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Insight: Tim Heywood at his heyday

Business
Written by
Georgia Tindale

Overlooking the city of Cape Town in Western Cape, South Africa, Table Mountain is one of the foremost and most famous tourist attractions found in the region, with thousands of visitors from all around the world flocking to the area to reach its summit via cableway or on foot. As well as the large array of flora and fauna which can be found as you make your ascent, the most distinctive aspect of a trip up Table Mountain is evident upon finally reaching the summit: the flat top which gives the landmark its name.  

Our next interview subject does not hail from Cape Town, or even call South Africa his home, but finds this South-African landmark to be an excellent analogy for describing his career in the superyacht industry so far. As he explains, “It’s not the highest mountain in the world, but you get up there and don’t come down again. You can just keep walking along the top and that’s what we’ve been able to do for a long time thanks to a string of really wonderful clients who have given us the opportunity to design boats for them.” Tim Heywood Photo: Jeff Brown / Breed Media / AmelsAnd what remarkable boats these are. Superyachts springing from the drawing boards of Tim Heywood Design over the past few decades have included the seventh-largest superyacht currently in operation, the 147-metre Lürssen A+ (previously known as Topaz), the iconic 115-metre Pelorus - launched by Lürssen in 2003 - one of the most luxurious Feadship vessels ever to grace the water, the 101.5-metre Symphony, the largest new-build boat to be built in the US to date, the 85.6-metre Aquila from Derecktor Shipyards (known as Cakewalk at the time of her 2010-launch), and many, many more. Of course, size isn’t everything for the British designer who first entered the industry under the wing of the late, great Jon Bannenberg, but it does show us something. Namely, that over a career spanning four decades, Tim Heywood has won himself something which isn’t easy to come by: the trust of some of the world’s most influential and private people to create extraordinary - and extremely private - floating homes for them. Plus, as the affable designer hints at throughout our conversation, these clients often end up coming back for more. Topaz yachtPhoto: Lürssen“We’ve done some remarkable work over the years, and I do sometimes have to pinch myself when I look back.” Looking back is not something that the designer likes to do often, preferring to keep his attention focused firmly on the next exterior design project (or five). Allowing ourselves the liberty to look back, how did Heywood get to where I see him today, moving between his tranquil and beautifully laid-out studio space annexe and the elegant country house he shares with his business partner and now wife, Vanessa on the outskirts of Headley in Hampshire, England? 

With a background in industrial design engineering, Heywood is the first to admit that his initial meeting with Mr Bannenberg had something fortuitous about it. “I approached another company who I thought were looking for an illustrator and they said that they were terribly sorry, but they weren’t looking any more. A friend of theirs was looking for someone though: a guy called Jon in Chelsea who did yacht design. So I rang them up and they said come by tomorrow and I thought, ‘I’d better draw some yachts.’ I worked through the whole night drawing my first ever yachts and the longest one I drew was about 18 feet long. I really had no idea about big yachts - and I came in and got offered the job starting the next day.”Aquila running shots Photo: Rupert PearceOnce given the chance, it didn’t take long for Heywood to earn his stripes with Bannenberg, visiting shipyards all around the world and relishing the opportunities it brought him. “I loved every minute of being in a shipyard and the effect of seeing what I’d drawn actually appear on the slipway. It’s a truly wonderful thing to stand on the quay and wave goodbye to them and off they go around the world.” Quick to attribute much of his early success to the influence of the English-Australian yacht designer who “created the yacht design industry”, as Heywood sees it, Heywood moved from being a “kind of jobbing designer, doing everything and anything Jon wanted me to do”, to a designer in his own right, conducting client meetings, assembling contracts and running the complete project himself (with Bannenberg looking over his shoulder from time to time). By 1996, however, it was time for a change. Bannenberg had decided to become part-owner of an Australian shipyard in a move which Heywood was certain could only be detrimental to his relationships with European shipyards. For Heywood, it was the perfect opportunity to break off and make his own luck and Tim Heywood Designs was born, together with the help and guiding hands of co-director Vanessa, his partner, constant supporter and encouraging influencer.Tim Heywood at the Amels shipyardPhoto: Amels/ Tom van OossanenIt wasn’t only the company car and computer which Heywood was allowed to keep when he left Bannenberg. “I was working on Limitless at the time and Jon said, ‘I’ll pay you a fee, but I want you to maintain control over Limitless and complete her. I was obviously very pleased and carried it on with him, and then the shipyard took me on to do the wheelhouse and crew accommodation and that cemented my relationship with Lürssen.” Since going solo back in 1996, Heywood has decided to keep it that way, offering me a wry smile when he describes receiving emails from ill-informed internship hopefuls keen to demonstrate their enthusiasm to join the ‘Tim Heywood Design team’. Heywood’s characteristically kind solution to this predicament is to direct their attention towards larger superyacht design outfits such as his long-time working associates, and former colleagues at Bannenberg’s studio, Terence Disdale and Andrew Winch in London where they might have better luck.  

