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Norwegian yacht designer Espen Oeino is aptly named. The root, “oinos”, “oino”, “oen” or “oine”, means one, single, unique. Even if he claims to be influenced by the father of mega-yacht design, the great Jon Bannenberg, Oeino and his incredible designs are a class apart.
Espen Oeino was born in 1962 in Hellerud near Oslo with the sea already flowing in his veins. On his father’s side, his ancestors had been building wooden river boats for five generations, and his maternal grandfather had built the first diesel boat engine in Norway. Along with this genetically inherited passion, as a young boy he also showed a keen interest in drawing, much to the annoyance of his parents, who packed him off to Scotland to study naval architecture. “For my parents, designing yachts was not a serious career, so I took the course to make them happy. I don’t regret it. Those studies helped me design some very distinctive, custom-made hulls”.
Learning the ropes
In fact, the idea that naval architecture schools format designers is the farthest thing from Espen Oeino’s mind. “You learn to ask the right questions and to put things into perspective. Things have to be realistic. Some projects are completely hare-brained. Boats are not houses. They have to be seaworthy”. Which doesn’t mean that Oeino is against self-taught designers. “It’s the individual that makes the difference. It’s not enough to be a good technician. It takes mental input to be the best”. With his degree tucked under his arm, the young architect headed even further south, all the way to Antibes where he learned to ropes with the respected Martin Francis. With him, he discovered fundamental design principles and the importance of lunching every day at the office, to relax and talk shop.
Rise to fame
Nowadays, his busy travel schedule leaves little time to have lunch with his team, but a good atmosphere at the office is still a priority. The team is an odd mix of designers, architects, mechanical engineers, an ex-skipper and a former cruise liner officer. His huge, new open space office in Monaco is full of people speaking French, English, Italian, American, South African, Brazilian and Norwegian. So how did he recruit his fourteen team members, and how did he choose his right hand man, Pierre Perben, affectionately known as Harry Potter “because of his glasses”? “Candidates must be non-smokers,” he answers, then more seriously, “I need to know if the person will fit in with the rest of the team, because when the going gets tough, synergy is key”.
Tough, like cancelled orders for example, or overdue payments, or spending an entire year without a single new project like in 2009. Nevertheless, the design office survived the worst of the crisis and last Christmas, a new order arrived, and not just any order: Espen and his team are currently working on a 140-metre yacht. As usual, Oeino drafted the plans by hand then the rest of the team took over. “I always start by designing how the space will be organised. What you journalists call the “lines” only appear at the end. I start with the decks and the longitudinal cross-section. We rarely work deliberately on a specific style, which is why I don’t believe there is an Espen Oeino style”. That being said, every project bearing his signature is one of a kind, and this is a reputation that Oeino is careful to conserve. His rise to fame began with the breathtaking Skat, his pride and joy. “I designed her over ten years ago and she still looks as modern as ever. Nobody is indifferent to this yacht. You either love her or hate her. That’s why the design was so controversial, a bit like Enigma ex Eco. I like Silver a lot too, because she’s different”.
Words of wisdom
Espen Oeino never makes a casual remark. Like his yachts, everything is carefully thought through, which is why he refuses to launch into interior design: “I have no feeling for it”. And sailing yachts? “Not my thing”. Submarines? “That’s a serious thing that requires a qualified crew. It’s not a toy to be pushed to the limits”. On the other hand, Espen Oeino is learning to fly helicopters and experimenting with other products, like a chronograph watch for Swiss brand Scalfaro. “In times of crisis, you have to diversify. I’m in the process of thinking about other products, like cuff-links and furniture”. The designer is just as reasonable when it comes to buying his own yacht. “I’d like to own an expedition yacht. I don’t like to think in terms of length. It’s the design that counts, but I think that yachts over 60 metres have difficulty getting into port”. And if he had to change careers, Oeino would opt to become a mountain guide.
The bay windows of Espen Oeino’s spacious and meticulously tidy office look out over the superyachts in Monaco’s Port Hercule, some of which he designed himself. Contemplating them, perhaps he thinks back to the industrial docklands of the family’s home on Stord Island, or to his other passion, downhill skiing? Espen Oeino excels at remaining simple. His warm handshake, welcoming, natural demeanour and fjord-blue eyes are all as authentic as his innate talent that has put him on top of the world.
– KL –