Design Unlimited: A Varied Portfolio & Secrets to Success

By Jenna Mehdi

When it comes to the world of yacht design, Design Unlimited has done it all. From high-performance racing yacht design to reinventing classics, dynamic husband and wife duo Mark and Julie Tucker seem driven by a relentless and utter refusal to be ‘boxed in’. Recently making headlines for their appointment on the interior design of the new Damen SeaXplorer 58, we thought it a good time to catch up with the directors of the Fareham studio. We discuss the secret to a varied portfolio, craziest client requests and advice for breaking into the challenging world of yacht design...

Fittingly enough, Mark and Julie Tucker’s relationship began on the water, when the two met at the GP14 racing circuit near Portsmouth in the south of England. This shared love of sailing is evidenced in every project the team commissions; although both deny any pretensions to having an ‘in-house signature style’, Mark tells us he still looks to get out on the water whenever he is in search of inspiration. 

Founding the company in 2000 after some time working for Camper & Nicholsons in Gosport, Mark was careful to start as he meant to go on - in collaboration. ‘When I set the business up, I made a conscious decision not to put my own name over the door. I wanted everyone in the team to feel an ownership for the boats the studio created. We all pull together, which has made us what we are today.’

This ownership and passion for what they do is the philosophy that underpins the Design Unlimited approach to work. That, and an overarching emphasis on flexibility. When it comes to maintaining equal levels of passion and versatility, Julie explains that client satisfaction is key. ‘You can create an amazing interior but if it doesn’t work for the client and they do not like it, then it is not a successful project.’

Throughout a long and illustrious career, this approach has on occasion been stretched to its limits. ‘On Pink Gin V we were asked to put a chandelier over the dining table, which we thought was quite a crazy idea on a sailing yacht.  We had to come up with a mechanism to make it gimbal!’ Mark and Julie tell us. The couple had considered this their craziest client request until the same Owner made a last-minute request on his next yacht, Pink Gin VI, to install a piano in the saloon. ‘That was something of a challenge, but again we succeeded with great results.’ 

Chandeliers aside, even the most popular of client requests can present their own challenges for designers. Yacht design is evolving, and Mark and Julie have been in prime position to watch it transform. ‘Trends have been emerging for designs where there is a more free-flowing indoor/outdoor living style – blurring the lines between the interior and exterior areas with the use of retractable doors, extending platforms and beach clubs.’ 

Moving away from the stuffier enclosed interiors of the 90s, glass is an increasingly popular material in yacht design. Larger windows and skylights flood yacht interiors with natural light, but also have the effect of increasing heat and demanding more air-conditioning onboard. The team’s ability to innovate is put to the test when balancing this feature with the increasing requirement for yachts to operate sustainably - a competing trend. 

Challenges like these are part of the job description at Design Unlimited, but Mark and Julie approach each with an openness that only true passion can inspire. When it comes to getting your foot in the door, we asked the team for some words of advice for aspiring young designers.

‘In the UK, superyacht design is quite a hard industry to crack for youngsters,’ says Julie. ‘Having a great portfolio is always the best place to start and also being aware of who you are asking for a job and what it is that they do.

Sometimes it is just a matter of luck – a well presented, dynamic portfolio landing on someone’s desk at just the right time – so don’t give up.  I would also recommend trying to get out to some of the big boat shows such as Monaco or Cannes and trying to make face to face contact with established design studios.’

At a time when many young creatives are worried for their future job prospects, this advice could not come as more relevant or timely.

For its part, the aptly named Design Unlimited studio is sure to be one to watch in the design sector in years to come. Proving what it takes to stay relevant after over twenty years in the game, it would appear that the journey of Mark, Julie and the rest of their talented team is only just beginning.

"You can create an amazing interior but if it doesn’t work for the client and they do not like it, then it is not a successful project."

Julie Tucker, Managing Director Design Unlimited

"You can create an amazing interior but if it doesn’t work for the client and they do not like it, then it is not a successful project."

Julie Tucker, Managing Director Design Unlimited
By Jenna Mehdi
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