STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office

Salon sofa upgrades

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Terri Madden’s June/July 2015 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

Browse the PDF here, or read a text version below.

The waters of San Juan, Puerto Rico have been home to many Bertram yacht enthusiasts ever since Richard Bertram opened a 25-acre plant in 1962. I have had the good fortune to hone my skills and deliver full interior projects for several of the various models.

From the moment one steps aboard one of these classic vessels there is an appreciation as to why the Bertram 50 convertible which debuted in 1986 was dubbed ‘the slickest Bertram yet’ by Boating magazine.

The Caribbean is well known for tournament fishing and in 1995 Bertram introduced the Moppie 46, which was capable of speeds faster than 37 knots. It was well suited for fishing tournaments and cruising down-island. Simultaneously the 54’ convertible interior was redesigned whereas the classic hull was left intact “because you don’t change perfection.”*

It is no wonder that after a history of 50 years these vessels have a predominate presence on tropical waters and now a second generation of owners retrofits these vessels and our expertise is called upon to refurbish and improve upon the original seating for the safety and stability of the owners, regardless of the location or conditions out on the ocean. In this article I will detail the decisions, design changes and conclusions for fresh new looks on a sofa of a 2001 Bertram 51’ and a 1996 Bertram 50′.

My first impression from the moment I step aboard a 50’ boat doesn’t have to be my lasting impression. I delight in planning and fabricating a functional and contemporary style that maintains the integrity of the classic lines of a vessel. Collaborating with customers is sometimes like a Tango, yet it is an essential component whereby the final outcome reflects the taste of the owner. There has been an explosion of suitable marine materials in fabric, vinyl or leather that fabricators can provide for a basic as well as dramatic effect in the marine environment

Especially for the creative minds of marine fabricators…the sofa is generally the most frequently used piece of furniture on a boat and the materials particular to the class of vessel like a Bertram command an elegant statement yet they must withstand company and crew who may even ‘live aboard’ the boat. Captains generally have to provision the boat and store items under sofa cushions for get-a-ways and fishing excursions. These areas must be easily accessible yet the exterior material takes the brunt of everything from fishing poles, grocery boxes to refreshments. Yet in less than a few hours it must make a Cinderella transformation for owners and guests.

You may be contacted for a retrofit on a vessel as soon as the owner takes charge of his new boat; sometimes they don’t like the manufacturers design or the boat had been a display model. In this case the “Style” may still look current and just a change of material will suffice.

I have generally been contacted to re-do the interiors when a boat changes owners and the boat is 5-15 years old. Materials may be worn and the style look “dated”. Generally the sofa on a 50’ boat is an L-shaped design to provide maximum seating in a tight space. Currently some vessels have a rectangle sofa on each the port and starboard side. In this case your work may be less as smaller sofas can be easily transported to your shop and side-by-side alignment isn’t necessary.

This is your opportunity to improve upon the design, especially if the frame is good.


  • Check the alignment of side-by-side pieces. It is crucial, as we almost missed making a 1” height adjustment on the factory model of the Bertram 51’.
  • Start with pictures of the sofa at every angle.
  • Measure twice for ordering materials.
  • Keep in mind the additional time required if you are removing the original material outside and inside storage areas.
  • Seat foam generally should be replaced, yet back foam may be ok to reuse with a Dacron topper.
  • Trends – visit boat shows to see the 2015-2016 designs.


  • Will you make design adjustments?
  • Style adjustments: Contemporary or Traditional?
  • Will you modify the existing frame, design/location/type of modifications?
  • Is the overall ‘look’ sleek, pleated or oversized?
  • Are corners pleated to save time or seams fabricated with accent topstitching?
  • What will be the cushion style: rollover fronts, banded sides, matching or contrast piping?
  • Are sofa corners with or without arms?
  • Are the seat & back cushions designed with a flat surface, or a Hi-Lo combination of foam and contours?
  • Will Memory foam toppers add comfort to the arms?
  • Surface Materials: Fabric, Vinyl or Leather?
  • Thread:  Contrast Accent of matching color – Thread size?
  • Material combinations and types of materials: pattern alignment: stripe, plaid, geometric, combinations of quilted and solid sections increase the level of difficulty.

