Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio
Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio
Craft

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

Winch Design opens their doors to offer an inside look at the superyacht design process.

By Dominique Afacan | 23 January 2019

I’m sitting in the office of superyacht designer extraordinaire, Andrew Winch. Disclaimer, he’s not actually here, but CEO Aino-Leena Grapin is – so I haven’t broken any rules. I’m here for a sneak peek around their swanky design studios, which overlook the River Thames in south-west London. Despite being a long-term admirer of Winch-designed yachts, I realized I’d only ever thought of them as finished projects, sitting pretty in a marina or in motion at sea. Clearly though, there’s some pretty impressive work going on behind the scenes – so here I am.

“We need to work in an inspiring environment,” explains Grapin, by way of explanation, as I examine the numerous artworks and knick-knacks in Andrew’s office. “Those pebbles you’re looking at? Andrew picked them up on a beach on the South Coast and they ended up being inspiration for a Montenegro yacht club concept.” There’s far more besides, including a gorgeous Vlastimil Beranek sculpture, and even a papier maché polar bear, a gift from Grapin’s children to Andrew. “His mascot is the polar bear, it’s the name of his sailing yacht too,” says Grapin.

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

Aino-Leena Grapin, CEO of Winch Design

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

Aino-Leena Grapin, CEO of Winch Design

Grapin herself is relatively new to the superyacht industry, having joined back in 2016 after a career spent in the art world. “There was always a link between art and yachts, but it’s particularly important to me and art is an angle we’re going to continue to develop,” says Grapin. In fact, many of the yachts Winch has designed feature large-scale artworks, which the studio has often designed in-house. “Take Sea Owl,” says Grapin, “that yacht features a huge wooden sculpture which spans four decks of the boat – it took six craftsmen a whole year to carve.”

It’s this kind of workmanship and attention to detail that is often overlooked in the superyacht industry. But as we move through the office, passing by busy creatives as we go, I start to get a first-hand appreciation of the painstaking hard work that goes on behind the scenes. “Designing a yacht is like Tetris,” one designer tells me, as I admire his intricate hand-drawn plan of an explorer yacht concept. “Every single centimetre is planned for.” Another tells me he keeps a notebook by his bed, in case an idea comes to him in the night. This is no nine-to-five gig.

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

Installing the wooden sculpture on Sea Owl

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

Installing the wooden sculpture on Sea Owl

Aino explains that the perfect scenario is that clients come into the office, to get a sense of who Winch really are. “We also love to go and visit them in their homes because that’s a project they already like and gives us an insight into their taste,” she adds. Whatever format the initial meeting takes – one thing is pretty much guaranteed; a superyacht isn’t going to get built overnight. “It’s such a long process – from three to five years – so the whole experience has to be enjoyable,” explains Grapin. “We have to like spending time together.”

Most of the time, a yacht starts with a dream, presented in the form of a pitch. “You have to interpret the dream that your client is projecting into a reality that you can design,” explain Grapin. “Even if a client tells you a yacht that they like, you need to intuit what it is they like about it.”

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

The finished product

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

The finished product

Concept work might take six to twelve months and then Winch starts to work hand in hand with the shipyard. “We’ll visit regularly at this stage and do detailed designs, “explains Grapin. And detail is key in this industry; when clients walk onto their yacht at the end of the process, everything has to be perfect. “They need to be able to come on board with a small weekend bag and find everything there, so beyond the big stuff, we also need to think of things like towels and picture frames.”

Clients seem to enjoy the process, so much so that the build becomes part of the fun before the yacht is even delivered. “I’m always amazed at how busy our clients are, but then how much time they give us,” says Grapin. Increasingly, they are able to keep an eye on things remotely, too. “A lot of the yards have cameras to keep a record of what’s going on,” says Grapin, “it’s a great way for owners to see what’s happening with their baby!”

Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio
Behind the scenes of a superyacht design studio

In terms of trends, Winch is seeing more family-oriented yachts. “We used to design more offices on board,” says Grapin. “Not so much in recent years, there’s more of a focus on relaxing and loved ones.” And of course ­– there’s no such word as ‘can’t’ in the superyacht industry. “One client wanted a tennis court on board, another wanted their yacht to look like it was delivered in 1928 – so it has a vintage exterior and everything inside is art deco.” The sky is the limit – and often it’s Winch pushing the brief even further than their clients.

Predictably, seeing the finished project after such a long journey is a wonderful feeling – and one that Winch will be enjoying a few times over this year, with four deliveries, including the much-awaited Tis from Lurssen. “She’s a very classic, elegant, timeless boat,” says Grapin. “I’m going over there tomorrow actually.” The superyacht design world, it seems, is always on the move.

Get a taste of the superyachting good life at the Monaco Yacht Show from 25 to 28 September 2019. Get your tickets here.

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