Interview realized by the editorial team of 220dots

Q: Hello Erik Van Rompay, how long have you been in design?

A: A little bit more than 30 years now but I see design as a part of a full creation process, starting with specifications through financing, designing, engineering, production and delivery… to keep it simple.

Q: Did your experiences at Disney influence you?

A: Perhaps that after all those years I still stayed a Disney Imagineer, pushing the limits of our lifestyle experiences to new heights by combining design, colour, lightning, smelling, sound, touching into a consistent product. While many pray “sky is the limit”, at Disney, the sky was where we always started and though the years, that didn’t change for me.

Q: So where do you make your difference?

A: At every phase, the devil is in the details and through time, I became an all-rounder knowing how to put field experts and craftsmen around the table to make things happen. I consider the specifications as the most overlooked phase. A well-defined solution corresponds perfectly to the lifestyle of my client and also saves money in the build and year after year in maintenance costs.

The best money a future owner will ever spend on a new-build project or a refit is to have well-developed specifications so I like to take this in hand personally. I hate sending checklists so my service proposition is to spend a long weekend with the family so I understand more how they all live together and the things that are important for them.

So by being part of the family during a short time, I see how they use/occupy the space during time allowing me to duplicate their “land-living” into “yacht-living”. Even when they have a kitchen chef, you can find sometimes the family members in the kitchen so it is important to understand it all. When they all love art, it allows to identify how to integrate it into their future superyacht.

It creates a list of specifications and as I saw it, I know precisely what is expected for every space. How to structure the living area (and for how many people), the equipment they need in their gym-room, if the TV-area has to be a real movie theatre with stadium seating, if the TV entertainment system has to be used in all rooms, the expected dimensions and forms for the different showers and the bathtubs in the different bathrooms. And for every space, the smallest requirements. For example, if my client loves to phone in his/her bathtub, I note to deliver a hand-free solution eliminating electrocution risks. Of course, not to forget in the bathroom, the integration of the beauty case and make-up space.

This can also include specific wishes like integrating a basketball or squash court. Looking to recent articles in the press, the size of the deck space seems to be the number one consideration for new yacht design (with sometimes expandable decks). So I see how to translate my clients desires into this new trend. They ask and we have to realize the magic (if technically feasible)!

I don’t stop with physical elements as I also know how the qualities of the kitchen chef and his preparations, the size of their storage, the number of bottles in the wine cellar, how and where the nanny should work. I also know to the preferred music and movies of each family member.

By becoming close, you detect elements you never find in checklists like family members detesting low-ceilings.

I have to admit that in the end, I use a little checklist to know how their future yacht is going to be used. Is it also going to charter, what destinations so I can define the required range, the type of submariners, the size of the upper-deck pool, the kind of helicopter, the superyacht toys to include, etc.

With this, easy to advise my client in his future acquisition from explorer boats to superyachts, between a new-build to find or the refitting of an existing superyacht.

Q: Families just let you in?

A: Yes. It is a question of trust and creating an open dialogue. Discussing lifestyle without influencing my clients is always a tricky item so I have to stay as neutral as possible. For example, I never weir a watch as having a Rolex, Breitling, Richard Mille could create other attitudes. They are also surprised to find a clause in my service contract that stipulates that at my arrival, they have to lock my mobile phone inside their safe so they know nothing can be recorded. Of course, I take some paper-notes and as I never mention their name, I assure full confidentiality. Someone stealing my notes can never make the link to any family. They know it is the most efficient way to get a superior superyacht product.

And I don’t forget the crew and all the needed storage. The space needed to store all manner of drinks, snacks and cleaning products for weeks and weeks at a time is often overlooked. Not to mention the spectrum of crew clothing which needs to be stored on board to replace tired crew uniform and cater to new crew at a moment’s notice. Every member of the crew need to have a fine living place and decent storage space for their own goods but also for all the things that need to be served.

Q: So design is secondary?

A: No, all phases are critical, it is just that design has to come after the lifestyle specifications. After finishing my specs, I show several design styles to them and discuss with them what they like and what they don’t like. I refuse to display the names of the designers as I really need them to pick the design atmosphere corresponding most to their lifestyle. It is only at that stage I put them in contact with designers to go to the next step. I can do this thanks to my growing list of superyacht designers counting actually some 25 names.

Many designers make the mistake showing during the first meeting their imaginations to family offices or UHNWI integrating Italian marble, exotic woods, crystal chandeliers, diamond inlays, 12-16k resolution TV screens… and that is wrong as my clients wants to own a yacht corresponding to their lifestyle, not a superior designed yacht that has hits the magazines.

Q: A preference for a Refit or a new-build?

A: I like both as they have different approaches. While a new-build allows to conceive a shell around my specification set, in a refit, we have to push my list of specifications inside an existing hull requiring sometimes some important works. If the family already has an existing yacht, it allows to understand a little faster their lifestyle, but it also limits their imagination so up to me to break the glass ceiling and sometimes limit imagination. For example installing during a refit a fireplace in the living space is not always as easy as it seems.

Also important to note is that designing a superyacht that delivers a dream-lifestyle is one thing, finding a shipyard and skilled craftsmen that can make that design work is another.

Q: You work with everyone?

A: Yes. I get my first family office/UHNWI contacts through the private members’ club 220DOTS. As many shipyards are less specialized in delivering high-quality interior products, they come to me through other family offices or even social networks. I don’t pretend being a designer so I work with the designer that can make things happen for my client.

Also on supplier side, it is not only a question of having access to high quality materials, I also have regular access to multi-million artworks. So integrating this from the early start is key.

Q: Does your experience in private jets or luxury houses influence your superyacht projects?

A: To be honest, it works in all senses. All arts influence the others like craftsmen influence other skilled workers/creators. From my side, this allows me to think outside the box and propose exceptional things to my network of families. For example, I already proposed this year a personalized luxury car with transparent doors incrusting gold inlays…. Adapting to new lifestyle experiences is a continuous learning circle.