As a child, Björn Johansson loved to draw – constantly, and always boats or wildlife. Watching boats was a passion he indulged during hours spent at the ocean’s edge as a retreat from the restrictions of boarding school life in Kenya.
His fascination is clear: “It didn’t matter what they were, a dhow or a superyacht, they all have their own qualities. Looking at them on waves is like staring at the flames in a fire – they do beautiful things. They roll and flow, there is flare and sheer and stunning shapes emerge from any angle.”
Today, at the Bembridge studio which he established six years ago, 33-year-old Björn is still drawing boats. Though now, as an emerging force in an elite field of international superyacht designers, the voyage begins in his rich imagination and culminates in breathtakingly impressive yachts, created for top-drawer clients.
A gathering ritual precedes his move to the drawing board. “I fill my head with images of all kinds and from countless sources – planes, houses, marine life, textures, sounds, colours. Anywhere and everywhere I go becomes like shopping for ideas.”
He allows these ideas to ferment, undisturbed, for a couple of days before setting to work on drawings which are subsequently transformed, by the technological wizards he has brought together in his team, into stunningly realistic animations based on precise specifications.
Growing up in Kenya – where his Swedish father ran his own borehole drilling company – exposed Björn to an abundance of sights, sounds and experiences which stimulated and fed his unerring fascination with the world around him. Life there yielded many benefits – fluency in Swahili among them – and continues to influence his designs.
“I consider myself lucky to have grown up in Africa. The people I met there showed me that there is never just one way of doing something – there are, for instance, many ways to sit, cook, eat, travel around and build.
“That influences what I do now. I might incorporate features which people don’t expect to find in a boat, such as a waterfall. If they seem surprised, my answer is that you can have whatever you choose, you don’t have to be confined by expectations.”
Limitations seldom feature in the vocabulary of the super-rich clients whose dreams he now embodies in yachts with features such as stately sleeping accommodation, opulent leisure and business environments, cinemas, helicopter landing pads, and sublime craftsmen-built fittings and furnishings. Discretion is sacrosanct. Suffice it to say that an average lottery win is small beer against the investment required to own these magnificent vessels.
His emergence as a designer in his own right followed work with some of the most respected and best-known names in the world of superyachts. The last of these, John Munford, gave Björn his first break after he had decided to go solo – a sumptuous refit of a 92-foot classic motor yacht owned by the Duke and Duchess of Westminster, and currently on the market for just under €4million.
The breakthrough for Björn Johansson Design came three years ago with a concept design, the 78-metre Mirage. Björn’s spacious and sleek styling for this signature project attracted major interest. Most importantly, it led to the commissioning of an 85.5 metre beauty which is being built in Holland and is due for completion in 2009.
Conversion to a charter yacht of the 60-metre former hydrographic survey vessel, HMS Beagle; an Art Deco inspired redesign of the world’s largest sports fishing yacht following a 3 metre stretch of the vessel; a unique shadow vessel, able to carry separately from a mother ship all its voyage ‘extras’ including large tenders, mini sub, dinghies and wheeled vehicles; and application of his design skills to a light aircraft, are among Björn’s substantial achievements to date.
Jetting worldwide – promoting at specialist events, meeting clients and overseeing works in progress – means that family time on the Island with his wife Annette and two daughters is not as plentiful as Björn would like. It also cuts down the time he can spend on hobbies including painting, motorbikes and free diving. Nor is the in-demand designer able to devote the time he would like to his service on the crew of his local lifeboat at Bembridge.
There are, however, no regrets about his chosen course. Despite his early success as part of a top-ten reggae band in Sweden, destiny clearly had other things in mind for Björn.
Editor’s Note: Sadly Björn Johansson was killed tragically on Thursday 17th January 2008 on the Isle of Wight when his KTM 990 motorcycle was in collision with a bus in Ryde, he was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident.