Christien Starkenburg on harmony, space and imperfection

Interior designer Christien Starkenburg (1966) is founder of Studio Slow and creative director of Jan de Jong Interior – her family’s business in Leeuwarden (est. 1899). Christien designed the interior for the Bestevaer motor yacht, a first for her. She gets her inspiration from everyday things, nature, art, architecture, and graphic designs. We talk with Christien about her relationship with space as a designer and what it’s like to design a boat instead of a home. 

She blends in perfectly with the warm minimalistic setting. Stylish blond hair, champagne glasses, and an easy smile. She speaks calmly and determined. Not afraid to address the bigger topics. She leans forward as she explains how she works. 

It starts with a visit. That is the only way to truly experience a space. To feel and see what’s going on. I let my gut feeling speak first. What do I notice? What do I feel? I let my senses do the work. After that, the space keeps coming back in my head. It’s a continuous creative process. Whether I’m on my bike racing through the meadows or in my studio. The best associations always come unplanned.”

“My ambition is to get all sensory elements aligned to accomplish harmony. Not perfection. Nothing can ever be ‘perfect’. A space without imperfections makes you feel uncomfortable. Although it is a process to get the perfect balance. Finding the right synergy and energy between the intrinsic qualities of a space is a creative process of feeling, trying, adapting, making subtle or bold choices. I strive for this untouchable harmony. And this starts with the right sensory basis.”

To me, space is never a blank canvas. We are surrounded by connotations. There are always existing elements that you have to deal with. Even if it’s a white space.

Starkenburg’s work is characterized by the way she prizes authenticity and integrates the rustic simplicity from the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Starkenburg’s style can best be defined as ‘warm Scandinavian minimalism’ with an emphasis on natural materials and tactility. Seeking for harmony through imperfection, her designs evoke unpretentious naturalness and understated elegance. 

’I’ve never made interior design for a motor yacht before. This made the design process slightly different. Because for this design, the exterior features as a continuous changing natural ‘décor’. This is essential. It creates a sense of multidimensional space layers, which was very interesting to me. The design merges into nature. Surrounded by the sea, both below and on all sides, clear sky above you, shimmering moon and stars at night. I wanted to incorporate that sense of humbleness into the design. Understated luxury, with the pure sense of nature complementing each other.

The Bestevaer and Starkenburg make a beautiful match, which is reflected in her enthusiasm, as she continues. 

“Just imagine, with this motor yacht you travel through ever-changing naturel spaces which automatically create the connection with the basic elements of the earth and life: sun, water, air. A kind of primal feeling. From your boat, you experience pure stunning views like the sunset, sunrise, waves, lapping water. These universal natural phenomena make every single one of us feel good. It is honest. Pure.”

Danish wool by Kvadrat and brushed oak

The salon features flexible setups

Stainless steel kitchen, perfect finishing.

The owner's cabin.

“Staring at the water, you experience your pure thoughts. Going through the motions. Who am I? What do I want in life? It creates mental space as well. No images from a screen, but realness – in harmony. I captured this harmony in the interior design by conveying the air, peace, and space you experience outside. By using natural strong materials, pure products, tactility, products that age beautifully. Rawness. Honesty. Textural. Materials that speak to all senses and become even more beautiful over time.”

“We chose authentic, pure and naturel materials from Europe’s finest producers. We aimed to create a timeless and durable aesthetics. For example, we used real oak wood from Europe instead of laminate, chrome-free leather from Sweden (Elmosoft), quality contemporary wool from Danish specialists (Kvadrat), authentic Belgian linen (Libeco), and timeless luminaires by Lampe Gras.”

Together with her team, Starkenburg worked a year on the design. It’s clear she has definitely fallen for the Bestevaer 53 M/Y.

“The elegant simplicity, the raw aluminum, quality and functionality of this motor yacht – all built on Dutch soil. It’s fantastic. The makers have managed to find the balance between modest luxury and the Nordic explorer feel. Freedom, adventure, and simplicity. Straightforward. No nonsense. What you see is what you get. It feels pure. The Bestevaer 53 M /Y almost feels like a tool. A tool crafted to be a part of all the most beautiful places in the world without disturbing its balance.”

As I said, I had never designed for a boat before. A space in a house can often be balanced out with decoration. Of course, that does not apply to a space in a boat. So, the interior design for this motor yacht was mainly about finding the right materials on naturality, quality, and details. All choices had to be spot on. Besides that, we have played with raw details and products that never compromise on quality.”

She pauses for a second.

“To me, a space is always emotional. It’s sensory. I would define a space as the connection between intrinsic qualities such as the proportions, the acoustics, light, shadow, lines, and shapes of a space. A space is sensory. In so many ways. The beauty of a space is or can be created by the balance between these essential elements. Beauty is captured by senses.”