Three creative people. Three nationalities. Three distinctive backgrounds. They combine to lead one integrated design studio: Harrison Eidsgaard, a respected, London-based firm that works with an international clientele to design yachts that the world’s top yards build.
The principals, Peder and Ewa Eidsgaard and Ben Harrison, still have a youthful, start-up verve that produces a nouveau edge. Each has a different story about arriving at this point in their careers and becoming such a complementary, cohesive unit.
“I come from a long line of architects,” says Ben, who is British. “Both my grandfathers were architects, as was my father, my uncle and my cousin. I seemed fated to train as an architect.”
Boating was also in his blood. Ben spent the summers of his youth on the River Dart in Devon. “I was pushed out in a sailboat when I was about 5 years old,” he says, adding that he’s been hooked ever since. As a young man, he crewed on channel and transatlantic crossings, where one of his sailing mentors, a former Royal Marine, navigated with a sextant. “He taught me that GPS should only be used to confirm sun sights,” Ben says.
On summer holidays while he was studying architecture, Ben spent time in Antibes, France, and Monaco looking for boat jobs, eventually earning his Yachtmaster certificate. One year, he was first mate on the 124-foot (38-meter) schooner Yanika, owned by brothers Tommaso and Francesco Buti of the Fashion Café.
“We hosted guests such as Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, even Donald Trump,” Harrison says. “It was a fun summer, and I got an eyeful about the wonderful world of yachting.”
Eventually, with the help of a family friend, Ben combined his two passions: architecture and yachts. The yachting photographer Kos introduced him to yacht designer Evan K. Marshall. In 1998, Ben walked into Marshall’s studio, which was on the floor below Kos’s photography studio, and told Marshall he’d work for free just to be able to learn about yacht design.
Ben says that in those days, a lot of young designers in the neighborhood would meet at a pub after work. One night, he met Peder Eidsgaard, who at the time was working for Andrew Winch at his design studio. Ben and Peder sat in a corner, talking nonstop for hours about design. “Peder and I have the same design ethos, and we were excited by each other’s ideas,” Ben says.
The two became colleagues at Winch Design. Like so many other successful designers today, they like to say they were spawned from the Jon Bannenberg tree, which had deep roots and many branches, including Winch and, by association with Winch, Marshall.
Peder, a Norwegian, grew up in Oslo with a summer house on the country’s south coast. He, too, was boating from an early age.
“I liked to drive them and draw them,” Peder says. He recalls reading an article about London yacht designers when he was 12. The notion that there was such a profession stuck with him. In 1991, he began studies in transportation design at the ArtCenter College of Design, a California-based school that had a campus in Switzerland at that time.
Before graduation, in 1995, he had landed the job with Winch Design; while in London, he met Ewa, who is now his wife and business partner.
“The first time I saw Peder was at a tropical-themed party on his rooftop terrace that had a Jacuzzi and was decorated with palm trees,” Ewa says. “Peder was wearing a wig, a Hawaiian shirt, bell bottoms and lots of gold chains. He looked like he was a band member in ABBA.”
Ewa, born in Poland, had no background in architecture or boats. Growing up under communism, she never thought about yachting on the coast of France.
“There was never just one thing I liked. I had 120 different interests,” she says. Her father encouraged her to study medicine, but she decided to study international business in France. She ended up working as a banker for eight years at Goldman Sachs in London, leaving with the title of vice president before co-founding Harrison Eidsgaard with Peder and Ben.
Formed in 2005, Harrison Eidsgaard now has a team of 12 staff on the banks of the river Thames in the old offices of architect Richard Rogers, adjacent to the popular River Café. The studio has strong skills with drawing by hand and using 3D technology.
“We are a family,” Ewa says. “We have one open space, and we are constantly sharing information and ideas. We are careful who we hire, and we never wish to fire.”
The plan is for the firm to stay around the current size—what Ewa calls “human scale.” Peder and Ben work together on all aspects of the design process, while Ewa leans toward interior design and decoration. She puts together the storyboards for each project.
“Ewa is the brave one with an amazing eye for design,” Ben says. “Without her, I am afraid, Peder and I would be all beige and neutral.”
When a client comes to the studio, all three principals are on hand. Eventually, it becomes apparent who has the most chemistry with the client, and that person assumes the lead. Ben tends to get involved in project management, but there is no absolute.
Their first significant design was Saudade, a 148-foot (45-meter) Wally sailing yacht launched in 2008. They designed both the exterior styling and the interior. Their watershed motoryacht was the 255-foot (78-meter) Feadship Tango, launched in 2011. Again, they were responsible for the exterior and interior. With the 235-foot (72-meter) Feadship Vanish, launched this year, they were given nearly free rein with a repeat client. The firm had achieved the trust of both Feadship and the owners based on their success with the first Vanish, which launched in 2016 at a length overall of 217 feet (66 meters).
“Having control of both exterior and interior, you can bring together sight lines and achieve a cohesive series of experiences as you walk through a yacht,” Ben says.
With the 244-foot (74.5-meter) Abeking & Rasmussen Elandess, the owner was accepting of unusual ideas such as a central staircase capped by an oval glass skylight that doubles as the bottom of the sundeck swimming pool. There was also the novelty of the “Neptune lounge” on the lower deck with its tiered seating to view what lies beneath the yacht’s waterline.
Among several new commissions are the 259-foot (79-meter) Turquoise Project Toro, scheduled for launch in 2023, and the 186-foot (57-meter) Project Akira for Heesen Yachts.
The trio at Harrison Eidsgaard say they have no signature style. They do seem to lean toward contemporary and modern, but they have also done classic-style projects, albeit with perhaps a contemporary or innovative twist. “No client has a bad idea,” Ben says with a smile.
“Building a custom yacht is a personal journey,” Ewa says. “We of course listen to them, but sometimes we pull them out of their comfort zone, but not too far out. We do believe we have a responsibility to put our all into any project. And if that means asking tough questions, we do it.”
For more information: he.design
This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.