In November 1988, Boat International introduced ‘one of the youngest designers now making a name for himself in the increasingly competitive and rarefied world of superyacht design’: Andrew Winch. This whiz kid, the piece asserts, ‘has yet to establish an identifiable studio character, although this has clearly been an advantage in gaining a foothold among the established designers.’
Nearly a quarter of a century later, Winch sits in a converted fire station by the Thames in Mortlake, west London. Weeping willows rustle by the balcony and a cool breeze off the river fills the office.
‘I still don’t have a studio character. I don’t want one,’ says Winch, before reassuming a beatific smile understandable in a man who has so successfully worked his raw talent into polished achievement.
Winch set up the studio with his wife Jane in the 1986 on the premise that she would deal with finances, contracts and management, leaving the designer to design. It has been a successful arrangement that has allowed the company to expand from two to 45 employees, and made Winch one of the most in-demand yacht designers (both interior and exterior) in the world. His professionalism and amiability have also made Winch one of the best liked.
Indeed, after half a lifetime in the business Winch counts as friends many designers who do have studio characters – and he takes pains to say he respects and admires their work enormously. It’s just not his style.
‘I like to have the opportunity to do something new every time,’ says Winch. ‘It means with each job you’re learning to do something different.’
‘What I hope owners want from Andrew Winch Design is something original, of the highest quality, where it’s both emotionally charged and very relaxing. You go in and say “Wow”, but you sit down and say “Aaah”. It should relax you,’ he says.
Drawing out this emotional reaction with a completely individual design is an art form in itself. An owner goes to Winch because he has an idea or feeling that he wants the designer to interpret for him.
As a result his interiors, for example, include such diverse yachts as the 1989 ShowBoats Award winner, the ultra-modern Cyclos III (1989), the native art-inspired Slipstream (which won the 2009 Superyacht Society best interior award) and the palatial Al-Mirqab (for which the designer won the Best Yacht of the Year at the 2009 World Superyacht Awards). To create such designs Winch has to delve into an owner’s mind and pull out a dream yacht that he did not fully comprehend himself.
‘We are a tool to deliver something better than they could have imagined themselves – but it’s their road,’ says Winch.
‘You’ve got to have chemistry and want to do this together. You ask them lots of questions – and you shouldn’t be embarrassed. Which side of the bed do you sleep on? Do you like using the left or right hand basin? Do you want to share a bathroom with your wife? Do you like to sit at the head of the table or the middle of the table? Some clients hate to be at the head because they like to be in the centre of the conversation,’ he says.
This acute awareness of how practicalities can affect the enjoyment of a yacht (‘it’s a waste of design if it doesn’t work’) is rooted in Winch’s long experience on the water. He grew up sailing on Chichester harbour, where he still has a boat.
Later he studied art at Central St Martins college and wanted to go on to become a sculptor, before his father interjected with practical considerations. The compromise was a course in 3D design at Kingston College, where in his second year – much to the consternation of his lecturers – Winch declared that he wanted to study yacht design.
‘They said I couldn’t design a yacht – that wasn’t part of the course. They had nobody to tutor me. I said a yacht is 3D object – that’s what I want to do. They said I’d have to find an outside tutor to assist me,’ recalls Winch.
He managed to persuade Jon Bannenberg to be his tutor – a coup comparable in yachting terms to a rogue music student getting Jimi Hendrix to teach him the electric guitar. When the university staff saw the work Winch was producing with Bannenberg’s guidance they understood his passion and at the end of the course the young artist naturally knocked on his mentor’s door. But Bannenberg said, as Winch recalls, ‘I don’t need you, you should go and learn about yachting. Go sailing.’
Winch took Bannenberg at his word and skippered a 15.8m sailing yacht across the Atlantic. He experienced various travails on the journey, even rescuing a shipmate who fell overboard. After the rite of passage, he knocked again on Bannenberg’s door and this time the designer took him in.
‘He was just so creative and hated the frustration of somebody saying, “It can’t be done!” If ever it really can’t be done, it’s either a cost issue or an insight issue. I suppose I followed in these footsteps, dreaming the impossible,’ says Winch.
This determined, imaginative attitude is certainly apparent in projects from Winch’s own studio. In particular the 30m sailing yacht Alithia, launched in 2002, for which he designed the exterior and interior.
‘I pulled the window of the deckhouse right down into the teak deck. Everyone said it couldn’t be done, but it could. We had two drop-down windows as well, so you could sit and feel as if you had your elbow on the teak deck, and yet you were sitting in the interior with a fresh breeze crossing the deck,’ says Winch.
‘Alithia was a very, very contemporary boat, but she went round the world with five children aboard, so she proved that a contemporary boat does the job very well.’
Winch most enjoys creating yachts where, like Alithia, he designs both the interior and exterior. Such projects allow him to co-ordinate inside and outside, understand the placing of windows and spaces, the superstructure and flow. Winch’s favourite project, the 2010, 90m motor yacht Phoenix² was one such cohesive project.
‘Every bit down to the china plates was custom built. The masts, the shape, the proportions, everything is unique. And being given the chance to do something like that, it’s fabulous, it’s sculpture,’ says Winch.
Indeed, if he thinks of his work in these terms, it is easy to see how Winch came to prize distinctiveness so highly – who would want a work of art that was the same as someone else’s? Perhaps such a strong commitment to delivering a unique product is in itself a defining characteristic of Andrew Winch Design.
‘It’s difficult to say what a Winch “picture” is, because each boat is different. But I do have a signature. A lot of people will say, “That’s a Winch boat”,’ he states.
‘What is it? It’s quality, it’s creativity, it’s individuality. It’s never repeating a design.’