STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office


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Preparing for disasters

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Hurricane Maria damage at a marina in San Juan. A metal roof structure collapsed
on the boat of one of Sand Sea and Air’s customers. Photo: Alayna Wool.

Terri Madden’s January/February 2018 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

Editor’s note: Like many people who live and work in Puerto Rico, longtime contributor Terri Madden, owner of Sand Sea and Air Interiors Inc., has been deeply affected by the hurricanes. We asked her to write a column to help others learn from her experience.

When a disaster occurs, everything takes on a new meaning. The essential needs of food and shelter become primary not only for ourselves, but also for our loved ones. With world news at our fingertips, we read daily about tragic circumstances affecting both strangers and people we know. So…do you and your family have a disaster plan in place? Do you as a business owner have a contingency plan for your employees as well as your facility? If the answer is no, I hope this column will propel you to action. You never know when a disaster will strike.

The new normal

As I write this from Puerto Rico [Oct. 30, 2017], more than three million people are still in survival mode. It has been 41 days since one of the world’s strongest hurricanes on record made a direct strike on the “Enchanted Island.” Nine hundred and eleven people are confirmed dead and our borders may be closed indefinitely due to bacterial contamination or yellow fever epidemics. Airplanes carried more than 73,000 people to the mainland so far and airline tickets are currently sold out for at least three weeks. Electricity has only been temporarily restored to less than 10 percent of the island.

I am fortunate that my home and business were not completely wiped out. I have declined offers to “go somewhere” because Sand Sea and Air has employees and customers who depend on us. These days I am in survivor mode and I am not alone. Several other U.S. fabricators’ homes and businesses were also affected in 2017 by fire, flooding, snowstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Some were left with only the shirts on their backs, while others fared slightly better but are still dealing with the aftermath of a crisis, trying to pick up the pieces and plan their next steps.

Where to start

Ask yourself, if you had to quickly flee your home or business, what would you take and how easily could you let other things go?

Look around and evaluate your belongings. What would you put in your car or suitcase? Your pets, photos, a computer, documents, a few clothes, a passport, a cell phone? What could you leave and drive away from with a peaceful heart? Pause for a moment to evaluate and scale down your essential belongings. Get clear on your priorities!

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Donations are critical for rebuilding damaged homes across the island. Shade sails and hardware donated by IFAI-member Wholesale Shade, San Marcos, Calif., will cover the new framing of this home. Photo: Alayna Wool.

Keep your business viable

Once the immediate hours or days of tragic events have passed, you may find that circumstances present themselves to strengthen you. Hopefully, you are better off than others and can lend a hand that will bless you twofold. But, if finding basic necessities like food and shelter is all you can do, then hour by hour pick yourself up.

At Sand Sea and Air, we worked the first five weeks by propane lantern light and wore bicycle headlamps to pattern and prep materials for current orders. We set up a temporary mobile office nearby in a facility with a generator.

We are still working on laptops to plan our next steps and keep batteries charged. We vacillate from frustration to a sense of accomplishment when we achieve even just one task in a day! Orders have been forthcoming as customers try to jump-start their lives and ask us to replace missing, broken or deteriorated items. I like to believe that we are better off than most, yet I can’t help but wonder at times.

The immediate aftermath

Short-term actions

Be grateful if you are able to stay in your home or with family members or friends as you gradually pick up the pieces. We are accustomed to multitasking and doing things on deadline. When we are forced to a standstill, it can be extremely frustrating.

  • Contact your family, friends and employees.
  • Take photos of all damaged items and areas before doing any cleanup.
  • Assess damages and obtain estimates for replacements or repairs.
  • Contact your insurance company to file claims on personal property, vehicles, your business, etc. (You can be reimbursed for the contents of a home refrigerator up to $500 with no deductible.)
  • Seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which offers an almost immediate relief payment ($500) deposited directly to your bank account for individuals who have had to leave their homes during a disaster. You can apply at www.fema.gov.
  • If necessary, contact the Small Business Administration (SBA), which offers low-interest loans to businesses affected by disasters.