Working as this team of two, with partner Vanessa, represents the perfect set-up for Heywood as it allows him to concentrate on what he loves the most: the actual nitty-gritty work of design. “I get to do all the design work, and that is what I love: be it a 140-metre piece of sculpture, a bollard or a stainless-steel door handle which is going to be on the exterior door of this wonderful yacht.” Speaking of bollards, it is when he is describing a bollard design he devised for the 115-metre Pelorus that Heywood’s excitement for his vocation shines through. “I was looking at the bollard design and thinking ‘it’s a bollard, a bit like other bollards, but could I put a piece of teak decking in the top?’ I asked Lürssen and they said, ‘Ah, we will speak to the stainless steel manufacturers and see what it possible’ and they eventually came back and said, yes they could make a recess. A lot of my yachts since then have had a teak top to the bollard, which looks great, plus you can sit on it, even when it’s been in the sun as it’s nowhere near as hot as sitting on stainless steel. Little details like that - I get such a big kick out of them.”Pelorus yacht by Lürssen in MonacoPhoto: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesAnd then there’s the deck columns: “When you go on a lot of boats, you will see a 120mm diameter pipe which is holding up the deck column, but if you go on my boats, you don’t see that, you’ll see an arching piece of aluminium, beautifully finished and clad with teak or painted bronze with lights built in. I feel that every detail on a yacht should have design time and effort invested in it.” Easy as it is to become absorbed in listening to Heywood waxing lyrical about these design details, it is the sum of their parts that has won him his extraordinary reputation. His sleek and ‘athletically feminine’ lines are somewhat of a trademark of his work, although not something he feels in any way limited by. This is evidenced by the 62.4-metre Amels Limited Edition 199 superyacht Event delivered in 2013 which displays these feminine “sculpted curves” alongside more militaristic and faceted aspects (a kind of “origami effect” as Heywood describes it). For the British designer, it is the ability to create massive forms and shapes through his creations which has kept him primarily focused on exterior rather than interior design, especially in the latter part of his career - although his highly industrious personality also comes into play. Event yacht cruisingPhoto: Jeff Brown/ Breed Media and Amels“I love the grander scale, but as the projects got bigger and bigger, I realised that the interior takes as much time, maybe even more time, as the exterior. I thought, if I just do the exteriors, I can do maybe three boats simultaneously, if I do the interior, I can only do one in that time. I don’t want to undertake a complete interior again. Let the usual suspects of our interior design get on with it! I’ve worked with Terence Disdale on 4-5 boats and likewise, I’ve worked with Andrew Winch and Laura Sessa  - there are probably seven interior design companies that have had work on our projects. It’s nice that we’ve given out so much work - let’s keep these guys busy!”

One of the most significant collaborations in Heywood’s career was when he designed a whole range of yachts for Dutch shipyard Amels, the Limited Editions range, including the popular 55-metre LE180 which has sold more than 24 units since its inception in 2011. This represented an interesting test for the designer. “The larger the boat is, the easier it is to make it elegant, but I liked the challenge of trying to apply the design formulas I’ve created to smaller boats. You put as much design effort into the first yacht of the series as you would with an individual design because that’s what it is: an individual design."Amels 180 Limited Edition In any case, whether it is the fifteenth boat in a series for Amels or a fully-confidential one-off custom 100m+ project, it is his profound understanding of the clients for whom he is designing that has kept Heywood at the peak of the design business for the last 40 years and ensured his longevity within the industry. Heywood quite frequently finds himself in that rare club of those invited back onto superyachts following their completion: an invitation that he may politely decline. “These boats that I’m involved in are people’s homes. You can live on a yacht and run your business and if you don’t tell people where you are, they won’t know. One of the things that drives this industry is providing privacy for these people. I went on a boat in a shipyard recently that was nearly completed and the captain asked me, ‘Would you like to see the inside?’ And I said, ‘No, you’ve got a beautiful exterior which is my design, and I am very pleased with that, but that is enough’. If the clients wish me to come and have a look around, I’d be happy to, but these are people’s private homes. This means I’ve still not seen the interiors of some of my yachts!” Tim Heywood at the Amels shipyardPhoto: Amels/ Tom van OossanenIndeed, this consideration for the needs of his clients goes right to the core of Heywood’s design philosophy and carries with it a refreshing pragmatism. “I’ve always tried to produce work that I feel pushes the envelope a little bit but doesn’t go wacky, Vanessa’s opinion is a great stabilising factor! For the client who invests a lot of time, effort and a substantial amount of money into these boats, they know that if they have a Tim Heywood designed boat, they will recoup the money they spent later on.” 

This approach does not mean, however, that Heywood suffers from any shortage of tantalising design ideas. What is the most challenging superyacht project which he has not yet been able to build? “It was a 140-metre which had an exterior covered in faceted glass. I went to see a repeat client with five sketches to see which direction to go in and this was one of them, and he liked it. I was surprised and I started developing it. It was something totally unique and different but then he decided not to proceed with the project yet. Yet. So we’ll see!” Appropriately vague for a designer who values client confidentiality so highly, Heywood has a “couple of projects” with which he is currently involved, as well as “a nice little project in Germany which isn’t a yacht.” But whenever it is that we see the next instantly-recognisable Tim Heywood-design cruising on the seven seas, one thing for certain is that this designer is still at the top of his game. 

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