Bertram 51’ 2001

This boat was frequently used for fishing and entertaining and the customer contacted Sand Sea and Air to replace the leather in an Ultra Leather (vinyl), as part of a complete refurbishing project.

Upon inspection it seemed odd that the sofa side arms were unusually high as well as narrow for the proportion of the sofa. The owner liked our idea to: widening the arms, lower the arms by approximately 6” and insert a memory foam topper for comfort across the top of the arms. New high-density seat foam replaced the worn out seat foam; deterioration was due to the frequent use and travel by the owner to nearby islands.  All of the seat cushions were reversible and the foam was Dacron wrapped for a plush look with a refined style.

The new contour on the arm was noted at the boat and the section was cut off from the top of the original arm frame after the original material was removed. Sampling and patterning was needed to position the material on the sofa back where it had to be “filled-in” and extended to meet the top of the new ‘lower’ arm.

Bertram 51’ Sofa: Before / In-Process PhotosScreen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.07.28 PM.pngAttention to the final height of adjoining sections is extremely important and placing the side-by-side frames next to one another during assembly is highly recommended. As it would be very time consuming to correct adjustments on the boat once the back of the sofa is stapled and closed.

Our client was extremely pleased with the design and the comfort on the refurbished sofa sections.

See: After PhotosScreen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.08.20 PM.png

Bertram 50’ 1996

This client grew up on a Bertram 50’ and he had fond memories of his time spent aboard. His recent purchase of a 16 year old yacht had a navy sofa that looked “old-fashioned” and he and his sophisticated wife were delighted to know that ‘the bones” of the L-shaped sofa were good and that our reputation proceeded us to transform his boat. The pillow backs that attached to the back and the arms of the frame were removed and we scheduled mock-up visits for the new design and material selections.

A rollover design was selected for the individual seat and back cushions to soften the overall appearance; whereas cushions with side bands would have looked ‘too boxy’ with the rectangle lines of the frame.

We put an extra layer of foam on the back frame and fabricated individual higher ‘pillow-back style’ cushions for more comfortable sofa seating.

Bertram 50’ Sofa: Before                                                      Sofa: Mock UpScreen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.09.15 PMThe sloped frame on the arms was reshaped to a squared edge to match the sofa frame.

The navy leather on the original frame was replaced with beautiful and durable Sunbrella “Salt” Sailcloth that coordinated perfectly with the ”Taupe”, “Cinnamon” and “Ivory” materials on the ottomans, coffee table and dinette.

Bertram 50’ Sofa: In-processScreen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.10.47 PMThe final dramatic sofa lines were in balance and harmony with the classic foundation of a Bertram.

You can achieve this goal on every sofa project also; no matter what the size, make or model; experience helps, do your research and trust your instinct!

Bertram 50’ Sofa: After Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.11.56 PM.png



Author: Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Sand Sea and Air Interiors is the foremost creative and cutting-edge textile studio in the Caribbean. We pursue the design and construction of a sophisticated style focused on quality, comfort and durability, and specialize in unique applications, from dramatic seating and shade solutions to tasteful tote bags for tropical environments. – Terri Madden, owner of Sand Sea and Air Interiors (SSA), is a Bachelor of Science in Textile Design from Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, Philadelphia, PA, and possesses extensive experience and ability in design and fabrication. Nowadays, as an active member of the Marine Fabricators Association (MFA), Madden speaks professionally at national seminars on subjects such as yacht interiors, cushion construction and window treatments. Madden also frequently contributes articles for Marine Fabricator Magazine. – We'd love to hear from you at!

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