Picking up the pieces

Long-term actions

  • Establish a support network. Delegate one or two people to contact others. Keep distant family members and friends in the loop so they know how to help you.
  • If possible, post updates on Facebook or WhatsApp to reach others quickly when you can’t connect individually.
  • Let business associates know what you may need—they will want to help.
  • Set up links to GoFundMe and other crowdfunding sites.
  • Connect with organizations that offer help with small and large issues, including religious organizations, community groups, clubs, etc.

Help from IFAI, vendors and suppliers

In the hurricane season’s aftermath, sales reps and vendors such as Mike Hendricks at Keyston Bros., Derek Robinson at Glen Raven, Mike Sandercock at Quality Thread and Notions Company, Gregg Burrows and Patrick Howe at Wholesale Shades, Craig Zola at Herculite® and Greg Smith at Million Air have reached out to us offering assistance with discounted pricing, product care packages and samples. IFAI kindly posted an update on our situation in a member email news brief.

Ultimately, it is God, amazing friends, family and the encouragement of other IFAI members who are the web of support that gives me the energy and strength to survive. My heartfelt thanks to all of you!

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Keeping up on trends in marine upholstery

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Photo 1: The exterior upholstery on this custom-built vessel by Nor-Tech offers tones of sand and ivory in different, yet complementary textures of vinyl.
Photo 2: The decorative topstitching in contrasting colors on the seat of this custom-built vessel by Deep Impact is striking. Formerly flat cushion surfaces are transformed with visually appealing diamond-quilted patterns on ergonomic high-low surfaces. The boat show featured an extensive use of a double diamond quilted pattern (using the beefy stitch known as a cable stitch).

Terri Madden’s September/October 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work at SandSeaAir.com.

Boat shows are a rich resource.

When was the last time you attended a local or international boat show? If it’s been awhile, I recommend you put it on your agenda. To stay a notch ahead of the competition, professional marine fabricators must be aware of new concepts, designs and materials. Viewing new boats at boat shows is an excellent way to keep abreast of the vast assortment of new options so that when a customer is considering a refit, you can maintain the integrity of the vessel yet offer tasty, new selections that deliver a fresh impact that enhances the style of the vessel.

Recently, I attended a local boat show where standard vessels like Boston Whalers and Grady-Whites were on exhibit as well as some striking custom vessels with state-of-the-art upholstery techniques that commanded top dollar. Not only were these vessels showpieces, one salesperson of a custom boat manufacturer said the company had a 32-vessel waiting list with an 18-month delivery time frame.

Here are some of the new materials, trends and ideas that struck me as I wandered around the show.

Vendors are a research treasure trove The marine vendors at boat shows, as well as those who support the Marine Fabricators Association (MFA) regional and national conferences, are a valuable resource—so take advantage of them. They provide sample cards and books of their current offerings, as well as larger swatches for your special projects; customers love to view and touch the materials onboard their vessels.

Make sure to review the manufacturers’ data on the backside of the sample cards. It’s filled with information that can help you compare specifications regarding lightfastness and the all-important Wyzenbeek test results for abrasion.

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Photo 3: Serge Ferrari’s Stamskin One and Batyline Eden upholstery materials offer extreme durability and resistance in outdoor environments.
Photo 4: Here is a classic rope pattern by Ralph Lauren® for an indoor/outdoor acrylic fabric being used as an accent pillow with a ¾-inch rope trim our customer decided to showcase on her salon sofa.

The Wyzenbeek test determines the number of times a material can be sat upon before it shows sign of deterioration. The number of “double rubs” are a measurement of a fabric’s abrasion resistance. To conduct the test, a piece of cotton duck is stretched over a mechanical arm and passed back and forth over the test fabric in each direction. Each back-and-forth motion is one double rub. These results are listed with most fabrics and are helpful in determining which fabric is right for a particular application.

Just last week I was looking for a commercial-grade vinyl and upon contacting a local salesperson, I learned about a vinyl that could withstand 1.5 million double rubs. We are currently working with a designer who will not even consider a material less than 50,000 double rubs. Gathering this type of information is essential to operating within a customer’s budget and to understanding the value of one product over another.

Impressive upholstery materials

A few top-of-the-line materials stood out at the show. Serge Ferrari manufactures an extensive range of technically advanced materials whose value surpasses the cost per yard and is an excellent offering for marine upholstery projects. Stamskin One, the “skin” touch material, offers extreme resistance in outdoor environments. It includes an outstanding seven-year warranty and is available in more than 24 colors, in either a matte or soft grain texture.

