Lufthansa Technik’s Skyretreat
Lufthansa Technik’s Skyretreat design for the upcoming Airbus ACJ220 narrowbody.

Cabin Furnishings: Make Yourself At Home

Innovative design concepts are making your home in the sky increasingly comfortable, versatile, and visually appealing.

It’s likely that you don’t think much about whatever you’re sitting on right now. But someone probably did. And if you happen to be on a business jet, it’s a safe bet that your seat benefited from the expertise of engineers and designers with thousands of hours of experience, which is why you can so easily turn it into a flat bed, make lumbar adjustments, raise a leg rest, and slide and swivel. Similar care goes into the development of most all cabin furnishings, which become more comfortable, versatile, and innovative every year. 

They’re also becoming more reminiscent of passengers’ residences back on earth. Boeing Business Jets and Airbus Corporate Jets, along with completion centers Comlux and Lufthansa Technik and a slew of others, recently unveiled concepts for upcoming widebody aircraft interiors, and the designers’ goal seems clear: create the illusion that the VVIP in the passenger cabin is at home. 

Flying Colours converts regional airliners for VIP use.
Flying Colours converts regional airliners for VIP use.

Sky Style, a business aviation–focused design studio, is changing up cabin looks with curves, softer lines, removable privacy bulkheads, and custom-fit storage units that descend from above. One design would give the cabin crew the ability to fully set a dining table and cater a meal for six in the galley. With the push of a button, the galley pass-through opens and that tabletop slides on an integrated track over an existing adjustable hi-low conference table. So the crew can serve a meal without interrupting a private meeting for setup. 

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Interior designers at Boeing and Airbus, meanwhile, are catering to specific corners of the globe with design concepts that incorporate more native elements and materials than ever before, including ethnic symbolism and art. One example is the recently unveiled Nature’s Touch interior by Lufthansa Technik for the Airbus ACJ and Boeing BBJ, which channels Eastern tastes. Another is Greenpoint Technologies’ Boeing BBJ 777X Lotus interior, which features a grand, circular entryway opening to elevated lounges, a sunken media area, a backlit bar, a library with a dancing OLED virtual fire framed by a hearth, and a ceiling that can mimic a starry night scene.

This year, Sky Style provided potential customers a walk-through virtual-reality (VR) tour of its refined Genesis cabin concept at the European Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva. Showcasing four new and diverse BBJ Max 7 interiors, the VR allows the company to swap out interiors on the fly to please the sensibilities of customers. Wearing VR goggles, customers stroll from the entry of the cabin, noting the wide opening and the inviting way the pattern in the carpet leads past the semi-open galley. The spacious lounge includes a curved couch that seems to float away from the sidewall, with a large ottoman that stows beneath it. Wingback swivel chairs can slide up to a large conference table for work or dining, or shift away from the table and recline, almost as if they, too, were floating and not anchored. 

A Comlux-designed cabin.
A Comlux-designed cabin.

Lufthansa Technik used the EBACE show to tease attendees with its Skyretreat design for the upcoming Airbus ACJ220 narrowbody. The wooden floor slats mimic those on a classic yacht, as do the summery couches and chaise lounges with loose cushions. Ceilings are lit to enhance a sense of height and space. 

Comlux chief interior designer Lauri Church maintains that these packaged designs are great starting points for ideas but says that “our goal is a boutique type of aircraft.” The Indianapolis location of the Swiss company takes factory-new aircraft and, using either Comlux’s in-house team or the owners’ designers, creates one-off interiors.

In May the company delivered its first VIP widebody cabin completion, an Airbus ACJ330. The 2,200-square-foot interior can accommodate 31 passengers and incorporates several master suites, lounges, and a dining area, as well as first-class seating for an entourage. The aircraft is also equipped with a gym and an entertainment area featuring a 52-inch curved OLED monitor. 

“Our clients are asking for the galleys to be more like what we would see in our own home with cooktops open to the lounge and a bar you can belly up to,” Church says. “We have clients who want to cook for themselves on the airplane, not just be served catering. These open kitchens are constructed with movable walls that can close them off when there is cabin crew onboard.”

Bombardier’s Nuage chaise lounge
Bombardier’s Nuage chaise lounge

Flying Colours finishes and refurbishes cabin interiors of new and used business jets in North America and Asia. Gabi Hasko, vice president of program management, planning, and design for the company, agrees with Comlux’s Church. “Today’s cabin designers are bringing us floor plans—created in collaboration with owners—that use cabinets that appear to be freestanding, resembling someone’s furniture at home rather than extensions of bulkheads,” he says. 

