea, if it is a good one, you can be sure that sooner or later it will prove useful. You can always dip your pen into it. It is like a piggy-bank. This is why I keep paper files. I still have the designs from years and years ago; for me they are of an indescribable beauty, perhaps even drawn with charcoal. Unfortunately, the culture of drawing has, today, been nearly totally completely superseded.
As I was saying, the first step is the sketches and counter-sketches. Then I perfect the drawings, arrange them and later pass them on to my staff, first and foremost Bernardo, who processes them with various computer graphics programs. This step is indispensable today because presenting hand-drawn sketches to a customer or for a tender would be totally inconceivable. Personally I then build and handle the models of the boats. The models let the customers touch the boat, feel it; it is as though they can see themselves already onboard. Moreover, a fundamental aspect is that the model lets you truly see how the design masses unfold; it makes you aware of the masses, the spaces and lets you delve in depth into what should be placed where. I even make some models for fun, even if they do not pertain to any specific project.

Can you identify a stylistic feature that is unique to your studio? And if so, what elements is it based on?
Clean, essential, somber lines. Anyone coming to me knows they will find something classic. A classic that is nevertheless modern. Nothing excessively old-fashioned. What I mean is a harmonious, well-balanced ensemble, able to last in time, something you will never tire of. For me the design of a boat is: a few, clearly defined elements. Rarely do the boats we design have, for example, large windows on the hull as this would excessively sacrifice function to esthetics. That does not mean that I am not open to mediating with owners and purchasers to find the right compromise.
Over the years I have also specialized in interior decorating and creating furnishings, again in a classic-modern style with a keen eye to the seafaring spirit. In fact, again thanks to the my father’s teachings and the fact that he took me sailing when I was a child, I know full well what it means to move onboard a boat, even in bad weather. And thus I know what is needed and where it is needed: from the arrangement of a gangway, to the attention to sharp edges, the positioning of a sink or a refrigerator. The customs of the sea, this is one of the points that differentiate those who design boats from those who, before designing them, truly know boats because they have lived (or still live) them first hand. A particular note is then related to the materials. We are one of the few that can boast that, today, we still design motorboats made of wood. In fact, we recently witnessed the launch of two of our 32-meter planning motorboats in wood. Personally, I hold a sort of sacred respect for this noble material par excellence of the nautical sector. Naturally, keeping this tradition alive does not preclude the primary use of the most up-to-date, high-tech materials such as carbon, steel and composites. But the passion for wood is imprinted in the DNA of our studio.

Optimization and ergonomics of the spaces, both inside and out. What can you say about this?
The organization of the spaces depends on the type of boat and the type of use. In all cases, whether it be an open or a fly, in the customs of Mediterranean sailing, top priority goes to dedicating spaces for the owner’s privacy and comfort. Personally, I imagine intelligent, equipped sunbathing spaces for an open; the upper zone equipped with swimming pool, table, seats and sun awning, for a fly. And this differs, for example, from the design of American boats where, instead, the philosophy of living room or closed, air conditioned veranda reigns. In general, however, I believe that space must always be dedicated to communal life onboard. This can be achieved by melding the cockpit with the internal saloon to create continuity between the outdoor spaces and the interiors. A spatial continuity that did not exist in the past; moreover, using the same materials makes a fundamental contribution to this continuity. I am a convinced supporter, at least from a certain dimension up, of wide body boat designs, for example, adding space for the internal saloon by eliminating the lateral gangways on the outside and replacing them with stern ladders.

What comes to mind when you see boats designed by others?
I must say I have a surprisingly photographic memory. I immediately fix an image and the details. But I never pass judgment regarding the work of other designers, particularly if I do not know the conditions they were working in, the requests they may have had to satisfy. I never criticize. Rather I try to learn and familiarize myself with what is out there on the market.

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