Traditionally, skilled craftspeople inherited their knowledge and talents from parental figures. Tricks of the trade were handed down like precious heirlooms and rarely shared with those outside the fold. In 2017, extensive family trees are still rife among the infrastructures and histories of successful businesses — particularly in the design and architecture industries — but people like yacht designer and company leader Dickie Bannenberg are sharing the wealth by taking family-taught skills and using them to build businesses that breed their own new generations of specialists and cater to a contemporary market.

Dickie, along with creative director and partner Simon Rowell, heads the luxury yacht-focused Bannenberg & Rowell studio in Fulham. Bannenberg & Rowell is the direct descendent of Jon Bannenberg Ltd, the studio founded by his late father Jon Bannenberg RDI in the 1960s. Joining a diverse pool of industry experts, Dickie will share the secrets to his professional survival during session seven of our conference on 8 June.

The yacht, jet and super-luxe residential interiors market is booming, so why does it still feel disconnected from the rest of the design industry? We caught up with Dickie ahead of his conference talk to discuss family legacy, Brexit and the importance of lifting the lid on what he describes as the “closed shop” yacht design world.

Dickie, we’re thrilled to have you sharing your story at our conference, can you give us a quick overview of what we can expect to hear, without spilling all the juicy details of course!

Juicy details! Not sure if it’s unique to yacht design but, anyway, I’m going to try and chart the story of the design studio set up by my Dad – Jon Bannenberg – in the early 1960s, and how it’s evolved today. How we try to follow the ethos set out by my Dad where you’re still dealing with big, booming characters for clients but, no surprise here, within a more tightly regulated and consultant-populated environment.

You’ve been working in the interior design industry for a quarter of a century, and your family has been in it for even longer. What does interior design mean to you? Your connection must be somewhat emotional as well as practical?

You’re right. Having grown up with and worked alongside my father, design has just been in the air I breathe. Interior design encompasses the spectrum from rigorous space planning to the shade of anemone we’ll put on the client’s side table.

Bannenberg & Rowell is recognised for its creative interior and exterior yacht design, residential projects and the odd aeroplane. How does designing a yacht or plane differ to designing a house in terms of business, finance and regulations?

As you’d expect, there are a pile of yacht-specific regulations – broadly governed by Classification Society and Flag (the country of the yacht’s registration). They are broadly of types you would expect – fire zoning, escape strategy, etc. But some are particularly specific – areas such as minimum square metre floorplans for crew cabins. You just have to work with them. Aircraft are tougher still. With such big numbers involved, there can be contractual arm-wrestling to match and it’s really important to get scopes of responsibility and deliverables clear and buttoned down. We don’t work to a RIBA-like scale of fees but clearly there is a correlation between the physical size of the project, and the amount of work involved, and fees.

You run a south west London-based studio but work internationally. Did the EU referendum result, and will the impending Brexit, have any impact on your business and how you work?

Personally I found the Brexit referendum result depressing – even more so when the first visitors to our studio the next morning was a Dutch shipyard with whom we have collaborated on several projects. It’s still too early to tell what impact it will have on our business but the UK looks likely to remain as a hub of yacht design activity and, to clients working in Euros and Dollars, our sterling-based fees have become more appealing!

Your conference session is all about secrets of survival, what advice would you give your younger self when you were newer to business and design?

Be accessible at all times; reply instantly; deliver when you say you will.

You studied geography at Cambridge, how did you end up in design? Has your degree influenced your career?

That’s been a slightly winding road! After university I spent five years as a staffer at Condé Nast – on the editorial team at House & Garden. I joined my father’s studio in the late 1980s and started working alongside him as a project manager. I can’t make the case for any influence my geography degree had other than being quicker than the others in the studio to know where the places are where our contracting parties reside. And slightly slower to know what makes it rain….

What advice would you give to students trying to get their career in interior design started?

Certainly the yacht design world can feel a bit of a closed shop. Forcing open the door takes perseverance and the odd lucky break. Getting experience in other fields is great. Being versatile in terms of skills is important. The ability to sketch confidently is a big plus. Stand out from the crowd and write personal e mails and letters : I’m never grabbed by ones which start “ Dear Sir / Madam….”

What do you hope people will take away from your conference session?

I hope it gives an insight into the yacht design business and gets rid of a few gold tap preconceptions…

Charles Leon is about to become BIID president. What one thing would you like to see him tackle during his presidency?

Leading an organisation like that is a tough job and respect to Charles for doing it. The world is increasingly design-savvy so it’s important to have an industry body working in support of its members.

Learn more about Dickie’s session and book tickets for the BIID Inside Knowledge conference here.

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