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Spring 2006

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news



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Article by
Franca Urbani


Ambrogio Busnelli, the pioneer of Italian design, invites us onboard his PAB, the ultra-modern and "maximalist" yacht designed by Ivana Porfiri.

Going onboard the PAB in Rapallo (Italy) Ambrogio Busnelli with his wife, B&B Italia public relations officer Fiorella Villa, Captain Salvatore Schiano and the other crewmembers give me a warm welcome. Immediately the atmosphere is warm-hearted because I was asked by Abramo Mion (Kairòs) to give Ambrogio his best wishes, which I promptly do, together with my gift, the Catalogue of the International Film Festival of Venice. Ambrogio Busnelli will be 80 years old next April and he is still a very handsome man with a happy, curious look and a frequent broad, resolute smile on his face. I also give him three issues of Superyacht. Sitting at the table of the main deck aft in the yellow B&B Italia armchairs we all keep silent while he curiously leafs through the newspaper. When he sees the Admiral's advertising page he stops and points with his finger to the boat appearing on it, looks at me with his light blue eyes and tells me, "You see these four small slots on the ceiling of the forward cabin? They are not standard; I asked the yard to make them for my boat. From this detail one understands that the boat used for the advertisement is PAB". There are many small but important details. I find myself thinking about how Ambrogio Busnelli, in his eighties, can appear inexplicably young, definitely much younger than some men in their twenties, thirties or forties and even inexplicably happy, of a happiness that is generally found only in children and which creates around him a sort of aura. I have the feeling that the people surrounding him, including me, are respectfully waiting to hear what he will say next. They are slightly fearful of speaking first because, unconsciously, they know that they will be judged by their first word and even though this will occur in a purely instinctive way, without malice and arrogance, it will certainly occur. "Less words and more facts!" Ambrogio exclaims indicating PAB interiors, "I did not want the interior to show the structural parts of the boat," he adds and introduces me to the ample saloon where he shows the rounded section of the ceilings, typical of this yacht. Busnelli, kindly starts showing us every detail of his yacht. PAB is a custom-made Admiral, the result of Busnelli's personality, the "genius of Italian design" and of the excellent work of architect Ivana Porfiri. "Yes, she is very good, I've never seen a woman with such a strong personality!" says Busnelli stigmatizing her. The extremely modern ample saloon undoubtedly reminds of Dionea interiors. At a glance they look alike and one immediately recognizes the work of the architect. Nevertheless, here the atmosphere has a magical flair and the difference is made by the numerous ingenious details that express the Owner's dreams and wishes. Later, Ivana Porfiri, in her Milan-based office, told me an interesting thing, "PAB is not minimalist (as one would superficially tend to label whatever in design appears extremely simplified) but rather 'maximalist'*". Indeed, the yacht's interior decor offers so many interconnected design details revealed to the watchful eye of those who live in it and can appreciate its intimate richness made of light, colors, details, fantasy: all elements that are linked together as the words of a nice tale. As a matter of fact, we may talk of PAB as an exemplar in today's vast yacht design panorama. The floor, just to make an example, is in precious rosewood arrived onboard PAB from afar. Almost forty years ago, Ambrogio Busnelli led a mission to India of Italian industrialists who should have invested in that country. On that occasion, as he told us, the Italian guests were invited to visit the rosewood forests. The agreement with that government fell through but he succeeded in buying some trunks of the precious wood and brought them to Italy, where they were accurately preserved all these years. When Architect Porfiri saw them, she readily understood that they were to be used for the boat that was taking shape. The interesting thing is how the wood was used. Anti-slipping stripes of rosewood, extremely pleasant to the touch even when walking barefoot, were laid in the corridors dotted by the several "blue eyes" of the recessed spotlights. Smooth rosewood floor was laid in the sitting areas of the saloon and of the dining room. Lastly, skillfully "irregular" rosewood was used in the bulkhead lining of the entrance which includes the bar cabinet to port and the personalized dishware and wine bottle cabinet to starboard. The interior structure of the two cabinets is in white lacquered wood with Perspex finishing creating the effect of a "colored mirror". Ambrogio Busnelli takes a very simple silver glass with his hand and murmurs, "Tobias Scarpa!" The wooden cabinets are connected at the top by a rounded panel, concealing a TV screen when not in use. In the bar cabinet the side mirrors infinitely multiply images and Busnelli, reflected in such mirrors, says, "Look at how many bottles I have: an infinite number!" This is his game. Instantly I think that the history of Italian design is a fantastic and very intelligent game that made us worldwide famous and, undoubtedly, Ambrogio Busnelli is one of those who translated this nice game into tangible reality. The bar cabinet includes an icebox and a refrigerator for drinks and it is rendered more valuable by the dot-like lights made with colored LED's. On the floor, under the TV set, the skin of a marvelous zebra unexpectedly stands out. I look at Busnelli bewildered and worried by a growing animal-rights concern and he nods, with a sad look in his eyes, "Yes, as a young man I was a hunter, one of my many passions. I hunted all over the world, but now that I am a "grown-up" I filled with animals a large piece of land I own near here, with the same species of animals I once hunted and whose trophies I brought home and, I assure you, I care for them amiably." Two small B&B Italia Citterio tables stand on the zebra skin in front of the Citterio "George" sofas, upholstered with a fine sand-colored mixed linen cloth. Fiorella Villa, PR officer of B&B Italia explains how the quality structure of the sofas is obtained from an automated procedure with cold polyurethane foam invented by Ambrogio Busnelli in 1969 after "discovery" of the precious material in Bayer. Since then upholstered sofas production continues daily for the world market with marvelous simplicity. The procedure is based on the use of cold polyurethane foam with a steel structure submerged in the mold. Behind the saloon, there is the dining area, which features a low rosewood cabinet designed by Architect Porfiri, set against the backrest of the acid-green upholstered sofa. The sliding doors have Perspex panels with synthetic threads mesh. The dining table is gorgeous. It was custom-made by the architect and features a glass top resting on steel cylinders splendidly designed. The particular of the steel hinges is noteworthy. There are Citterio "Solo" chairs. From what we have seen so far, it is clear that on PAB, if one hand represents design and the other one B&B Italia contract furnishings, both hands firmly entwine creating excellent interiors. The catalyst of the alchemy is Ambrogio Busnelli, the "boss" as he is called here. In the bulkhead behind the dining table there are two of the few decorating objects existing onboard and they are some sort of Busnelli's signature: two beautiful Narwhal tusks which he bought from an Eskimo during one of his trips. The narwhal is a sea creature, of the same family of the dolphins, but much bigger, with a long straight spirally twisted tusk used by the animal to stir the sand to find shells to eat. Hanging on the wall there are also five black and white pictures of Photographer Mosconi - who later became a collaborator of the "Dove" magazine - which represent five aspects of the forty-year- old Busnelli: playboy, hunter in the North Pole and in Africa, rider, seaman. I look at him and ask, "Seaman?" and he answers, "Sailing is another one of my passions. I'm a true enthusiast. I made the tour of the world on a sailing boat." Besides these two personal finishing touches there is nothing; no decoration exists onboard for each particular is perfectly integrated. Lighting is part of the interior decor and is fundamentally important on PAB. There are three types of lighting. Atmospheric lighting entering through the windows on the two sides, artificial lighting resulting from a sophisticated system of LED's suitably positioned in adequate grooves - in the vertical corners of the bulkheads and in the horizontal corners of the ceiling - and optical fibers hidden in the ceiling behind tiny holes, finally traditional lighting of production lamps resting on the furniture. The sophisticated automatic light adjustment system as regards intensity and color by means of a touch-screen is technologically interesting. This same touch-screen is also used to adjust many other functions onboard and was installed for the first time on PAB. Just as two suitably positioned mirrors indefinitely multiply the same space increasing and embellishing its actual features, in the same way light is used to multiply space. The ample saloon and cabins - and bathrooms - appear more so thanks to the possibility offered by technology of giving different colors to inner spaces. PAB interiors feature light shafts that can have 250 different hues starting from one basic color. This designing with light is a good example of the "maximalist"* richness of interior design: each color corresponds not only to a different space but