Time was when furniture for the deck of a yacht meant a choice between heavy, polished teak and heavy, unpolished teak. And, if it was cushions you wanted - well, there was canvas. Or, for something a little more Austin Powers, faux leather. It was all about the f-word: function. So long as it could withstand the salt spray and relentless sun, it got the job.
But, just as the way we use our outdoor spaces at home has changed - from back yard-with-barbecue to stylish outdoor "room" - there has been a change in thinking about the outdoor space on yachts. Rather than just "sunbathing space", yacht decks are all about indoor-outdoor living now, too, with large shaded areas for dining and relaxing - spaces where people are spending more time than ever. As a result, yacht designers are creating deck spaces that are as stylish and comfortable as you would find on the most glamorous roof terrace or balcony on land. The US-based company Summit furniture showed up on the radar of leading yacht designers in the late 1980s, with its subtly updated take on traditional deck chairs and chaise longues. Beautifully made and just that little bit more contemporary than the standard offerings that were then on the market, it seemed to trigger a rethink of what could go on deck. And then came the revolution in outdoor-furniture design. In the past decade - as a response to the outdoor living trend at home - forward-thinking designers and manufacturers began creating ranges that are the design equal of any indoor furniture.
Take Gandia Blasco, for instance. The Valencia-based company arose from the frustration of José Gandia-Blasco at being unable to find - among the old wicker and teak that was still almost ubiquitous in the early 1990s - anything that matched the design of his dramatically contemporary new house on Ibiza. The company's signature style - all bold geometric lines and brushed aluminium finishes - would perfectly complement the sleek lines of a modern yacht. Indeed, yacht designers have been quick to catch on - partly driven by their clients' desire for the new, special and different and partly because larger yachts mean more deck area to play with (and more stability, thus reducing the need for hefty hard-to-shift wood). Dedon, the German company whose invention of a weather-resistant synthetic weave has revolutionised the look of outdoor armchairs and sofas, has been a big hit among yacht designers and owners. Its sculptural Hemisphere club chair looks wonderful on the upper deck of the Andrew Winch-designed Slipstream - its strong geometry playing against the yacht's lines and its cool and futuristic silvery-grey colour echoing the silver superstructure. Also on Slipstream - and appearing on the bridge deck of the Terence Disdale-designed Kogo - is a voluptuous synthetic-weave club chair by Kettal. Oversized, with rounded lines, it looks absolutely right. The possibilities are growing all the time, as new, high-performing (sun, salt and water proof) materials are developed and the stars of furniture design collaborate with the big names in outdoor furniture: Marcel Wanders and Patricia Urquiola with Kettal; Urquiola again with B&B Italia and Emù; Vincent Van Duysen with Tribù, to name a few. Wooden furniture has undergone a major rethink, too - witness, for example, the beautiful arcs of Galevi's larch-wood loungers, which would look stunning next to a plunge pool on deck or down at sea level on a bathing platform. And there's even born-again teak - in styles so cool and contemporary that they are redefining the deck chair. Rather than choosing from existing ranges, some designers are going a whole step further. For the 56-metre Perini Navi sailing yacht Salute, its Paris-based designer Rémi Tessier created a special collection that combines polished stainless steel and varnished teak: curved-back bar stools, drum-shaped low tables and sofas with a stylistic echo of the 1930s. And, for a futuristic, indoor-outdoor space designed and built in conjunction with the British bespoke furniture maker Silverlining last year, Eidsgaard Design created a curvy, pivoting sofa with attached side tables in - guess what - classical slatted teak. Just like the deck chairs of old. But so not.