By Elizabeth Kerr

We all know what a fresh coat of paint can do for a room. The same holds true for the interiors of boats except instead of paint, you can introduce a new swatch of fabric that can do amazing things to a dining area, the salon and even a sleeping cabin.

Not everyone can buy a new boat, but a relatively small investment and some taste can provide a fresh new look and feel…and it's not that hard to do.

Most boats built before the 1990s offered dark-coloured wood interiors such as teak or mahogany and small windows and port holes all making inside the boats dark and gloomy. Deck hatches were used in limited ways.

Over the last decade, special new adhesives (developed for automotive use) have enabled boat builders to incorporate larger areas of glass bonded directly to the fibreglass structure. Big windows are even being used in hull sides, bringing in amounts of daylight that no one could have posibly imagined before the 1990s.

Not ready to buy that new boat yet? So why not hire a boat interior designer to help you lighten up your boat's interior and give it a fresh contemporary look through the right selection and use of fabrics.

Shelly Foord, a decorator who operates Anchors Away Custom Boat Bedding has had years of experience helping boat owners do just this. We spent some time with Shelley chatting about some of her most recent "upgrades".

Shelley told us that budgets range from as low as $1,000 to more than $10,000 depending on how much fabric is needed, the number of cushions, the type of materials used as well as various aspects of detail and execution. Other decorators redoing boat interiors may charge more, or less, but that kind of price tag seems pretty reasonable if it updates a sound, but stinky older boat.

There is no way around it; boats live in the water and that brings in plenty of dampness. Remember, most boats remain in relatively cold water during the boating season, however in the morning when the sun hits the cabin roof, it can get quite warm inside and condensation may result. Most fabrics don’t like moisture and the fabric can breakdown, the upholstery foam can be damaged, mildew can begin growing and things can get rather musty.

Cabin areas get little ventilation so it’s not easy to get cooking odours out, especially grease from frying. Even engine exhaust and the presence of fuel and oil onboard can sometimes permeate upholstery, carpets and headliners.

We asked Shelley Ford or her customers were looking for.

“The main thing people want is just to generally update the look of their boat, or to transform a dark interior into one that’s lighter and brighter.” Shelley told us. “In fact, sometimes they want the boat to be nicer than their house!”

A boat is a special place. It’s where you have great times with family and friends, where you have your special vacation and where you go to relax and enjoy yourself. As Shelley explained, some people are willing to live with anything at home, but they want 500-thread count sheets on their boat!

Contemporary boat decor seems to focus around brighter and more neutral colours like varying shades of taupe, white and beige. Textures are appealing, patterns are less popular; main upholstered areas often employ a single colour or fabric giving a more unified, spacious appearance. For a splash of colour, Shelley recommends using accent cushions in different materials to connect the various colours onboard, giving more visual interest and coordination.

The addition of privacy curtains can quickly and easily modify how the floor plan works onboard too.

In many cases – although quite surprising to me – many foam cushions, even on older boats, are still in good condition, so the original foam can be retained, saving both money and time. (A useful trick is to apply steam to puff the foam up before recovering.)

Fabrics come in all shapes, sizes, price points and, of course, degrees of water-resistance. This means that you can set your budget for any upgrade project. Of course, you can use premium quality marine material like Sunbrella upholstery materials in the interior areas, but you can also source home-type materials that function well. For areas where food or beverages are served, Shelley recommends that those materials are ‘Scotchguarded’.

Customers often ask about beds. Some of the higher-end new boats come with innerspring type mattress like the ones you have at home but, commonly, boats don’t adhere to standard bed sizes and finding someone who will make you a spring mattress to a custom size is a challenge.

Instead, Shelley has added different densities of foam to achieve the firmness or support required (underneath) to prevent sleepers from “bottoming out” on the wood the mattress is lying on as well as applying a softer top layer for greater comfort. New sheets and you have a great looking bed.

Like any project, you have to set your budget and align that with what you'd like done. Getting quotes is a great way to start. No matter the investment you are prepared to make, it could be a great upgrade to tackle this winter!

By Elizabeth A. Kerr

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