Interior designers from outside the aviation industry have to learn that designing for a business jet is different. Hasko explains that you can’t just bring your favorite chair or cabinetry onboard and fix it to the floor—aircraft regulations are clear about that. However, designers are receptive to the requests and requirements of owners and operators, and designers of new and renewed business jet interiors are beginning to reflect a preference for clean lines and natural materials. Veneers of stone tile and exotic wood are being used to lighten and brighten cabins. If you prefer carpet, you can opt for rich, sculpted patterns that are reminiscent of places you love. 

Jets outfitted by Flying Colours are filled with credenzas and cabinets that tuck into every nook and cranny, ready to store all of the necessary accoutrements for a comfortable flight—china, glassware, cutlery, liquor, bedding, hand luggage, audiovisual equipment, and more. It can all be made to look much like your cabinetry at home, or, if you prefer, it can be nearly invisible, melting into the bulkheads.

“Instead of putting a toe-kick under a credenza, we can make it appear to float above the flooring and feel lighter, even though, like the rest of the aircraft fixtures, it must be secured against turbulence in flight,” says Hasko. The profiles of recliners and sofas are getting slimmer, freeing up more space in the cabin, he notes. The materials, such as high-grade leathers and carbon fiber, are sophisticated and supple and yet meet the stringent requirements for fire resistance demanded by safety regulations.

Greenpoint Technologies designed this lounge for a Boeing BBJ 777X
Greenpoint Technologies designed this lounge for a Boeing BBJ 777X

Aircraft being finished for 2020 and beyond are using the lightest, toughest materials for furnishings to help cut fuel expenses and increase range. 

Savannah, Georgia–based fittings and fixtures manufacturer MSB Aerospace is one of several companies turning out bespoke furnishings for these aircrafts’ cabins. The company began as a partner with Bombardier in Montreal, but in 2018 MSB opened its Savannah manufacturing facility to better serve its U.S.-based customers.

“We are all about discovering ways to use all of the nooks and little hidden spaces in an aircraft to their maximum with pop-ups and pullouts,” says Shannon Gill, managing director of MSB. The company manufactures hyper-lightweight honeycombed fixtures and cabinets that are covered with unique, hand-finished veneers.

Gill believes that the next wave of cabin design will feature lighter furnishings, straighter lines, and more European influence. “There is a movement away from the dark veneers that we’ve seen in the past,” she says. “We are seeing a desire to give the airplane that real living-space feel. We are building a lot of cabinet and drawer inserts that provide storage solutions for hand baggage and any objects that come onboard the cabin. We’ve also recently created bar solutions, including a wine cooler and liquor cabinet in the credenza opposite the couch in the lounge, designed so that a VIP can serve guests without going to the galley.”

In the end, good business jet cabin design is all about comfort and functionality, with an accent on safety. By collaborating with leading architectural and design houses, manufacturers and cabin completion firms are working hard to keep cutting-edge style and individuality as hallmarks of business jet design, all while making the passenger cabin environment increasingly welcoming. 

A worker at MSB Aerospace
A worker at MSB Aerospace, one of several companies producing bespoke furnishings for business jet cabins.

Deep-seated Principles

Bombardier’s in-house designers have been thinking a lot lately about the seats in their aircraft. “We wanted to put aside what is thought of as typical and start from the principles of seated comfort,” says Tim Fagan, the company’s manager of industrial design for business aircraft. “We asked basic questions: What makes a comfortable recliner? How do you pivot the seat? How does the seat to move? How does it support the body? ”

Bombardier recently introduced its combination settee and deep-reclining chaise lounge as options on its Global 7500 and upcoming Global 6500 aircraft. The chaise is designed to offer a deep recline with leg elevation. With the push of a button, silent, hidden pneumatics shift it to lay flat, providing bench seating for three or four individuals, or a sleeping surface for one.

Completions firm Lufthansa Technik, meanwhile, has debuted its Iacobucci-designed chair as part of its Skyretreat interior concept for the Airbus ACJ220 business jet. The chair is slim yet offers recline, swivel, and leg-rest functions. 

This year, also, Collins Aerospace Systems launched its next-generation Evolution seat, which provides more room inside the cabin by reclining in one continuous motion on a proprietary triple-roller system, allowing it to be set closer to bulkheads than other seats. Its extended leg rest accommodates taller occupants; its headrest can be manually adjusted to a precise angle for reading while reclining; and its armrests can be lowered when the seat opens flat to become a wider sleeping surface. Seat controls allow for one-touch adjustments to takeoff/landing position, as well as a “zero gravity” position. —A.L.