This material is impervious to oils and creams, such as sunscreen. It offers easy care and maintenance and is safe to use with alcohol-based cleaners. There are no “pinking” issues with this marine vinyl, as there have been with other vinyl-based materials, since no plasticizers are used in the manufacturing process of Stamskin One. Consider this thermal material that offers comfort, fire resistance and breathability for your next project.

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Photo 5: Throughout the 25-year life of this 83-foot Cheoy Lee vessel, the original owner selected exterior fabrics by Kravet® and JF Fabrics for the bow and bridge seating. The vessel hull was white with turquoise accents. It seemed only natural to provide sample selections that showcased this color palette.
Photo 6: Even though the material specifications noted that the horizontal pattern was a 17 ½-inch repeat with a 14 ¼-inch vertical repeat, it was extremely challenging to estimate the quantity of material. Even more challenging was maintaining the repeat layout during construction so that adjoining seams and cushions aligned to showcase the visual repeat of the material, especially on the curved corner cushions.
Photo 7: The classic herringbone pattern with a wave effect on this outdoor acrylic from Kravet was the client’s top choice. Since this pattern was very dramatic, Sand Sea and Air recommended a solid matching turquoise for the seat cushions. The contrast provided a perfect harmony for the spacious seating areas.

Serge Ferrari’s Batyline Eden is an extremely durable mesh material consisting of PVC and acrylic that combines strength and softness to produce a textile with the “hand” appearance and texture of an open-weave material. It is resistant to rot, mildew, UV radiation and fading, with a backside coating that provides a 100 percent waterproof mesh. It is a unique and comfortable material for your customers.

The comfort factor and ease of care make it a prime consideration for your next project. Whether for seating at sea or on exterior furniture, it is an impressive and functional material.

Contact either your local vendor or Serge Ferrari for color cards and pricing. Serge Ferrari is also an active participant at the national MFA and IFAI conferences, with an extensive assortment of other high-quality marine materials.

Sunbrella® fabrics are a far cry from the solid “canvas” that most fabricators were once familiar with. Sunbrella acrylic yarns are available to designers to create the patterns and textures that are now a virtual “Garden of Eden” in the marketplace. Designers at companies such as Ralph Lauren® and Kravet® have used Sunbrella in luscious patterns and textures at price points that are competitive to familiar brands, while others can exceed $200 per yard. The price may seem steep, yet just one yard can have a dramatic effect on your next project and be a showcase piece for the vessel owner.


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Seating solutions for reclining, storage and temperature control

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Terri Madden’s March/April 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

When a customer requests an unusual type of seating for a boat, it’s a fabrication opportunity to begin a comfortable dialogue with that client. Instead of hesitantly saying, “I will try to do my best,” turn your response into, “I am here to help you.”

That customer may have already heard a reluctant fabricator say, “That’s not possible,” or “That’s going to cost a lot of money.” The open-minded fabricator will thoughtfully listen and ask questions as the customer describes his or her vision. The goal is to cultivate a constructive dialogue that will help a customer understand the value of the fabricator’s time, effort and skills. What’s more, creating an especially challenging seating project may become an award-winner that ultimately showcases a fabricator’s considerable skill and experience.

Customers are often looking for a wow factor in their new marine cushions and seating. At the same time, they usually have budget constraints and want the work completed as soon as possible. To balance these demands, fabricators need to help clients understand the give and take of turning unusual requests into reality.   

When an usually project is requested, here are ideas for preparing for your first meeting with the client:

  • Designate a day to review his or her request so you have sufficient time to explore solutions that will suit the project.
  • Consider whether this project will take away or add to your core business.
  • Review measurements and gather photos of similar projects.
  • Develop sketches and rough drafts for the client.
  • Research the type of materials required, including quantities, costs and availability.
  • Compare the customer’s budget to your rough estimate for materials and labor.
  • Designate your prototype fee in your estimate; this will be different than a quantity fee and re-orders on certain items.

Adjustable chaise seating

Consider what new projects you have seen in the past year. I find it inspiring to view fellow fabricators’ projects that, to my knowledge, had not previously existed in the marine market but are now are frequently seen on pleasure crafts around the world.

Adjustable reclining chaise seating has been in the furniture industry for years, yet only recently have a few fabricators sourced hardware and materials to transition this idea to the marine market. Now this comfortable solution is a reality for marine customers.

In the past, super yachts often incorporated flat cushions into a recessed area on the bow of the boat. Typically these “day bed” cushions have had elevated headrests integrated into the body of a cushion, providing only a few inches of elevation. However, fabricators like David Elliott, owner of David’s Custom Trimmers in Australia, have recently utilized a 25 mm Kingboard as a custom base with a stainless ratchet-hinge. The hardware is available from Taco Marine. This fusion has provided a durable and comfortable solution for guests to sit side-by-side with one person relaxing in an upright position while another person reclines.

Since the completion and installation of this project, Elliott has been sourcing additional prototypes for alternate functional hardware that is enduring and functional when installed into a fiberglass hull. He, like so many other fabricators, continues to strive to propel a great concept to the next dimension.  

Premium storage

Every vessel, no matter how large or small, needs optimized storage space, which is always tight onboard. Crew and owners need most items to be securely stowed away, yet they want easy access to everything from hardware to comfortable quilts.

Clever storage was recently created in the armrests of a custom-built sofa by Canvas Designers Inc., Riveria Beach, Fla. In fact, this upholstery project was awarded an Award of Distinction in the MFA 2016 Fabrication Excellence Awards. This custom sofa was for a 72-foot Merritt Sport Fish.

The two sofa arms of this handsome U-shaped sofa provide spacious custom storage via a hinge access feature. [Terri, this project was included in the March/April 2106 issue of MF (MFA Fabicator Awards). It stated “The entire seat and back are on hydraulic hinges, which lift up for storage space.” I think I should add this.]

Pat Erickson, at Canvas Designers, says the company slogan is, “If you can dream it, we can make it.”

The sofa is all leather with the back sections custom built with 2.25-inch horizontal channel pockets. The foam pockets were individually fabricated with a Stamoid back base for stability. The back has zipper access for stuffing the foam into the individual pockets. The size was specified by the client to match the leather boat blinds. This custom feature on the sofa back was exactly what the customer envisioned.

Just last week I received a customer request to include armrest storage in new custom sofa on a family vessel that is in a full refit stage. The customer saw this feature on the Internet and at a boat show. This opportunity illustrates how important it is to keep up with design trends for seating and cushions through Marine Fabricator magazine, seminars and conventions.

Climate controlled seating

Bill Marriott from Extreme Upholstery Designs, Charleston, S.C., is a talented fabricator who recently exceeded a customer’s expectations by creating climate-controlled mezzanine seating. He described the request as a “brain teaser, to say the least.” He puzzled through every step before preparing a prototype. Many times this type of process can take a fabricator days or weeks. I like to call it “chewing over a project.”

Bill’s client flew him to the boat site, so he could pattern the seat area on a new custom-made 62-foot Scarborough in North Carolina. The resulting seats are climate controlled with heat and air conditioning, so the owner can have a cool ride after a long hot fishing trip. Sunbrella® fabric was used. The one requirement the client had was, when standing on the dock or the back of the boat, he did not want to see into the open holes where the heat and air comes through the seat. Bill designed the seat so that only the fabric was visible when looking at the openings.

This was no easy task for a three-dimensional seat, which required access to insert the foam on form fitting cushions. Talent, ingenuity and years of design skills were incorporated into this amazing creation   .

Here are preparation tips that can guide you in creating a challenging project.

  • Do a conceptual “walk through” for each stage of a unique project to ensure that your time and talent are adequately compensated.
  • Confirm materials and hardware.
  • Prepare a maquette, sample or pattern.
  • Consider contours and alignment of all areas.
  • Determine time factors for each stage.
  • Determine what employee training may be required for the project.
  • Determine installation logistics and storage-related issues.

Don’t be shy about calling on fellow fabricators for advice when you hit a roadblock. You will be surprised at how willingly they share resources related to suppliers, techniques and professional contacts. I recall reading about scrim foam in the Marine Fabricator magazine several years back, I did not know what this foam was or how it would be utilized, so I contacted the author. She was more than willing to explain the various types and usages and provide a list of vendors. Through reaching out to others, I am fortunate to have many friends in this unique industry.