Co-founding Njord by Bergman Design House puts Sarah Colbon at the helm of interior architecture and design for the world’s most phenomenal superyachts. She took time out of her jam-packed schedule to chat exclusively to Upscale Living magazine about her love for her trade whilst creating a balance as a wife and working mom.
Sarah, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been immersed in the world of Superyachts for over 14 years now, rooted in my background of being brought up on the water on the south coast of England in Emsworth, in a small sailing village. Traveling the world gave me experience running businesses in the fishing charters, tourist sailing charter yachts, and so on in Australia, never as a crew but only in the business marketing and PR sectors. Following a passion and a dream turned into a career journey in this small, family-like niche industry, working alongside owners and families, top shipyards, yacht management companies, brokerage, and design sectors. This gave me the foundations and experience to see an opportunity to develop a new approach specifically in the design sector of the industry.
Did you have an influence in your youth that shaped your career path?
I grew up on the water in a small sailing village on the south coast of England. My father was an avid sailor, and we were always with family sailing on the weekends truly the love of boats and yachting started from such a young age. All my career I had the dream to work in the top luxury sector of yachting and I started by meeting some wonderful people in the industry when I lived in Australia. After working in the yachting industry for a while, one day I got the call: would you be interested in assisting us with styling our charter yacht fleet for photoshoots? The rest is history.
Njord was born in 2020 with people spending more time in their travel ‘bubble’ because of the restrictions placed on them by the global pandemic, with superyachts being the perfect escape – away from crowds and on the open sea with oodles of fresh air. What impact did the pandemic have on the resurgence of people wanting to live on their superyachts?
It was more than that. Previously, superyachts for an owner were a charter to get away with family and enjoy holidays and special times; when the pandemic hit, suddenly their yacht became their home. They needed to have freedom but not be land-based and also somehow yachts became a secure hub for them and their families when all the uncertainty happened. This is true when the busiest times were for us at Njord, as owners were spending more time onboard and noticing that there was a serious lack of storage, bad lighting, and the circulation of the yacht for living onboard made no sense. We had also just met our superyacht Galaxy clients during these times, working on Zoom most days–never being able to see the yacht or meet them or the crew in person was hard. Again, this new owner wanted to live onboard, and have purchased this very well-known Benetti charter yacht, it was a time for a change for them and for the yacht, hence our re-design of her and the comfort they now have onboard.
How do you manage to turn a yacht into a home?
Whether it’s a sailing yacht or a motor yacht, they are vessels floating on the water, they can all be homes, it’s about knowing your client and their family lifestyles. You adapt the interior to reflect this, knowing how to work with the interior infrastructure of the vessel, the crew service, and the circulation of a home.
The impressive superyacht Galaxy took only five months to refit as opposed to the usual 18 months. How did you accomplish that?
The Galaxy project was a refit broken down into phases. This allowed the client to live and enjoy their new yacht while Njord simultaneously worked their magic on the interior design. Phase one of the project took place in Spring 2021 and saw the addition of new rugs, artwork, exterior seating, cushions, and a general up-styling of the interior so the client could enjoy a summer season onboard whilst living in a space that felt more like home. The owner lived in the space and gave feedback to Njord first-hand on which areas they found most comfortable and which they used less, all of which helped to inform the second full refit phase.
Every piece placed on board during phase one flowed into phase two, ensuring nothing was wasted. Once the concept was agreed upon, a full interior refit of the main guest areas took place alongside exterior styling, giving the yacht a new lease of life. With a goal to complete the project within five months, this would be the shortest time frame in which any superyacht has ever undergone a refit. Together with the trust and can-do attitude of the owners, the Monaco Marine shipyard, and the formidable crew, Galaxy has done just that.
Galaxy is no longer just another white Superyacht gracing the ocean along the French Riviera, she has been transformed into the private owners’ own floating universe, a home that encapsulates their lifestyle and a design that has never been done before on board a yacht of this kind. Galaxy is now a destination, a marvel that touches all your body’s senses and excites and embraces you with its energy during each step you take onboard, transporting her owners into another dimension.
Were there challenges with Galaxy?
