Jon Bannenberg was born in Sydney, 1929. He attended the Canterbury Boys Highschool and then went on to study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. An unusual start for whom became, and is still known as, the world’s most influential Yacht Designer. But that is precisely the word to describe Jon Bannenberg’s career, unusual. After studying in Sydney he took the chance to leave Australia by accepting a job from the Ngaio Marsh theatre company. They were in need of a pianist and stage manager.
After finishing up work with the Ngaio Marsh theatre company, Jon found that work was scarce in London and he was taking any opportunity that came his way. This meant working as a shelf stacker at Woolworths (Jon describes this as the only time he ever actually worked for someone else) and offering his piano services wherever they were needed. Then one day he came across an old friend from Sydney whom he started a small decorative and antiques business with. This friend later became his wife, Beau. The small shop made quite the splash on a dry London scene in the 60’s and sparked the interest of Mrs. Partridge of Partridge Fine Arts, which eventuated into a partnership. This is when Jon Bannenberg started designing and fitting out interiors of luxury homes.
Jon continued this for sometime and his yacht design career only started when he met a man named Geoffrey Simmonds and his wife Doreen, whom he described as “the true authors of the JB story”. Their first meeting was in Jon and Beaus’ store ‘Marble and Lemon’, now located within the Partridge Fine Arts building on Bond Street. Geoffrey was in search of a particular designer who could interpret a particular style that he was chasing for a recently purchased property in Greenwich. Having no luck in finding this he decided to call upon an old friend who worked at Partridge Fine Arts. Upon a visit there he was immediately introduced to Jon. It is safe to say that the design meeting went exceptionally well, as it progressed into a long partnership and friendship that lasted for the remaining years of their lives.
Jon worked on many projects for Geoffrey from houses to offices and even some product design. One night over dinner Geoffrey and Jon were looking over the drawings for Geoffrey’s new 80 foot yacht, designed by the well known Camper and Nicholson’s. Disgusted by what he saw Jon went on to describe exactly what he thought “a yacht is such a beautiful object, but most of that shape is beneath the water and mostly invisible to the naked eye. Builders then place these unimaginative boxes on the deck and call them deck houses.”
After this meeting Jon took the plans and came back three days later with drawings of what he was proposing for the 80 foot yacht. This is what later became Tiawana, Jon’s first super yacht of about two hundred to come in the next four decades. Jon admitted that he was concerned everyone would not like this new design “and they didn’t, given that yachts are, by tradition ,conservative in appearance and style” said Geoffrey, but this did not stop him. If anything it gave fuel to the fire and made him push the design to the furthest points possible at the time. This became a precedent for Jon’s design adage and career. But more importantly this project is considered the first time a designer was hired instead of a Naval Architect to design a yacht. Consequently this created a new design occupation, the Yacht Designer.