It was dinner time and President Harry S Truman ushered his guest, Winston Churchill, to his seat aboard the presidential yacht. The chair collapsed under the weight of the rotund British prime minister, prompting Truman to politely suggest it was time to rehabilitate the vessel.
Such is the stuff of legend around the offices of H. Chambers Co., an old-line Baltimore firm that was called upon to design the new interior of the yacht -- though not its chairs -- and yachts of several presidents to follow.
In its 92 years, the company has developed a name for itself in such seemingly disparate decorating projects as elegant Guilford homes, New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and the Sheraton Hotel in Kuwait City. Among its specialties are country clubs and, of course, yachts.
So it seemed natural to chairman J.H.L. Chambers II six years ago that the company should seek business designing interiors for the cruise ship industry, in the midst of a boom set off by the television series Love Boat. He successfully pitched his firm to a company building a pair of 811-foot-long luxury liners.
The last of those ships to be completed -- the $200 million Regal Princess -- cruised into Baltimore yesterday on its way to its inaugural cruise in Florida. The ship was christened last week in New York by one of Churchill's successors, for mer Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
"There is a big psychic income from doing a project like this," Chambers said yesterday at the Baltimore welcoming ceremonies for the ship.
Chambers, who declined to say how much the company earned from the project, said his firm is one of a handful of American ones competing in an industry dominated by Europeans. The owners of the Princess Regal, Princess Cruises of Los Angeles, favored a U.S. designer because most of its passengers are going to be Americans when it is deployed in the Caribbean, he said.
At times over the past six years, the company had its entire, 60-person staff in Baltimore working on the Princess Regal and its sister ship, the Crown Princess, said Chambers, a Naval Academy graduate and great-grandson of the firm's founder.
The project was a learning experience for everyone involved, Chambers said. Design concepts were often altered to satisfy maritime requirements. Plans for decorative granite flooring in some areas, for example, gave way to better-suited deck materials, he said.
Teresa Anderson, senior designer and project director on the ships for H. Chambers Co., said she was still able to adapt many of the skills used in designing hotel interiors.
"It's like a floating hotel," she said.
Among the largest cruise ships in the world, the Italian-built Princess Regal can carry 1,590 passengers in 795 staterooms. It has a casino, champagne and caviar bar, showroom, and several restaurants, swimming pools and observation areas.
While the ship is ritzy, its light woods and polished metals are designed to convey a "casually elegant" feel, in contrast to the opulence of some cruise ships.