Redefining cruise ship design, Irish style

Irish Ferries' new cruise ship, the WB Yeats, has been given a calming colour scheme and lots of luxury touches by interiors consultant Helen Kilmartin of Minima

When interiors consultant Helen Kilmartin of Minima was asked to design Irish Ferries’ new luxurious cruise ferry, the WB Yeats, the only condition was that she steered clear of certain shades of green as these seemed to make people green around the gills and bring on a sense of seasickness in passengers, its managing director Andrew Sheen, a marine engineer, explained to her.

Kilmartin has a working relationship with Irish Ferries that dates back more than 20 years to when she had her first shop on St Stephen’s Green and the firm had its offices nearby. She had already been commissioned to design and fit-out the company’s foyer and boardroom at its offices on Alexandra Road on North Dock.

For the first custom-built craft she made site visits to the fleet’s sister cruise ships – the Jonathan Swift, Ulysses and Oscar Wilde.

She then travelled to Stockholm to view other recently built vessels by architect OSK Shiptek and from there on to the shipyard in Gdansk where the then unnamed ship was under construction.


“My brief was to work in conjunction with the ship’s designer Camilla Horn to select furniture and finishes,” Kilmartin recalls.

The ship had to be very modern, she says.

“There was to be none of the bright blue or red of its other vessels. The looks was less Scandi and more continental so little blonde wood legs, instead we went for dark colours or black.”

She feels that nothing dates a place faster than its carpets, so underfoot she opted for Ege carpets, all wool designs that pass all marine regulations and stipulations, in the largely free-flowing upper decks, where restaurants and bars dissolve into a children’s play area called the Sally Gardens where there are plastic tub chairs by Vondom and an optical illusion lightbox mirror that appears to draw in the observer to infinity and beyond.

In the cinema space, there’s a design by Tom Dixon that resemble tram tracks while in the bedrooms the woven floor covering looks to be inspired by one of Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy works.

The Lady Gregory bar has a textured metal ceiling that resembles waves and its pale oak veneered counter has been stepped as if it were clinker-built with strips of light set in parallel lines drawing attention to the detail.

The lighting throughout is thoughtfully nuanced, recessed rather pendant hanging and possibly swinging in all direction in high seas.

Kilmartin also worked on about 20 suites on the upper decks. These feature deeply-sprung mattresses tucked into wingback recesses. Foxford rugs have been strewn across each bed.

Wave curtains block out the view and are hidden behind built in pelmets that dissolve into the walls. These luxury cabins include a covered deck area where you can watch the horizon line recede into the wake of the ferry.

The first passengers slept aboard the ferry last two nights ago. You can book a passage by visiting the Irish Ferries website.