“I love being by the river. Water, the tide, and moons mean a lot to me. I’m Cancerian, and there is something very important to me about moving water, it's inspiring,” says Andrew Winch, yacht designer and founder of design studio Winch Design during our interview one crisp autumn morning in London.
While sitting in his recently renovated office at Winch Design in the Old Fire Station, it’s clear to see why he loves working here. The calm, peaceful surroundings of the idyllic neighbourhood and the stream of people and boats that travel up and down the Thames serve as the ideal backdrop for nurturing the creativity needed to design a yacht - or a plane, or an office, or a new house.
“We’ve been on the same stretch of the river Thames watching the tide go in and out for 34 years now,” Winch continues while looking out over the roaring river. A passionate sailor from a young age and an avid art collector, he is surprisingly soft-spoken for such an influential man within the industry. Having penned some of the industry’s most notable superyachts like Areti, Madame Gu, and Dubai, and designed interiors for iconic yachts such as Dilbar and Cloud 9, Winch is unabashedly open about the foundation of Winch Design. During our talk over coffee and stroopwafels, he shares his challenges as a designer, as well as his vision for the future of Winch Design.
In the three decades since the studio’s foundation in Winch’s family bedroom, it has grown exponentially, employing over 100 designers, architectures, interior decorators, and more. Winch Design’s expansive portfolio includes yacht interiors and exteriors, chateaux, beach villas, houses, offices, helicopters and privates planes. “If we can't survive with that much diversity, then we're clearly not doing good enough job,” Winch notes with a chuckle.
As one of the few studios in the world to work in yacht design, aviation and architecture, Winch admits that when he first set up Andrew Winch Design with his wife Jane in 1986, he only wanted to design sailboats. However, he quickly realised that the studio would be very short-lived if he only worked on sailing boats. “You only have to hit the first recession to realise that the sailboat market was probably at that point less than ten percent of the motor yacht market. Also, the motor yacht market was probably ten percent of what it is today.”
Finances were not the only reason why Winch decided to move into other design fields, despite never having trained as an architect or interior designer - clients offered the chance to expand into aviation and architecture.
"We were invited to design our first aeroplane interior by a sailboat client,” says Winch. ”He did not go through with the sailboat in the end, but we ended up doing the interior of a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) 2 for him. It was our first plane. I had no idea what a BBJ was, but I said if its a private jet, then I want to do it. I'm an annoyingly open person to opportunity. I think ‘let's have a go’ must be my motto for life.”
Photo: Jeff BrownSince then, the studio has gone on to work on other aircrafts such as Boeing 767s, Airbuses, Falcon 7xs, and helicopters. His willingness to take on all luxury projects, whether they be on the sea, air, or land is also partly thanks to the influence of his mentor, the late Jon Bannenberg. After graduating with a degree in 3D Design from the Kingston College of Art, Bannenberg encouraged Winch to learn more about yachting by travelling around the world. So Winch went to work as a skipper on a 52’ sailing yacht and sailed to the Caribbean, where his eyes were opened to the world of superyachts. “I’ve grown from that to understanding things like the 156-metre Dilbar, which has a 24-metre swimming pool inside,” he says with a chuckle.
Afterwards, he returned to London to work at Bannenberg’s studio, where he served as sailing boat manager for six years before deciding to set up his studio, a move which the late designer fully supported. “Jon never accepted that yesterday’s solution was all that could be done. He constantly challenged himself as well as the shipyards, designers, and clients he worked with, forever pushing them to create the exceptional instead of the norm,” he adds. “He taught me to be open-minded and never pigeonholed.”
This sense of willingness also helped instil Winch with a strong head for what is and what isn’t a feasible project for the studio to take on. For example, the size of a project does not make him nervous, not in the slightest.“The complexity of a project or the decision-making of a client can make me nervous, but we are regularly asked to look at projects. My initial comment is always ‘let me look at it’ - it does not matter what it is - and give me two weeks to assess it. I have to see if we have the right team, desire, and if it commercially makes sense for us to do it. Those are the parameters in business.”
While working on the interiors for the 156-metre Dilbar in 2014, he was approached by Jeanneau to work on a project for a new sailboat design. Winch had originally worked with the company to develop a full range of sailboats, but it had gone bankrupt before the first model could be built. Now 20 years later, they were asking him to work on a new 64’ model. “I said I would be interested in doing it if we made a production line, from 50’ to 64’ and we called it Jeanneau Yachts,” says Winch firmly. The company agreed, and they currently have a number of production models under construction, with the new model coming out the end of next December.
Winch himself owns a 64’ Jeanneau sailing boat, which he enjoys sailing on whenever possible with his family. However, just because he holds an affinity for sailing does not mean that he prefers designing sailboats over motor yachts, aeroplanes, or interiors. “It’s just as complicated to work with Jeanneau and create a 64’ sailboat as it is to design the interiors for a BBJ - you have to design every single, tiny detail before it goes into production.”
All these projects do pose their unique challenges, ones that Winch and his team relished in working on. For example, the 156-metre Lürssen superyacht Dilbar was complex for a number of reasons. “Dilbar was a complicated project because of the scale of the job. We delivered it all turnkey - all the paintings were put on, all the decorations hung up, the full interior design ready.”
