It’s a name that goes hand in hand with some of the finest yachts ever built. As Andrew Winch Designs celebrates 25 years, we meet the man who started it all.
Being in the lobby of the Andrew Winch Designs office feels uncannily like being on a boat. Stark cloudy light slides through a skylight by a spiral staircase, floor-to-ceiling windows offer views onto the Thames a few feet away, and models of boats sit proudly in glass cases. The walls are adorned with intricate plans and diagrams and paintings of yachts (as well as an enviable spread of awards), and even the armchair cushions are printed with the company’s logo, a yacht’s winch. There’s no doubt that this is a company whose founder truly loves the world in which he works.
“The studio should be an inspiration to our clients,” says Winch. “There’s nobody here who doesn’t have a passion to do it. All of our team here are enthusiastic about what they do and that enthusiasm has to come out – the clients have to feel it. Everyone working here has that electricity.”
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This year, Andrew Winch Designs celebrates its 25th year. Since Winch and his wife Jane started up in 1986 with the first project, a Swan 36 sailboat, the company has grown enormously: as well as being the foremost yacht designer in the industry, it now has a transport division for helicopters, jets and cars, a shore-based projects division with an interior decorating team creating turnkey design projects, and 45 staff. It’s a huge, luxury industry where every project involves big money, but for Winch, what makes him proud is simply creating beautiful things that clients will fall in love with.
“One client said: ‘Andrew, my wife loves the interior but I just like to sit in the tender and look at the boat. I am just in love with what it looks like.’ I started my design career at art college wanting to be a sculptor, so to build something sitting on the water that the owner looks at as a sculpture, an object, and just loves – I’m very proud of that. It’s what got me into it.”
But while he concedes that it is “an aspirational area of life”, he strongly believes that a yacht should be something its owner loves so much that it becomes a necessity. This he learnt from Jon Bannenberg, who gave him his first job as an apprentice designer.
“He hated the idea that a yacht was a luxury,” says Winch. “He said: ‘a pair of shoes is a luxury to someone who hasn’t got one; for someone who’s thirsty, it’s a luxury to have a glass of water.’ The yacht was a home that you fell in love with and couldn’t do without. It was somewhere to treasure – it shouldn’t be just a trophy. And I agree with that: you have to love it. I don’t want to design yachts that are tied up on the dock all the time. I’m proud that a lot of our yacht projects have been built because of the client’s passion to be afloat.”
Whereas other designers look to take on as many clients as possible, Winch prefers to work on multiple projects with a smaller pool of clients he gets to know very well. “Most of our clients get involved 100% all the way through and the process should be great fun,” he says. “But ultimately, the pleasure is [a client] coming when it’s fully finished, and seeing that it’s more than they expected. Otherwise, they might as well do it on their own. Our job is to make them be in awe of what they’ve created for themselves. If it’s not better than what they wanted, then we haven’t done a great job.”
So how does he get to know his clients well enough to know what they want more than they do themselves? “Communication,” says Winch. “An awful lot of being in touch with them, meeting them.” He pauses. “But actually it’s probably intuitive. It’s just something I think I’ve been very lucky to have. Myself and a number of our team. You have to have the courage to ask the questions that open the doors to the relationship being built. Which side of the bed do they sleep on? Because that affects which bathroom they go to. Do they read in bed? Does one go to sleep and one not? How do they want their wardrobe laid out? Where do they want their beautiful shirts, their underwear, their jewellery? Very intimate questions, because you have to get to know them really well.”
Of course, his clients’ needs are all very different, and it’s his job to tailor his work to each one. “I think you know pretty quickly when you first meet a client whether or not that client is someone you can have an empathy with and feel confident with,” he says. We talk the morning after Winch has met with a Chinese client – “a phenomenal, turnaround meeting: I’ll never forget it in my career” – and the boyish enthusiasm he feels about this new project, the prospect of producing the perfect results, is almost tangible. The client, he says, is: “an amazing leader of people. He’s much younger than I am, but I am besotted by trying to do a great job for him. So he’s already got me! I’ve got a lot of work, but I find myself wanting to do more for this job. It’s exciting.”
