The World of Winch Design

By Alexandra Groom for Super Yacht World

"I always say the next project is more exciting than the last,” is a thrilling sentence to hear coming from a man who counts Madame Gu, Ace and Dilbar among the yachts in his extensive portfolio. What ever could come next? The mind boggles.

This year Andrew Winch is celebrating the milestone of 30 years of Winch Design, and there is a significant amount to reflect on. Not content, however, with being one of the industry’s elite yacht designers, he is also celebrating 15 years of the Winch Aviation Studio team and ten years since the inception of his Architecture Studio. It’s an impressive tally, and speaks volumes about a man passionately dedicated to design in all its forms. Only one other thing left to celebrate this year: his 60th birthday.

“I grew up on the South Coast in Bosham, Chichester Harbour. My father still lives there, and I learnt to sail with him. Sailing was what initially got me into boat design. I sailed across the Atlantic as a skipper when I was 21, on a 52-footer. When I came back to Europe I decided I didn’t want to be crew, I wanted to design!”

After initially training as a sculptor, Winch moved into 3D design, before joining the renowned studio of Jon Bannenberg.“I spent six years with Jon Bannenberg as an apprentice. I’m still very good friends with his son Dickie, which is lovely, and also one of my former colleagues, Tim Heywood, who I’m working with now on five projects.” Winch isn’t name-dropping, and although a conversation with him about his projects will inevitably involve lots of ‘big names’, it serves not to impress, but to show the quality of his collaborations and the mutual respect he enjoys with his peers.

Winch is also enjoying two specific yachting milestones in 2016, both collaborations: “We’re celebrating delivering Dilbar, the largest private yacht in the world by volume, and also celebrating probably the most successful 64-foot sailing yacht ever, the Jeanneau 64, at the same time!” says Winch.

On the superyacht spectrum, there isn’t really an appropriate metaphor to describe how far these two landmarks are apart from each other. But according to Winch, that’s not important: “The size is not the issue, but the success of the project,” he insists. “The quality, the success and the pleasure that people get from using it, seeing it, and living on it.” So, whilst on a metaphysical level the two projects are the same, an elemental comparison shows the sheer range of Winch’s work: Dilbar weighs 15,917 gross tonnes; the Jeanneau weighs just 30.5 gross tonnes.

Winch ensures his studio give the same amount of attention to detail to every project, which goes some way to explaining his success across the ranges. The Jeanneau came about through a close collaboration with French designer Philippe Briand, and Dilbar was a project with Espen Øino, who drew her exterior lines. Winch and his team put their expertise to work on the interior spaces of Dilbar: “We have been lucky enough to work on some of the most beautiful and noteworthy superyachts and it has been a privilege to work on Dilbar. She was a large and complex project but we had the experience and scale to manage without compromising other projects,” explains Winch. “The yacht team worked very closely with our interiors team so we had a large number of people working together to achieve the best results – Dilbar was a wonderful project for all who were lucky enough to be involved.”

However you package it, Dilbar was a monumental project, and is currently the most sought-after yacht for yacht-spotters and aficionados to get close to. “The main challenge with a project of this size was just the sheer amount of resource needed. We give every project the same attention to detail so it was just about scaling up,” says Winch. “We have obviously learnt a huge amount over the past 30 years and each project teaches us something new. We harnessed all of our combined experience and design talent to ensure this project was run in exactly the same as every other Winch project. The complexities of design has obviously changed over 30 years and client expectations have also developed, but this is a good thing, as we enjoy the challenge and want to push boundaries. The end result is very much worth all of the hard work.”

And it’s not just enormous yachts the Winch design team work on. “We’ve just drawn an A380 for a client – it will be great if it ever happens!” says Winch. Boeing Business Jets and Airbus Corporate Jets are mainly what the Aviation Studio focuses on, and they have four projects on at the moment, one of which is the first Dreamliner-900, the longest 787 yet.

“I’ve got at least a few clients that have multiple Winch products. And that’s great, it’s a great treat!” says Winch. “I love the synergy of our clients living in a Winch house, flying in a Winch plane, and stepping onto their Winch yacht having gone out to it on a Winch tender or helicopter. Each of those experiences should be fun and a pleasure, and they are about a culture of life. We build a life for our clients.” Winch also somehow manages to take on projects accidentally: “I had a client who walked in here and said ‘I know you do yachts but I don’t want a yacht, so don’t talk about yachts, I want a plane.’ And half way through he said ‘I actually really like the yachts, let’s do a yacht as well.’ So we started a yacht project!”

