It was 26 years ago that designer Andrew Winch began his first major yacht project, a 42.4m ketch called Cyclos III. Celebrated as groundbreaking after its launch in 1990 for its unique combination of supreme elegance with superior performance, the yacht is now on the market again, put up for sale by the original owner. And, as a testament to its enduring appeal, it still looks exactly the same, a fact that heartens Winch himself: “You walk on it now, and you think it’s the most modern boat you’ve ever been on.”
Like Cyclos III’s original owner, many who commission Winch not only keep his designs in the original state, but also ask him to fashion an airplane, a helicopter, a car, an office or a house as well. So far this year, he has delivered multiple projects, including an 87m superyacht with Lürssen, Ace, and he has ongoing projects that include what Winch calls “probably the biggest apartment in New York” and one of the largest houses in London, for a family with two children and a staff of 36.
Part of Winch’s lasting success is undoubtedly his unusual design philosophy: “I’m very selective of who I work with,” he says. “I’m as selective in choosing the clients I work for as they are in choosing me.” It’s an approach very different from most of his peers, who spend their careers crafting a house style, something instantly recognisable as their own. Winch eschews all talk of style, seeing himself instead as a bespoke tailor, custom-designing each project to fit the client perfectly, be it a hypermodern helicopter or baroque home. And his criterion for deciding whether to work with a client is simple and apt: “I can’t work with someone I don’t have any empathy with.” It’s not a way to actively grow the business, but Winch has already gone from a staff of two – he and his wife – to now nearly 50, and he sees no reason to expand beyond the point where he can’t be integrally involved in each project.
Unconventionality seems to be ingrained in Winch’s character. Studying three-dimensional design in his youth, he chose a yacht for his final project. While other students did furniture or home interiors, he found a way to get supervision from Britain’s premier yachtbuilder at the time, Jon Bannenberg. After the project, it took repeated requests to Bannenberg for a job and nearly a year’s time before getting one. Within a few months he was Bannenberg’s lead sailboat designer, a position he held for more than six years.
His office now, set in a revamped firehouse in southwest London’s leafy Barnes, overlooks the Thames. “The tide rises and falls nearly 20 feet,” says Winch. “I work by the sea in central London.” And apart from the Picasso jug sitting on a knee-high table and a rare Georg Jensen replica of a Danish archaeological find – both bought for yachts he’s designing – the most remarkable thing about the space is that there is no computer. “I draw,” says Winch. “I use a pen, a pencil, and I dream.” Unusually for our technology-centred age, so does everyone else he works with: “Nobody joins the studio here as a designer who can’t draw with a pencil,” he says.
Those who work for and with him include naval and traditional architects, designers of all types – including textile, industrial, automotive and interior – as well as 3D visualisers and pencil illustrators. Perhaps most remarkable of all, they seem contented. The lead naval architect, Matthew Chatt-Collins, has been with Winch for nearly 20 years. The lead aviation designer, Jim Dixon, has worked for the firm since the 1990s. Photos of smiling workers skiing and celebrating together line the private hallways of one of the firm’s buildings, on the basis that, according to Winch, “happy designers make for good design”.
And good design makes for happy clients. Though for Winch happiness is not all about the finished product: “If you’re spending money, it should be a pleasure,” he says. “You go to a restaurant to enjoy eating; you go to a designer to enjoy design.” Winch sends clients renderings of the project throughout the process, which can last years for the larger yachts and houses, and he also meets owners on-site as construction progresses. But the most important moment for him is the instant of revealing the finished creation to the client. “You only have a few seconds for that emotion in your eyes or smell or touch to grasp that wow-factor,” he says, so he always lets the new owner step first into the completed design, to allow for a full first impression.
That is just what Winch sees at the beginning of the design process. “I see in my mind the finished emotion,” he says. “The dream. The flowers, the pots, the room, the doors that open to the right place. I see the experience, the emotion, the love, the passion. I can feel it.” Perhaps this is what allows Winch to design such a variety of projects, making him one of the most versatile designers in the world. What else would he like design? “I’d love to do a yacht marina,” he says. “Maybe a rocket one day.” Or, more prosaically, “I’d love to do a penthouse in Monaco,” a city he loves but has never worked in – at least not on dry land.
September 2012, ONLY magazine