also to a different emotion. On PAB the refined use of mirrors aims at expanding and multiplying space. We already talked about the infinite bar cabinet. In the saloon the mirror is used to infinitely extend the side corridors featuring the striped flooring and blue eyes of the recessed spotlights. In the VIP and Twin cabins and respective bathrooms, long shafts of LED light emphasize the curved section of the ceilings and also of some corners. In the bathrooms the light reflecting on the mirrors intersecting with the above-mentioned luminous effect is extraordinary. In the saloon the optical fibers are discretely fitted in the suspended ceiling above the table and the sofas and they look like a handful of small stars. Silver plating diffuses light on the forward bulkhead facing the entrance and on the bulkheads of the master stateroom hanging lockers. The simple windows feature a small wooden bulkhead with horizontal shelf, at a height of eighty centimeters (approximately 2ft8in), with thin slots to let out the forced heating air. Curtains, made with a thin fabric of synthetic fireproof threads, are electronically controlled from the touch screen. Ambrogio Busnelli shows us the master stateroom where, he explains, he wanted the upholstered headboard in capitonè style for the bed and opposite the upholstered small sofa. Architect Porfiri met this request with a beautiful Venetian red silk velvet panel rising from the floor and disappearing into the suspended ceiling. The small sofa is a simple rectangular pouffe with velvet upholstering. Over the sand silk bedspread there is a cashmere blanket of the same color. The bed is made of a steel structure and features a rounded plywood strip upholstered with leather. Embedded in the bed structure there is a music loudspeaker. The yacht's bed linen is in silk and blankets are in cashmere. The only decoration of the master stateroom is a small antique crucifix. I look at it and ask Mr. Busnelli, "Are you a believer?" "Yes, a strong believer; my wife as well." While we are talking small rays of light come down from the ceiling and light up Mr. Busnelli's face; then, with a finger he point to the soffit of the four hatches on the ceiling we saw on the newspaper. They are four simple rectangles connected with two curves at each end and featuring glass on their outer side and a synthetic threads mesh on the inner side. "It's a way to let the first morning light come in, and I wait for it," says Mr. Busnelli. Above the small sofa there is the TV set and on the sides two silver-plated wooden hanging lockers. The sliding door of the bathroom is in opaque glass and inside, the shower stall is lined with mirrors. All accessories are by Tecma. Especially nice are the faucets directly applied to the mirror. Along the hallway connecting the master stateroom there are three stairways. One to port connecting with the galley - we do not enter here for the cook is preparing lunch, one to starboard climbing to the wheelhouse and the central one descending to the lower deck where there are the VIP cabin and two twin cabins with Pullman beds. In the VIP cabin there is a large hanging locker with sliding doors and on the bed there is sand linen and a silk bedspread. The design of the three cabin doorknobs is extremely refined, with central axis like that of a safe, made by a skilled Cantù artisan. The stairwell is worth a special description for it is really high for a yacht. The steel handrail is finished with a strip of rolled up leather. It is late and someone is calling us from the flying bridge for lunch is ready. The extendible wooden table, designed by Ivana Porfiri, is set with apple-green linen place mats, personalized porcelain dishware with golden border and PAB golden letters, crystal glasses and beautiful dated design pieces such as the water jar of Tobias Scarpa. We are sitting on Zanotta armchairs, above us there is an electronically controlled sun-screening top, concealed when not in use. We leave the table satisfied and actually I am tempted to lie down on one of the four B&B Italia terry sunpads but we have to set to work. The yacht is fabulous. Tomorrow we will go to the Novedrate factory built by Renzo Piano to see how B&B Italia products existing onboard are born and to see B&B Italia production system, research center, show-room and the big new establishment where in a very private atmosphere contract furniture takes shape.

For information: B&B Italia; Strada Provinciale 32; 22060 Novedrate (CO); tel. +39 031 795111; fax +39 031 791592; web site:; e-mail:

(*) The word "maximalist" refers to a new style in interior design as opposed to the predominant minimalist style. Starting from minimalism, it improves on it, not by rejecting its formal aspects, but by developing the design potentialities, details or some of its themes in order to involve the sensory, emotional and intellectual faculties of those who will live in such interiors. (Note by Franca Urbani)