The company is also working on projects for a family with different tastes, designing a boat for a couple and an apartment for their daughter. “We’re a design company where actually both of them said ‘you’re doing exactly what we want,’ which is great. That’s our talent. To have the diversity of ability to deliver the dreams of all of our clients.” Coming from some people, this might sound like a soundbite, a line lifted from a company mission statement. But that’s not Winch’s style: from the moment you meet him, he instils complete trust. Working with people to, well, deliver their dreams, is not just an empty promise; it’s what Winch genuinely wants to achieve, and doing it brings him joy. “When a client comes in and says he wants something different, I say, let’s get going!” he says, grinning widely and rubbing his hands together.
But if he has to realise the perfect vision of people with vastly varying briefs, can there be an identifiable Andrew Winch signature? “What I’ve found more and more exciting in 25 years is that no two people are the same. Every single job we’ve done is a different brief and a different solution. And I’m not a designer who enjoys redoing something I’ve done before, so when people ask what my signature is, I say: individuality, probably. Creativity, choice, options and quality of detail are vital, and those are the things that are my signature. Some designers do a beach design, or a blue hull – that’s not me, so I’m on a different end of the spectrum to a lot of the industry. With our projects, every single one is unique and we start from scratch. Unfortunately, it’s reinventing the wheel every time!”
Another of his signature marks, it could be said, is the ability of his yachts to fit other owners perfectly after they have fulfilled the brief of the first. He designed Alithia, a sloop-rigged 40-metre Abeking & Rasmussen, for a family to use to sail around the world. The brief stipulated that the family’s five children, aged 5-16, shared a cabin to learn how to work and live together. The boat launched in 2002, and went everywhere, from the Galapagos to the Pacific islands, teaching the children that the whole world is built up of the culture of islands. When the family moved to Sydney, the yacht was sold to a European owner, who for the last three years has only used it for day sailing in Croatia, sleeping on board at anchor with his family. “This boat sails really fast, it can sail round the world, but his choice is to use that yacht to day sail. He’s just repainted the outside and the interior is exactly the same, hasn’t been changed at all. The brief was completely different but the yacht is also perfect for his brief and the boat does a job exactly right for their family holiday.”
Not being restricted by a signature shape or colour means Winch is free to run with his and his clients’ imaginations. He travels widely, and is planning to travel more with Jane, who this year retired from the company and is now a non-executive director. “I want to go and see places that I’m not going to for work, to have the pleasure of being inspired,” he says. Inspiration, he adds, can come from anywhere. “I might see something from an interior, or a view that feels right, or I might see a tree or a pathway, or a swimming pool or a beach.”
Out of the office, Winch is an avid skier, spending six weeks a year in his chalet in Portes du Soleil; he’s soon to go heli-skiing for the first time in Canada. He also loves gardens: “I don’t really dig, but I do plan. And I might mow,” he smiles. “But I love designing them. We’ve built a garden at home and I will sit happily in the garden forever.” Because his work has always involved travel, he loves spending time with his wife and three grown-up children: “Family is the most important thing.”
It’s not surprising to find out that his other favourite pastime is sailing, in his twin-ruddered, lifting keel Southerley 35, with a self-tacking jib. “Helming a yacht to me is therapy, it’s relaxation. I just could do it for hours on end. The family know that they’re going to have to fight me to get me off the wheel. I will sit there for hour on hour, happy as anything.” His own dream yacht would be a sailing yacht, or a motor yacht with room for a sailing boat among the toys. It would have a comfortable bedroom, “because even after two weeks away on a 42ft sailboat last summer I’m climbing over the pillows to get out, and that’s not a holiday!”
So what’s next for superyachts? The next big trend, thinks Winch, will be for flotillas of floating homes, with the owner’s yacht cruising alongside an expedition yacht and a sailing boat to sleep his guests. “Because it allows the client to build more toys, more things,” he says excitedly. One such project is already being built by Andrew Winch Designs.
And what’s next for the company? Among current projects is a 74-metre Proteksan Turquoise motor yacht, which Winch unveiled at the Monaco Yacht Show in September. After 25 years, Winch briefly toyed with the idea of stopping work, but that didn’t last long. “Every project I do is still exciting,” he says. “That’s what drives me. I never want to stop.” SyW
This feature is taken from the November/December 2011 edition of SuperYacht World. Click here to buy the issue for your iPad.