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Thu 15 Oct 2009 04:00 AM

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Plane sailing

Ceri Rocca, a leading designer of aircraft interiors, talks to CID about working in a niche segment of the industry.

Plane sailing
Ceri Rocca, Style House.
Plane sailing
Rocca has created interiors for some of the world’s most luxurious private jets.
Plane sailing
Rocca has created interiors for some of the world’s most luxurious private jets.
Plane sailing
A sketch of a luxurious private aircraft interior.

Ceri Rocca, a leading designer of aircraft interiors, talks to CID about working in what is still a niche segment of the industry.

As one of the UK's foremost designers and stylists of aircraft interiors, Ceri Rocca is well versed in the language of luxury. She recalls one of her most lavish designs, for the Middle Eastern owner of a private Boeing 747, who requested an extensive bathroom come vanity area, complete with gold basins.

More recently, Rocca has been working on concepts for a client who wants to be transported on and off his plane via a private elevator.

Founder of the UK-based design consultancy, Style House, Rocca has spent the last six years focusing on transport interiors, after teaming up with specialist transport sector design consultancy, Design Q. In this time, she has worked on both private and commercial carriers, and was involved in a redesign of the Cathay Pacific fleet.

Rocca has also designed for a range of other commercial segments, from Middle Eastern palaces and quintessential English country homes to hotels, offices and retail outlets. Her retail portfolio includes brands such as Reebok and Nestle, and her career path even brought her to Dubai in the early 1990s. Commercial Interior Design sat down with Rocca to find out more.

What drew you to design as a career?

It was actually interested in interior design from a very young age. I was still at school when one of my teachers suggested that I went into interior design. He arranged for me to do some work experience with a friend of his that was an interior designer and it really just went from there.

How did you become involved with aircraft interiors?

That was more recently. I had moved back from Dubai and opened my business here, and I met someone who was involved in refurbishing private aircraft. He knew about my Middle East work and asked me about that and whether I would be interested in designing new aircraft because they were trying to expand their business so that they weren't just doing refurbishments, but were doing new builds as well.

What kind of aircraft projects have you worked on?

It's mostly private aircraft, ranging from 747s to small Globals. We have also worked with Cathay Pacific on their new image and fleet. That was about two years ago, I would say. That was the first commercial airline that we were involved with.

How are aircraft interiors evolving?

There's a big move to try and reduce the weight because obviously there are cost implications with regards to fuel. The lighter that you can make an aircraft, the better, basically. So, there's a big move with that to use lighter fabrics on all of the seats and to try and design seats with lighter materials, which has huge implications on the fuel costs.

There have also been moves - Virgin has done it - to include public spaces within long-haul aircraft. It's a funny one because it's great from a social point of view, if you are on a long-haul flight and there is this space where you can have a bit of a wander and a bit of interaction.

But obviously that does take up space that would otherwise be ‘bums on seats'. It is cost again - it's quite expensive to have a public area within the aircraft and to lose all of that seating. It's an interesting debate.

Do you get called in to design the entire configuration of the aircraft or is it mainly furnishings and fittings?

It can go both ways. Sometimes we might be asked to do a concept, or we'll be asked to create a different layout. You get opportunities to do both.

Other times, you'll get a client who says: ‘We want x amount of seats and they have to have a 31-inch pitch and so on'. It really just depends.

When it comes to private aircraft, are there any noticeable trends?

It is very individual, I would say. It tends to be down to what the individual actually wants. There aren't any particular trends that anyone is following. What is the most lavish private aircraft that you have worked on?

There'll all pretty lavish, to be honest. We did a contract mock up once for an Arabic client for a private 747 and it had a huge toilet come vanity area, which was pretty lavish, especially if you consider that this is normally quite a basic area. In this case, it had leather cupboards and gold basins.

Is the Middle East an important source of business for you when it comes to private aircraft interiors?

It's quietened down over the last year, I'd say but yes, we have done quite a lot of work within the Middle East - Dubai and Abu Dhabi, particularly. There are still quite a few Eastern European clients doing stuff. I'd say they are the ones keeping us busy right now.

What is the most recent project that you've worked on?

The most recent one was a private aircraft for a Bulgarian client, which again was interesting because he wanted it to be extremely contemporary. It was all light greys, mostly leather on the seats and very sleek lacquer work on the hard furnishings; very clean lines.

It was nice because we were able to supply everything, down to cutlery and china. It went right across the board, which is great, because you might do an interiors project but then they'll accessorise it themselves and you'll be thinking: "Oh no, that's not working'.

What will the commercial aircraft interior of the future look like?

I think it will go towards being more plain and simple. I think this ‘light-weight' thing will really have an impact, so we'll probably see more carbon fibre being used and that type of thing.

And will public spaces become a more regular feature?

I'd like to see it - certainly on long-haul flights. It would be fantastic. There is a lot of cost-consciousness around at the moment, obviously, but if they can get over that, it makes it much more of a special experience.

You've designed homes, retail spaces, hotels, products and aircraft interiors. What do you enjoy the most?

I think having a full hotel to do is fantastic. You get so many different spaces within it so you're going to get a couple of restaurants to do, the reception, retail spaces, you'll have your private areas, and your bedrooms and suites. If you get a nice big hotel project, there's a little bit of everything within it.

Do you find aircraft interiors are limited in terms of how creative you can be?

Its certainly far more limited than working on other types of commercial projects because there are quite stringent regulations involved. It's not so bad if its a private aircraft - you can get away with a lot more than if it's a commercial aircraft. But it is limited, to a degree.

Having said that, we have been working on some concepts for a Middle Eastern client who really doesn't want us to hold back. He wants things like lifts picking him up from the ground and taking him up into the body of the aircraft. Anything is possible if you are working for the right client.

You were in Dubai in the early 1990s. Tell us about that experience.

It was a fantastic place to work in those days. It was a designer's dream, to be honest, because the budgets were huge and it was quite experimental; clients were quite happy for you to do something a bit wild and lavish. It was great from a design point of view.

What are your greatest sources of inspiration?

It depends on the project. I like to sit with the client and find out about their interests and what they like. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

I do like using a lot of natural products and inspiration from nature but it can come from anywhere.

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