Christina Gherardi Benardini: Architect, Artist, and Diligent Innovator
When an artist transitions from one form of media to another, there is an expectation of a learning curve. Architect and designer Christina Gherardi Benardini would have none of that.
Recently widening her focus from land-based projects to superyachts, the consummate professional won high acclaim for her first superyacht design project on the Christensen yacht, Odessa, quickly following with the perfection that envelops her second project, Feadship’s Savannah. Christina met with The Best of Yachting for a 360° Luxury Lifestyle interview on board Savannah, tethered to the Superyacht Life docks at the 2016 Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show. Taking time from a very busy schedule of clients and yacht industry professionals to talk about her work, we talked and toured the yacht with the benefit of her insight.
Self-described as one that engages Italian design with French lifestyle and American functionality, Christina creates design masterpieces that balance all three. The primary focus, she notes, centers on function. Her designs must be comfortable first and foremost, for all is negated if the chair is not deliciously comfortable, or the table does not adequately accommodate the feast. Immediately following function, form receives intense scrutiny, benefiting from her gift of Italian style. Demanding a chic, streamlined hand with Christina’s unique finishing touches, her work delivers the ultimate composite with which to enjoy the French art of living. Exhibiting a combination of factors embracing exquisite palettes, textures, curves, and livability, Christina’s design on superyacht projects celebrates life at sea as perfectly as her work on terra firma.
The 49.77m/160 ft. superyacht Odessa first called Christina’s talents to the sea through her position with Armani Casa. She earned that post through previous successes designing the Virgin Meagstore and Kenzo stores in France, and through her work as LVMH Director of Architecture developing luxury retail stores for Christian Dior Couture, all notably land-based projects. Immersed in the language of exceptional design for truly elegant clients, and talented beyond imagination with regard to breaking barriers and exceeding limits, the match putting her on task with Odessa proved successful. Odessa captured the coveted Neptune Award for Interior Design in 2010. When one achieves such initial success, temptation to rest on laurels might prove attractive for owner as well as designer, but in this case, both seemed to look toward what would come next.
Odessa’s owner, quite pleased with Christina’s work, returned to her as he began conceiving his next yacht, the 84 m/274 ft. Savannah. Addressing the request with enthusiasm, Christina approached the assignment by forming the highly talented, closely-knit CG Design group. As a first order of design business, she questioned what might be missing from the previous yacht, asking “Why build 83 meters?” The answer was forthcoming as we walked onto Savannah’s terraced stair leading from the beach club to the 6 m/20 ft. pool on the main deck. It was only a hint of the magnificence to come.
Intent on creating a yacht that echoed the fluidity of the sea, synchronous with waves and continuous circulation, Savannah exhibits incredible flow from space to space and deck to deck. Christina’s exuberance filled the space as she pointed to meticulously placed seams, lines, and curves, noting reflective materials enjoining glossy finishes in a most sophisticated trompe l’oeil play. The effect presents an even more spacious yacht than such size might allow. It is design magic on a grand scale, with the hushed slide of curved mirrors to open doorways that might already appear open, and the lengthening of windows to appear almost limitless, and delightful features like the lower deck Nemo Room looking out into the pool on one side and the sea on the other. In a most sophisticated, high tech fashion, the yacht, simply put, surpasses every expectation.
“We wanted a different feeling from residential,” Christina explained, alluding to the roundness of the yacht being inspired by the sea. After the general arrangement was set, challenges came asking for innovative ways to conceal the engine room and ducting, which often interrupts the center of a yacht. The solution on Savannah is exciting, turning the huge volume of extraction into an harmonious curve of glass on each side of the main salon, achieving continuity as well as beauty in the dance of form with function.
Christina considers every moment as one offering an opportunity to implement and upgrade with hands-on philosophy, noting that handing things off to someone else relinquishes control, unacceptable when all is designed with intent. Every day also presents challenges in technology, begging to be asked why something must be designed in a certain way. All becomes clear upon touring the yacht.
“Everyone understands that Savannah is all about the harmony in the project and the line of the profile,” Christina explains. “When you come in from the pool and open those large doors, discovering the main salon … I’ve seen the faces of people as they say, ‘wow.’ ” She is not exaggerating. She adds that projects like Savannah are made possible only because they did not give up. Christina and her synergistic team experienced many struggles through which intellectual freedom rewarded their efforts with stunning results.
“We were very surprised at the awards show, not expecting the industry to recognize the difference (in Savannah), but she is very new and very pretty,” Christina said of the four Neptunes and International Superyacht Society awards for Best Power Yacht and Interior Design earned by Savannah. When asked what comes next, Christina was quick to respond with a long list, including a hotel, a residential project with an underground pool, and, of course, a dedicated approach that searches excellence in all respects. A design material that Christina might be looking for that has not yet been made available to her but that she would like to use on a future project is silvered glass with a double curve. It would not be at all surprising if she finds it. What will undoubtedly deliver surprise, however, is how she will use it.