The technicalities needed for interior yacht design is what has enabled Winch to seamlessly navigate the waters of aviation and property projects. “We just finished an apartment in London for a family with two children and 30 staff. We had to design the interior like a yacht, which is why he hired us. He said ‘I can see what you do on the yacht projects: you never see the crew in a Winch yacht.’ They can be completely invisible because of the routes we work. They have their own back-of-house and I’ve been doing that for some time. It’s a very British tradition and it works very well. In this London project the chef has separate kitchens in another apartment, which might seem strange to some, but that happens on a yacht anyway, the galley is on another floor. So it’s absolutely the same designing a yacht as designing a fantastic apartment in Knightsbridge.”

For Winch, building a relationship with the client is just as important as building the project, and he will only take on clients with whom he can build that emotional connection. “Our clients are our patrons. They commission the construction of something unique, whether it’s a yacht or carpets and artwork. It’s thinking about lifestyles: we put ourselves into the equation in every detail. So we ask questions: how big should the shower be? Well, how big is the shower at home? He’ll want the same. Which side of the bed does he sleep on? Because then that’s the side for the bathroom. Little things make a big difference.”

Good design can be so spectacular that even the creators are in awe, “I walked back into Ace last year and I went, ‘Crickey, did we design this?!’ It takes your breath away when you haven’t seen it for a couple of years,” laughs Winch.

But one of the most important qualities is being able to start from the right block. “I think the most important thing is to listen. It’s very difficult to create a great project if you don’t know where the target is.” And sometimes you can hit the target too well. “The sad thing sometimes, is some clients have said, ‘Andrew I’d love to do a new boat, but I love the one I’ve got too much already!’ The owner of Cyclos III kept it 25 years! He said ‘I’m never going to change it because it fits me like a glove.’ I should have done it not so well so he would have bought more projects! But in all seriousness, I’m very proud that our clients keep their yachts for such a long time.”

As well as listening to his clients’ wishes, Winch knows when to include more personal suggestions. “On Sea Owl we carved a four-storey magic tree based on Peter Pan. I grew up in Kensington and going to the gardens to see the sculpture was an inspiration. I told that story to the owners who are grandparents and they loved it. They said: ‘Let’s make a magic wall of everything about America!’” The yacht was an interesting project for the Winch studio. “We were building the first Sea Owl, a 43-metre at Burger Yachts, when the clients said: ‘We’ve already realised it’s not going to be big enough. Andrew, we want you to start designing a new boat. Maximum size is 62 metres, let’s get on with it!’ So we hadn’t even finished the first one when we started the bigger one.” The clients kept both yachts for different types of cruising. “Every weekend in summer they get on a boat. It’s a sense of freedom, and it relaxes the parents and the children and grandchildren. It’s about them loving their spaces.”

An occupational hazard for Winch is designing masterpieces that only a small community will ever be able to appreciate. In comes Portonovi, a new high-end development in Montenegro, with a brand-new marina and Winch-designed yacht club. “This is the first public space project for Winch Design which makes it even more exciting!” says Winch. “The building will be a fantastic showcase for the architecture team, and the free-form design will challenge all of us that are involved with this project and will produce an iconic landmark building of which we can all be very proud. So many of the projects that we work on are confidential so it is a wonderful opportunity for us to show the world what we can do.”

As would be expected for such a milestone year, Winch and his studio want to celebrate. “I love parties I must say!” says Winch. But Jane, Andrew’s wife and business partner, came up with a better idea. “She said we should do something that gives money rather than spends it.” And so, the London to Monaco bike ride was born. Winch and members of his team, along with anyone else who wanted to participate, cycled from the Tower of London to the Palace in Monaco, arriving in time for the yacht show, to raise money for the Blue Marine Foundation. “We wanted to do something for the sea that’s given us 30 years of our industry. We really care about the Blue Marine Foundation and trying to clean up the seas and stop overfishing. We wanted to do something that wasn’t about spending money. We can spend £100,000 very quickly on a piece of furniture for a client if it’s got to be unique. It’s not until you try and raise money for something like sponsorship that you realise how much £1,000 is.” It’s a dichotomy the team are challenging, with the initial aim to raise £500,000 for the charity.

So what does the next 30 years look like for Winch Design? “I want to enjoy every opportunity for creativity, because that’s the inspiring thing that keeps us all wanting to be here and work,” says Winch. “We’re a studio of dream makers, but with a heritage of knowledge. We dream big dreams to create the future of design the way we see it.” And it’s not only yachts he has his design eye on. “I’d love to do more waterside architectural projects and furniture collections. It would be fun to be showing our work a little less exclusively.” The studio has a lot to be proud of, and has brought to life some stunning yachts. Their unique design makes them stand the test of time; a surprisingly slender bow, or a dramatic aft staircase: “Winch Design is about producing dynamic design, whatever the project. We don’t have a house style and view each project with a completely fresh eye.”

Winch employs around 70 people in his offices on the Thames, the same stretch of tidal river he’s been on for 30 years. Those waters could never have imagined in 1986 the yachts that they would inspire in 2016, but that’s the gift of Winch Design.