Interior designer

Born: October 27, 1939

Died: October 4, 2015

JOHN McNeece, who has died aged 75, was a Govan-born designer whose sense of style graced the interiors of everything from the Lanark County buildings in Hamilton to the plush palaces of the Saudi royal family in the Levantine.

But, above all else, his metier was the interior design of some of the world’s biggest ocean-going cruise liners. Many of the great ships which have plied the seas over the last 40 years - P&O’s Oriana and Aurora, the Crown Odyssey, the Cunard Princess and the refitted QE2 to name but a few - were subject to the McNeece treatment.

His last and most challenging project was The World, the largest private residential ship ever constructed with 165 apartments accommodating its permanent residents whilst the ship continuously circumnavigates the globe.

Given his childhood roots in Cowie Street, Govan, where each morning he woke to a skyline of shipyard cranes, it was a surprise to no one that ships played a key part in his professional life.

Born the son of a gardener, Mr McNeece excelled at art (and drawing in particular) at St Gerard’s Secondary school. He would regularly go to the shipyards to sketch the vessels being constructed in the dry dock.

While his two sisters became teachers, he studied at Glasgow School of Art, graduating in 1962 and winning a post-grad scholarship. As a result he was able to take part in the design of three Caledonian McBrayne ferries, one of which still sails today as the cruise ship Hebridean Princess.

With his friend and fellow designer Alastair Fletcher, Mr McNeece established the first interior design practice in Scotland (until then designers had worked within architectural firms). Within a few months the Glasgow-based Fletcher McNeece partnership was designing workshops, pubs, offices, casinos and even law courts.

In 1982, due to the volume of work they were attracting from South of the Border, the company opened premises in London; in a former small factory in King’s Cross. By then their reputation had grown significantly and they were being commissioned to design office interiors for blue chip companies, parts of Gatwick Airport and the desert palaces (and London mansions) of the Saudi royal family.

The company’s break into maritime work, when it came, was relatively mundane - an offshore accommodation module for North Sea oilworkers. However, Mr McNeece’s Govan ties served him well when in the early1980s he gained the contract for the design development of North Sea Ferries’ MV Norsea, built at the Fairfield yard.

In 1985, by which time he and his second wife Norma had moved to live in London, the Fletcher McNeece practice had set its sights on the burgeoning market for cruise liners. The following year they were engaged by Royal Caribbean to design Sovereign of the Seas, the first of the mega cruise ships.

In 1988 Mr McNeece bought out his partner’s share in the practice and the firm became simply “McNeece”. He consolidated his reputation for creating exceptional interiors - elegant, simple, opulent - for cruise ships, notably the first five liners for Celebrity Cruises, Oriana and Aurora for P&O and eight ships for Renaissance Cruises, all of which still sail today under the flags of a variety of lines. He also took on many private commissions for super yachts.

The firm expanded further by opening offices in Miami, generally recognised as the cruise capital of the world.

He was said to use his customers’ money cannily as if it was his own. There is a tale about his early days in the business when he was preparing a model of his concept for the interior of the new 16-storey Lanark County Buildings in Hamilton. Working on his mother’s kitchen table, he was struggling to create a strip of floor covering about the size of an envelope. His mum was duly recruited to help and she rummaged through her knitting basket and gummed together strips of wool.

Thus, when the council official saw her pattern, he insisted that he wanted an office carpet exactly like it.

Mr McNeece retired in 2008 and he and Norma moved North to Edinburgh. For the next three years he was president of the Scottish Arts Club in the city, a role which he thoroughly enjoyed. Under his leadership, the membership grew significantly. His sense of humour was legendary as were his after dinner speeches.

In 2012 the couple moved back South and settled in a quiet Hampshire village.

Among the many awards which he won as a partner in the firm over the years were the National Design Award (1980 and 1982), Scottish Designer of the Year (1982) and the Sea Trade Safety Innovation Award.

He was a Fellow of the Institute of Interior Designers, a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists & Designers and Honorary Secretary of the Chartered Society of Designers.

He was a Freeman of the City of London, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, a visiting Fellow of the Sea Trade Cruise Academy, and a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. He was a member of the Naval Club.

Mr McNeece, who died peacefully after a short illness, is survived by his wife Norma and his sons Adrian and Mark.