There are always challenges with any project – you are dealing with such a high-pressure environment, but if you have an extraordinary team as we did, challenges are always met with solutions. Our main challenge was working through a pandemic, traveling when restrictions were on, and trying to get suppliers to deliver on time during Brexit, but we got through all of this, and she is truly a marvel of design – she is a new yacht with even bigger energy.
You collaborated with some amazingly talented people on Galaxy – Dylan Cole creating a once-in-a-lifetime wall covering and two sculptures by Joseph Kibansky. Leafing through your Superyacht ‘little black book’, how do you decide who to partner with on a specific project?
We are so lucky in Njord that we meet and know such remarkable people along our journey of design. We work alongside the world’s best art galleries, artists, craftsmen, and artisans and when we truly push the boundaries with our design, this is when we contact specific people to collaborate with us. We are very connected and in the know with people, and we always like to find something new and exciting for our clients. My business partner Albin contacted Dylan Cole through Instagram; we won him over with his first-ever design like this for a yacht. Our client has an exclusive piece of artwork now throughout his main saloon onboard Galaxy, it’s a true out-of-world commissioned avatar theme not to be found anywhere else.
Galaxy sounds like the most astounding undertaking – you are trusted by the owners to bring their vision to fruition. That must be such an astonishing feeling to bring to life what is essentially a home for your client(s). How do you navigate the demands of this high-pressure environment (hopefully there’s a fun aspect too)?
Trust is everything, in design, and in relationships, you build this by excelling in your execution of what you do. We are extremely well known for getting to know our clients so well that when it comes to the design, we nail it every time. This builds the trust that we can be able to get the job done and of course, sometimes we are lucky enough to become close friends with our clients and the yachts become our family. Fun is always on the agenda, what comes from that is genuinely hard work and beautifully designed yachts.
You are tall, blond, gorgeous, and look like a supermodel! How have you adapted to working in a mainly male-dominated world, garnering respect from a testosterone-driven industry?
That’s so kind of you, I honestly don’t think I look like a supermodel, but I’ll take that at 40. Since a young girl, I have always had confidence working in mostly male-dominated industries. I’ve actually always thrived on it and enjoyed it. I work really well alongside some significant male mentors. Yes, in yachting the majority is absolutely male-dominated, but women are coming through as captains, senior crew, now more than ever, then crew themselves – I see more and more female deckhands, chief officers, and engineers. I get an absolute kick when I’m sitting on a panel next to some older peers whom I can tell aren’t very comfortable with strong women in our industry – we’re here to stay!
Your designs are sustainable and natural fabrics are used. Is that difficult to source?
Every minute of every day is spent sourcing and finding the best sustainable materials and traceable suppliers in the world. It’s getting more accessible each day. It’s staggering how beautiful a bamboo or seaweed-made fabric can feel today and far more luxurious than ever before; engineered wood off-cuts make the most incredible flooring and even the smallest of changes in the eco-friendlier materials make such a difference. At Njord this isn’t a marketing ploy to us, we are so passionate about this, and we have a responsibility for our clients, the yachts, and the environment to make this happen.
You are a working mom with two young children aged 5 and 3. How do you balance life as a mother and businesswoman?
Gosh the question I’m always asked is, how do you do it all? I feel that I have the luckiest life in my own little bubble of the world. I have the most fantastic support system, starting with my husband Liam, who is the rock that holds it all together. We are far from a normal family setup; we have big dreams and huge goals, but we are a team.
Sofia has just turned 5 years old, my sassy princess with a spirit of love for nature and the earth; our son Cassius is 3 and he is a force to be reckoned with.
Juggling for most working parents is hard, but we absolutely love it; the children get to have the best lifestyle here in Cheshire in the countryside, even with all my travel commitments we always find the most precious time to spend as a family and any given opportunity we travel together. There is nothing better than being a working mother and having the flexibility to also be a great mother and a great businesswoman.
A catchphrase that best describes you.
“You can have everything you want in life when you put your heart and soul into everything you do.”
Exciting projects on the horizon?
We are blessed to currently be working with some very exciting projects and superb clients, as well as collaborating with some true innovators of the yachting industry. Additionally, we are designing some very special masterpieces, in refit and new build and conversions which is also very inspiring.
I hope to inspire people with this feature, collaborate with Njord by Bergman, and even get in touch. We love meeting new people and talking about all things design and yachting.