BBJ interior by Winch Design

Designers Turn Bold

Bizjet interiors are gaining more pizzazz. Here’s what’s changing, and why.

I’m pleased to see that business jet interiors are trending toward bolder, more individualized designs. No, we’re not likely to see the return of the electric-blue velour seats and lime-green shag carpeting that would make Austin Powers feel at home. But aircraft owners and operators are at least letting designers leave earthy beiges and icy grays behind in favor of cabin decors with more pizzazz.

We’re starting to see stronger statements in upholstery, carpeting, and side panels, and in the seats, divans, and tables that fill the living space. I’m not talking about the over-the-top opulence found in “Private Jets of the Ultra-rich” magazine features. Loud examples of visual opulence in materials and designs have always been there, even during the bland years. The new trends seen in the mainstream private jet fleet simply add more individual colors, style, and flair—sometimes mirroring tones and appointments from the owner’s home, office, or yacht.

Customers “have been gravitating toward cleaner lines, subtle three-dimensional textures on broader surfaces, and abstract patterns incorporated into carpets and art pieces,” said Ron Soret of Aeria Luxury Interiors in a recent article in BJT sister publication NBAA Convention News. Lori Johnson of Duncan Aviation said, “It’s a change from the more generic and conservative trends we have seen since 2009—a marked increase in the requests for interiors personalized to the operators’ tastes and usage.”

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But before going wild with a design for your own aircraft, it’s best to remember some fundamentals of design science. Even a large-cabin business jet is a relatively confined space—and passengers often spend several hours inside. Choosing the wrong color combination can stimulate a claustrophobic reaction. Just as in a modest-sized apartment, minimalist furnishing and light, airy colors can go a long way toward allowing the mind’s eye to roam free and easy.

New cabin technology has played a role in enabling a more-sparse approach to cabin furnishings. Gone are the overstuffed captain’s chairs and huge flat-screen monitors that seem to have been the hallmark of the bigger-is-better trend from decades not-so-recently past. Modern ergonomic seating is not only more designer-friendly but also healthier and more comfortable, especially on long flights.

There is still a place for big screens, especially when a jet fills the role of flying conference room or home theater. But new technology makes today’s thinner video monitors far less obtrusive. Audio equipment needn’t be conspicuous, either. Jet owners can opt for a system like Bongiovi’s Speakerless Audio, which uses transducers connected to interior side panels to turn the entire cabin into one big immersive sound source. They can also access entertainment individually, via high-definition personal devices and noise-canceling headsets or earbuds.

Those same personal devices control individualized cabin settings such as lighting, temperature, and window shading, supplanting complicated and bulky switching panels on interior side ledges. Speaking of lighting, another new trend is using sophisticated LEDs throughout the cabin to not only set the mood and accentuate the decor, but to help control the body’s circadian rhythm—simulating the sunrise and sunset cycle of the destination halfway around the globe. Collins Aerospace’s Secant Luminous lighting creates the desired displays with clusters of RGB, or RGB+W uLEDs (Ultra LEDs).

One reason for the trend toward letting designers cut more footloose is the changing landscape of charter and how we’re using aircraft. In the past, aircraft owners who depended on charter revenue to offset cost of ownership were encouraged to stay conservative with their interior designs for fear of putting off potential clients. With less- stodgy passengers now making up more and more of that clientele—especially in these days of increasing shared-use programs—there is less concern about ensuring that paying customers will stay within their comfort zones.

Another reason for flashier cabin designs may be the global economy. While there is still plenty of uncertainty about its future, recent trends in aircraft sales, usage, and ownership seem to be providing at least the impression of greater stability. Or perhaps owners have just grown weary of worrying about the possibility of having to sell their airplanes at any time. After a decade of living under the fiscal sword of Damocles, maybe they are deciding to live for today. At least a little.