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Q: How do you find the difference between your previous work in hotels and cruise ships…other than that they float!

A: Hotels tend to take their design direction from the surrounding location. When you’re lodging in a traditional land-based hotel the view is essentially the same every day, but on a ship, your location and view change constantly so your ship needs to be a refuge.

A place you can relax and reflect on what you’ve seen and explored that day as well as where you can prepare for the next day’s discoveries.

When there’s a new ship to design, as an interior design team, we love to lean into our research; we imagine all the places that ship is going to travel and the various environments it will be immersed into.

For example, I had never been to Antarctica so, as we worked to bring Mr. Hagen’s vision to life in designing the expedition ships, I needed to seek inspiration from those who had travelled to that part of the globe.

I had many conversations with Liv Arnesen – godmother of the Viking Octantis and the first woman to ski solo to the South Pole – because of her deep understanding of that destination.

The stories Liv shared with me inspired many small details on the ship and helped to create an incredibly immersive experience.

Richard Riveire, designer of Viking’s award-winning river, ocean and expedition vessels and founding principal of internationally acclaimed interior design firm Rottet Studio.

Q: How would you describe the Viking style, often referred to by the company as “understated elegance”?

A: The Viking brand is based on an overall feeling of residential modernism and all ships have that character. Viking does not do “entertainment architecture” or design that could take away or distract from the true experience of the destination.

We also lean heavily into Viking’s Norwegian heritage with spaces that are influenced by Scandinavian style and history.

The interior design of many other brands of cruise ships on the market uses bold attacks of colour and light, a lot of heavy mouldings, excessive drapery and giant chandeliers.

The Viking design is very much the opposite – it is minimalist and uses a natural palette.

Nordic Spa, Ocean Ship

Q: What are the design principles you use when fitting out a ship?

A: At Viking, each new vessel in a class is virtually identical to the one before and the thinking behind that philosophy is the power of a strong, consistent visual brand identity and familiarity when returning for future voyages.

Even ships in different classes such as the expedition ships versus the Egypt ships are strikingly “of a family” while at the same time reflecting their own unique destinations.

The design philosophy centres around an appreciation of nature, which is deeply ingrained in Scandinavian culture. The ships feature natural materials, woven textiles, softwood panelling, a blue-toned neutral palette and natural light.

For example, in the Wintergarden (Ocean Ship, pictured above) on the ocean ships, blonde wood “trees” stretch their branches up to the glass ceiling, forming a lattice canopy over a serene space and the Living Room features a geometric garden which was inspired by the wild lichen of Norway’s Finse Mountain Plateau.

Also, the Nordic Spas on the ocean and expedition ships are based on the holistic wellness philosophy of Scandinavia, from the Nordic ritual of the sauna, hydrotherapy pool and Snow Grotto, to materials inspired by Scandinavian nature like Swedish limestone and black slate, juniper and teak wood details, recycled and etched opaque glass and cast iron.

Explorer Suite, River Ship

Q: How does the interior design enhance the guest experience?

A: Viking is destination-focused in so many ways. Planning is, of course, part of that; we put service areas, circulation and more lightly trafficked spaces inboard, and windows are set aside for guest viewing almost exclusively.

A great example is The Aula on Viking’s expedition ships; most of the ocean ships’ theatres and interiors are very light-controlled spaces creating theatrical-like experiences.

We deliberately did not do that on the expedition ships and instead the room has a 270-degree view – almost all windows with seats facing the view. It is a spectacular experience where you feel engaged with the very landscape that a lecturer is discussing.

I believe every space needs to display something interesting and enriching. Although the ships share a common design vocabulary, I always like to find ways to surprise and delight guests with details unique to each vessel.

We want things to be discoverable on day four as well as day seven of their voyage and even beyond that, with guests finding things they haven’t seen or noticed before.

For example, on the Viking Mississippi, the staircase shows large-scale maps documenting how the river’s flow has changed over the years, so you can imagine your relative position in the water over time as you climb the stairs.

On Viking’s ocean ships, guests will find Norwegian trolls peeking out at the back of the lift and the Viking god Odin’s pair of black ravens – Huginn and Muninn – watching over the Wintergarden.

Lastly, something that sets apart each of the ocean vessels and the expedition vessels are the original onboard art collections; each art collection is entirely unique but the artwork across all the vessels is an ode to the brand’s Nordic heritage.

Q: How much input does Chairman and CEO Torstein Hagen have on the interior design of his ships?

A: Since Viking ships travel all over the world, we opted to create five fundamental design pillars based on the vision of its Norwegian Chairman and CEO. Norse heritage, residential modernism, a love and respect for nature, a sense of craft, and exploration.

Mr. Hagen’s vision has always been for the ships to be built with the Viking’s spirit of exploration in mind and for the design of the ships to allow guests to spend more time immersed in their destination, so this is always a key focus for us.

Q: Is there a particular part of a Viking ship that you are especially proud of?

A: Parents are not supposed to have favourite children, we love them all equally! Having said that, in general, I always enjoy the Explorers Lounge on every ship; it is my place to relax.

I also have a favourite experience – on the expedition ships we put the swimming pool in the spa right at the edge of the ship. I love hanging on the edge, shoulder-deep in the warm water and looking at glaciers and snow-covered mountains. Quite an experience.

The Atrium, Ocean Ship

Q: Are there any particular design challenges involved when working on a river ship as opposed to an ocean vessel?

A: I would say in general that when working with ships as opposed to hotels, there is always this sense of working in a large, moving machine.

We want to create spaces that are supportive and inspiring to our guests, that feel residential, and most guests don’t live on ships! So, you find that we provide this balance between a sense of warmth and the energy that you get from being on a ship.

Getting that balance right is critical, we want all the excitement of the movement of the ship and that is different than being land-based, but we also want guests to feel accommodated.

You could say that the river ships are a bit more challenging to design simply because they are smaller because they have to fit under bridges and through locks. Getting the balance right with a little less room to work with requires some creativity.

Q: Is there something coming up or recently launched that you’re excited about?

A: Viking provides so much to be excited about. I have to say that the recent launch of the Egypt ships has been so rewarding.

Those vessels are beautiful little jewels of an experience. Very much in the Viking style, but also so attuned to the Egyptian environment along the Nile River and sense of history.

The Restaurant, Ocean Ship

Q: What is it about working for Viking that you enjoy so much?

A: Not only is Torstein Hagen a great friend and mentor but Viking has this wonderful ability to seek out the best people: all with a sense of hospitality and creativity, not just the New Build teams, but the crew are the best in the world.

It is not often that an architect has the privilege of working on a brand with such a global scope.

Instead of just a single hotel, this is a wonderful opportunity to think on a much higher level about experiences around the world and create a new universe to welcome guests into. And, of course, I have to say that the people at Viking are exceptional.