Years ago, when Luiz DeBasto was studying architecture at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paolo, Brazil, a professor told him something that has stuck with him to this day.
“There are five ways to think about the structure of a building, but only one best way to resolve it,” DeBasto says.
Thinking about the best way to structure boats of all kinds—finding the best resolution of the client’s requirements—is a skill that has branded Miami-based DeBasto Designs as one of the most versatile studios in the yachting industry. In a little more than three decades, the studio has produced some 250 yachts ranging from smaller production boats to custom superyachts. DeBasto’s portfolio shows a vast range from the classically appointed interior of the 48-foot (14.6-meter) Blue, built by Burger Boat Company, to the ultramodern and groundbreaking exterior design of the 295-foot (90-meter) Oceanco DAR.
“Small boats can be more challenging to design than big boats,” DeBasto says. “You can draw the preliminary profile of a 100-meter yacht in a few lines. With a smaller boat, you have to take away lines to get to the essence. “In my experience, most boats would benefit from a ‘foot operation.’ … If you add one more foot, then we can make things work better.”
DeBasto has a wry sense of humor that crops up frequently in the course of a conversation. He may joke about small boats, but he also thinks some of his smaller designs are among his best work.
DeBasto and his wife, Cristina, work as a team. She serves as vice president and partner at DeBasto Designs. The two say that they share love, life, laughs and line drawings.
“I see the direction in which Luiz is going, and I adapt,” Cristina says. “I can visualize maybe 45 options at the same time. I provide color, the right textiles and finishes, and another point of view, while Luiz is the innovative big-picture thinker, with a laser-focused architectural approach.”
Cristina feels a sense of design is simply a part of her heritage. Her parents were designers, and her two sisters are fashion designers. Born and raised in Brazil, she met Luiz in São Paulo 35 years ago. Along with their two sons, the DeBastos immigrated to Florida in 1990. They live in Coral Gables, have a house and office in Tuscany, Italy, and travel widely for work and pleasure.
Luiz was born in Angola, where he lived until age 12. Civil war motivated his Portuguese parents to move to Brazil.
“Angola was a young boy’s dream,” he says, noting how his childhood influences inform his design decisions today. “Big sky country with wide-open outdoor spaces to run and play, and exotic tropical rain forests, sweeping savannahs and excursions to extraordinary landscapes in an open-air Jeep. I had the ideal childhood. I experienced the wild wonder of Africa in my backyard and the history and tradition of Europe in my living room.”
As a young man, Luiz would go to art museums and sketch what he saw. He would try to replicate a Velasquez or a Rubens painting, an exercise he says taught him to really see something when he was looking at it. Later in life, he continued his predilection for art with his own original drawings and cartoons.
Early in his career, he worked in residential and architectural design and taught at what is now the School of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo. One day, a student asked him to help her father with a 56-foot flybridge boat that he was building at a new yard called Intermarine. Luiz knew nothing about boats, but was intrigued by the the challenges inherent in boat design, so he became involved and has specialized in yachts ever since.
“Boats and yachts are a perfect combination of two of my life passions: cars and architecture,” he says. When asked about where he gets inspiration, he says that he takes a studied approach to his profession. “I do not sit around looking at the clouds to conjure some divine inspiration. I listen to what a client wants, then I add my five cents—what I like to call my surprise element. And I pay attention to the economics. I often make several hand sketches while we are having a conversation.”
He says he does not have a signature style because he believes dogma reduces creative possibilities.
“For me, a good design is really just the search for beauty, and beauty could simply be the right balance or opposing dark and light or a consistent, strong line,” he says. “A design should speak for itself. It should not need an explanation. I like to be innovative, but I do not try to be different for the sake of being different.”
The studio’s various projects provide plenty of fodder for innovative thinking. When designing the Oceanco DAR, many structural challenges came into play. The yacht utilized an unprecedented 4,198 square feet (390 square meters) of glass in the superstructure alone, not counting doors and hull windows. And the exterior glass was designed as one continuous surface that stretched from the main deck up the sundeck. The curved panels were nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide and nearly 10 feet (3 meters) tall. Doors and grilles were all engineered to be flush with the surface.
Luiz, together with Oceanco, did the calculations for strength and movement of the materials at sea. The sole-to-ceiling glass enabled amazing panoramic views from on board the yacht, with the sky, sea and landscape—even the weather—becoming an intrinsic part of DAR’s interior spaces.
As a complete contrast, the 103-foot, 6-inch (31.5-meter) Burger Northland, a custom steel yacht, was conceived as an exploration vessel to support the owner’s sportfishing hobby. Luiz penned the exterior and interior, including a salon with interior décor and outfitting led by Cristina.
More recently, DeBasto Designs tweaked the design on a 50-foot (15-meter) Burger aluminum cruiser. DeBasto is also working on a 98-foot (30-meter) motoryacht and the Project Angra 60 concept, both for Intermarine in Brazil. At Turquoise Yachts in Istanbul, DeBasto is putting finishing touches on the 174-foot (53-meter) Tala, scheduled for delivery in 2021, and developing the 203-foot (64-meter) explorer Nautilus with an innovative crane system. Details are still under wraps about what he describes as a sporty 230-footer (70-meter) for an Italian shipyard.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, his dream has been to design the exterior and interior of a yacht larger than 328 feet (100 meters), a vessel capable of being an island unto itself—something striking that is self-sufficient and able to go “out there” in safety and comfort.
“My favorite design is always the next one,” he says. “The new is always coming, and we never know from where.”
For more information: debastodesigns.com
This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue.