ART OF THE BESPOKE JET
New York architect Lee F. Mindel talks to AD about customizing a Gulfstream G550 and getting the design details right for the air up there.
The essential luxury of owning a private jet is the ability to control time and space: You can travel on your own schedule and sit with whomever you choose. But even the relatively roomy Gulfstream G550 is not exactly palatial—the passenger cabin measures a little over six feet high and seven feet wide, and its just under 44 feet long. Which is why architects Lee F. Mindel and Peter Shelton, of the Manhattan firm Shelton, Mindel & Associates, were asked by a longtime client to work with Gulfstream to customize his plane and make it feel as spacious, sumptuous, and serene as possible. “We take long flights to Europe and South America frequently,” says the owner, noting that the G550 can fly almost 7,800 miles without refueling. “We sleep mostly. When you travel as much as we do, you want to arrive refreshed at your destination.”
Simple enough. But as with all of Shelton, Mindel’s projects, a great deal of thoughtfulness went into making the jet’s interior a sanctuary. “You have to ask the question, What state do you want to be in while airborne?” he says. “I think people don’t often ask such primal questions about experience. You should not just take the hospitality aesthetic and laminate it onto something that flies.” The firm came up with a restrained design that addressed the client’s preferences as well as the particularities of life at high altitudes. “Everything changes when you are up in the air,” Mindel says. “In bright light, the cabin can be very daunting, so you have to neutralize the light and make it restful. The notion of absorption and reflection poses a challenge. Traditionally, most of these planes have quite shiny surfaces in them, and this time we were determined to make it more matte, so the light would not cause stress on the eyes.”
Mindel collaborated with Gulfstream’s team on every aspect of the design, including the materials (leather, soft wool flannels, natural oak) and the asymmetrical layout of the seats. “The idea was to make the compressed space feel less confined,” he explains. “People might look at this and just say, ‘Oh, it’s beige,’ but in a way we were trying to do things that were unnoticeable. We wanted to create an environment that makes travel as peaceful and effortless as possible.”