Photo: William SmithAfter approving the initial design with Dilbar’s owner and his team, Winch did not even see the client for three years while the studio was working on the project. Winch did not speak with him until the delivery of the yacht. In the end, the design team created seven different full-sized, complete mockups of her interior, including the swimming pool to fully understand what the owner was looking for.
"We had something along the lines of 27 lorries delivering all the furniture, accessories and decorations. There were more than a thousand scatter cushions delivered as well, each one custom-made for specific spaces on board. We made a different design for each cushion too - that is the level and attention to detail we go to for interiors.”
The studio’s interior design was such a success that the owner requested all his belongings be moved from his previous superyacht Ona to Dilbar within 24 hours so he could live on his new home. “That’s a true story - it was amazing,” says Winch with a smile. “The project was about giving him a new home, one that he felt fitted him like a glove and we succeeded.”
Photo: Tom van Oossanen / SuperYacht TimesMaking their clients' dreams come true is a cornerstone of Winch Design philosophy, and each project encourages Winch to push himself to the next level, such as one the studio’s larger superyacht projects set to launch next year, the 111-metre Lürssen motor yacht Tis. “She is a classic, and I've said this to Peter Lürssen - I believe that Tis is a pinnacle of classic design in the context that Bannenberg’s first yacht design Carinthia V was. I hope that Tis is considered as elegant and iconic in 40 years as Carinthia V was,” he says excitedly.
Created for a client who aims to spend a lot of time on the superyacht, the custom Tis features a bespoke swim platform for the owner to give his guests a warm welcome. An equally sophisticated interior nicknamed ‘cashmere cream’ matches her elegant exterior adding to her timeless charm. “It’s soft, gentle and classic. You could say it has the appeal of a London hotel like Claridge's or the Ritz.” As founder and creative director of Winch Design, Winch works on the creative aspects of all the projects the studio takes on. Although he does not meet every client personally, he does not necessarily want to.
Photo: Klaus Jordan“Each one of our clients walks through the door with a dream. They don’t come through the studio front door and say ‘I want a Winch.’ They come in and say ‘I have a dream.’” He jokes that the team can’t keep him off them, but it is clear to see that Winch is proud of the team he has created. He speaks fondly and warmly of employees who have stayed with the studio for 24 or 25 years working remotely and quips that no one ever seems to leave. They only seem to be growing.
“We have a talented, multifaceted team of designers here, and they are just as able to design the exterior of a yacht as they are chateaux.” At the moment half of the studio’s business is architecture-related due to the number of projects they take on, while the other half is divided between aviation and yachting. However, Winch is quick to add that this does change, and the studio goes through phases all the time. “You know big jobs, small jobs, too many jobs, not enough jobs - that's typical, and you learn how to cope, how to go through them while structuring and strengthening the business.”
One of the most significant changes Winch and his wife Jane initiated within the company’s structure was the transition from Andrew Winch Designs to Winch Design. The new strategy, which was implemented over two years ago, was developed to strengthen the studio’s culture and ensure its longevity while supporting its growth. “We were larger than we felt we could handle and Jane decided in the longer-term that she wanted to retire.”
So began the search for a suitable candidate would be able to take over the reins at Winch Design. “We said let’s hire someone who will tell us what we can do better than we can.” Their search led to the appointment of Clive Beharrell, a long time friend of Winch, as non-executive chairman. One of his first tasks was to examine how the studio could improve on its business management, which ultimately led to the hiring of Aino Grapin as CEO.
Photo: Tom van Oossanen"I think it was critical to find the right cultural fit. Aino has been here for two years now, and we’ve done a lot of growth and development in many areas, like organisational structures.” For example, she has helped implement an internal magazine called World of Winch, reorganised the studio's departments across the building and encourages team lunches and activities. In addition, the studio has hired another 30 employees since her appointment and grown as much as 30 percent. It’s safe to say that with Grapin and Beharrell overseeing the studio’s business and management, Winch is confident of the company’s growth.
“You have to be realistic about the importance of running a strong, stable business that you know many people rely on. But the more we can build talent and the stronger we are, the more successful we can be.” Success to Winch is not the be all, end all, rather it represents security for him and his employees to be able to come in and not worry about the future - regardless if Winch himself is still working as the creative director. “I would like to see this business be more successful in 20 years than it is today,” he admits. “I don’t want to see it die, and many, many design studios die.”
However, Winch does not have retirement in mind any time soon. “I don’t think I like the word retiring,” he muses. Instead he aims to keep himself busy sailing, working on projects and travelling. “I'm going to America's Cup in New Zealand in 2021, and I already booked that in the office diary. I’m booked up from the next three to four years minimum."
At the same time Winch is also keen to share his knowledge and experience with the younger generation as an external tutor at a design or art college one day as he wants to support creativity both inside and outside of the studio. “I am developing a culture of working within the group to support the group, rather than lead the group. I want to be a founder, but I want to empower the creatives to take and move the business forward.”
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