Royal treatment: Creating a new look for the Queen Mary 2

The Queen Mary 2 docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York. Photo / AP
The Queen Mary 2 docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York. Photo / AP

What a daunting assignment for an interior designer: Redecorate the Queen Mary 2.

The ship relaunched earlier this summer after $181 million in renovations. Alison Clixby, director of hotel design and projects for Cunard and P&O Cruises, had to make the ship look fresh and contemporary while maintaining the look of luxury.

She also had to keep in mind the ship's heritage. The QM2 is part of a line of Cunard ships named for British royals. Every ship in the fleet has been christened by members of the royal family, and 20th century VIP passengers included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

A pianist plays in the Grand Lobby aboard the Queen Mary 2. Photo / AP
A pianist plays in the Grand Lobby aboard the Queen Mary 2. Photo / AP

Here's a Q-and-A with Clixby:

AP: The QM2 launched in 2004 but your research included visiting the original Queen Mary, which launched 80 years ago and is now docked in Long Beach, California.

CLIXBY: We wanted to bring out that heritage and history and refer back to those old ships. But the question was, 'What was it about those ships that we could use now moving the Cunard brand forward?' Cunard also wanted to promote luxury " five- and six-star and white-glove service.

When I visited the Queen Mary in Long Beach, we looked for reference points like material elements that we could layer into the QM2. We needed to bring those elements through in some ways " for example, using decorative patterns from the original ship in a more contemporary way " but we didn't want to do a direct copy.

We were also looking at things that would work when it's a very gray, winter trans-Atlantic crossing, or when she's on a world cruise in sunnier climes. We needed that real balance between traditional and classic, but referring back to the art deco heritage of the older ships.

AP: The QM2 has a lighter, airier feel than some ocean liners. How did you do that?

CLIXBY: We had the opportunity to re-carpet the entire ship including the cabins. Our principle was to have a holistic approach. Quite often on cruise ships, when they go through a refurbishment, they might change one thing but not adjacent spaces. We had the ability to do the whole thing, getting continuity and blends of color to change the whole color balance. There were a lot of old-fashioned colors on the ship - beige, brown, peach combinations - which were slightly on the 1980s side of color schemes. And now what you see in a lot of hotels is going more toward the warm grays, the taupes. We used those new colors and quite a mix of tones.

The Queens Grill Balmoral Suite bedroom, on the upper level of the ship. Photo / AP
The Queens Grill Balmoral Suite bedroom, on the upper level of the ship. Photo / AP

We were also always looking to practicality when it comes to cleaning. Modern carpet technology is fantastic. You can blend more of the colors successfully so that something that appears to be quite light actually has a lot of depth of color to cover a multitude of sins. If you pull out the color tufts from every area, they would be identical - red, blue, gold. That made the difference. That shock of color made it feel fresher, but the underlying continuity is the warm grays.

AP: What's the difference between decorating public spaces like dining venues versus the private spaces?

CLIXBY: When we're doing the staterooms and it's personal, private space, you notice more of what you touch and feel and sit on. We did a lot in terms of new furniture details - handles, stitching, the quality of fabrics.

In the public spaces, our primary focus was the first impression: the wow factor and representing the Cunard brand. We worked with the ship's existing structures but changed the features - chandeliers and dramatic artworks - and changed the color balance.

In the staterooms, we've got the blue with the gold Cunard crest for the bed, throw cushions, bed runners, bright throws and a blue Brittania color for the cabins. The other elements were more neutral to lighten things up.

AP: How did you balance the fussiness of vintage decor with contemporary style?

CLIXBY: Our natural tendency is, contemporary wins. But you want to create something that's timeless. You keep the pared-back aesthetic but add those older elements in. The furniture can be more decorative, for example. But we don't want to be completely design-led because that will be out of fashion very quickly.

Inside the Queens Grill Restaurant. Photo / AP
Inside the Queens Grill Restaurant. Photo / AP

In the lounge, decorative metal screens divide the space and make it more intimate. That's a direct reference back to metalwork from the 1930s. And we've got different fabrics on the seats, and then a button. The nail detail might be in a more contemporary gun metal, but that sort of element references traditional upholstery detailing.

AP: Any tips for home decor?

CLIXBY: A key element is lighting - whether that's being able to turn off the main light because it's making the room too bright, or adding some accent lights or concentrating on the color temperature of those lights so they're not too cold.

Also you would ideally declutter. On a ship, it's done for you - someone is tidying up and putting your things away constantly! But it takes a lot of discipline, and it's difficult when you've got families and children. But there is that idea where you think, if you could just spend the weekend decluttering and buying a couple of throw pillows, it would add some fresh texture or color.

- AP

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