Manfredi Catella is the young and enterprising chairman and CEO of Hines Italia, the Italian branch of the Houston-based real estate giant founded by Gerald Hines, owner of the Dubois-designed sloop Lady B. The Superyacht Owner discovers that like his business associate and mentor, Manfredi is a keen sailor, but he prefers the hands-on control and close contact with the water that only dinghy sailing can offer.

Manfredi Catella in his office in central Milan

Catella was born in Livorno on the Tuscan coast and as a teenager raced FUN Class one-designs at international level. The seven-metre centreboard dinghy was created by French designers Michel Joubert and Bernard Nivelt and used to be built by Jeanneau, but when production was halted the Catella family decided to acquire the moulds and in 1998 they set up production at Cantiere Nautico Lillia on Lake Como, where it continues to this day.

The racing stopped when he first went to work in Paris as a young man in his mid-20s. These days, a busy professional life combined with the demands of a family of four young children (he is married to US-born Kelly Russell, who works alongside her husband as marketing and communications director of Hines Italia) means his sailing is mostly confined to outings in his Laser or catamaran dinghy with his two middle children aged seven and nine. He recently took ownership of two more Lasers when Hines sold his home in Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera and was looking to dispose of them, so in theory he now has enough boats for all his children and himself.

“I liked the idea of combining the worlds of Italian yacht design and residential design.” – Manfredi Catella.

“I think the challenge for most people these days is how to balance our working and family lives,” says Catella. “We’re a close-knit family and I’m lucky insofar as I already work with my wife and I try to keep business travel to day trips, but sailing requires time and has definitely lost out in recent years.”

At the time of my visit to his office in central Milan, he was about to redress the balance with a two-week charter holiday in Sardinia aboard a 20m sailing catamaran.

“I’ve never been one for cruising as I’ve always preferred the excitement of racing,” he admits. “But who knows? If the holiday is successful I might consider buying a cruising yacht myself.”

Gerald Hines' Vitters built Lady B

Nor has Catella been tempted by the superyacht regatta circuit, despite his experience aboard Lady B last year in Newport. He certainly has no lack of opportunities to experience the thrill of super-sailing yachts as another stakeholder in Hines Italia is financier Francesco Micheli, owner of the 1902 gaff-rigged, three-masted schooner Shenandoah, which was restored by McMullen & Wing in New Zealand.

“As a small boat sailor it’s almost embarrassing for me to be standing there with a glass of champagne in my hand as a guest – I want to shout out ‘Give me a sheet to pull on!’ or something like that,” he admits. “I can see how these big boats are carrying innovation forward, but the racing crews are nearly all professionals and at a competitive level it’s less rewarding for me because you’re not really a part of the action.”

Large yacht design, however, has made its way into his real estate projects in conjunction with Dolce Vita Homes (DVH), an agency set up by Catella offering integrated architecture and interior design services. The 4@1Home concept, a modular study in small-space living, was presented by DVH at this year’s Furniture Fair in Milan along with a fully functioning prototype unit in the residential quarter of the Porta Nuova complex. A complete account of this innovative project will be published in a future edition of our sister publication SuperyachtDesign, but suffice to say that Catella brought in Mario Pedol of Nauta Yachts, the Milanese studio renowned for its sailboat designs and exterior styling of Lürssen Yachts’s 180m Azzam, to oversee the many yacht-based design features.

Manfredi Catella

“It’s a study in small, multifunctional living spaces that still have dignity in terms of high quality design and materials,” says Catella. “Who better to help design such a space than a sailboat designer? So I asked Riccardo Bonadeo, a friend and director of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, for advice and he recommended the architect Renzo Piano or the yacht designer Mario Pedol.”

In the event, it was Pedol who took on the advisory role – a doubly fitting choice as Nauta Yachts also designed Piano’s 22m composite maxi yacht Kirribilli together with the renowned architect. “I liked the idea of combining the worlds of Italian yacht design and residential design,” concludes Catella. “Mario was a initially a little perplexed when we presented the brief, but the prototype has exceeded our expectations and we’re now looking to export the concept to other cities around the world.”

Read the full article in Issue 9 of The Superyacht Owner.