Thirty five or so years ago a young designer with a passion for sailing took up a position with John Bannenberg, a pivotal figure who became known as the “Godfather of Superyachts”. Bannenberg practically invented the concept of the superyacht back in the ‘60s, in conjunction with several shipyards, and Andrew Winch – the young designer in question – could not have had a better introduction to the art of generating luxurious concepts.
Winch left Bannenberg’s establishment after several years in order to set up Andrew Winch Designs, together with his wife, Jane. That was almost 30 years ago. Today, as well has having a full pipeline of design work on wide- and narrow-body private jets, the studio has the distinction of having been awarded the design contract for the first ever VIP completion of the Boeing Dreamliner, the B787-9.
As Jim Dixon, Head of Aviation at Andrew Winch Designs notes, the jet was delivered green to Jet Aviation in May of this year and the studio is now well into the task of making the jet live up to the Dreamliner rubric. The studio has good experience of wide-body completions in the past, having realized an A340-300 and a B767 for key clients. In addition to the stretched version of the Boeing Dreamliner, the studio is currently working on an ACJ320, half way through the build phase, and a BBJ-I that will be ready for service in mid-2016.
Q: How much of a stretch is it to move from designs for super yachts to designing the interiors for private jets?
A: Of course, we are still dealing with a space that the principal wants to see epitomized into their ideal vision of a luxurious interior.
Moreover, although we have three divisions in the company – aviation, yachts and architecture – very often we are dealing with the same principles for all three, so there is a good deal of cross-collaboration between the departments on style, approach and so on. The one thing you definitely know with an aircraft when the project crosses your table, is its dimensions. It can only be a set length and a set width. With a luxury yacht, the owner’s ambitions may grow in scale while the yacht is still on the drawing board and you find you have another 10 metres in length to deal with!
Q: It obviously makes sense that if an Owner is taken with your design for his or her private jet, and plans to buy a yacht, that they call on you to quote for that project as well, since it is a specialism of Andrew Winch Designs. How usual is it for this to happen?
A: Our philosophy is to have a large number of projects for a select and relatively small number of clients. Our separate divisions have experienced sustainable growth in recent years precisely because of the synergies involved. When someone has asked you to design their ideal living space in the sky, it is natural enough for them to ask you to take on the challenge of designing their ideal residence as well – and the same goes for their yacht.
Q: What of the technicalities that go with aircraft design?
A: Certainly, the technical details of designing for private and corporate jets are significantly more constraining than they are for a yacht or a residence. Safety is absolutely paramount so you have to be very safety conscious and pay very close attention to FAA and EASA rulings. We do this in very close co-operation with the completion centre’s knowledge base and project team. Another constraint, of course, is weight. We have to be very conscious of the trade-off between weight and range in aircraft. Again, this is where a close dialogue with the completions team is very important. We may be thinking of a particular material as part of the design, and they may well have come across a new, advanced material that is more lightweight but that can do the job and look as good. So this on-going dialogue is a very important part of the vision.
Q: How often do you walk into the completion centre to look at progress on a project and end up saying “Oh no, not like that!”
A: It happens, but again, if we are working very closely together, then any unacceptable deviations from our concept can be caught at a very early stage. We are always working with the Owner’s representative, who liaises between the design studio, the completions team and the Principal, and if there is good communication then everything stays pretty well on track.
Q: Now we come on to the impossible question, “What makes for a good design?”
A: We always spend the initial meetings with the client trying to get as holistic a view as we can, both of their lifestyle and interests, and of the role the aircraft is going to play in their personal and business life. Every Owner is looking for something unique and individual to them, and the art is to achieve this in each particular case. The outcome always changes depending on the individuals, but the process that leads to the generation of the design has very common themes.
What we try to establish early on is the broad brushstrokes, such as whether the owner will be sleeping on the aircraft a good deal, whether they like watching television or movies in bed, or in a home cinema type surround, whether there are staff as well as VIP guests travelling, and so on.
Q: Do they generally engage you for the life of the project, or just for the initial design stage?
A: A client commissions us for the full design and gestation, from first sketch to the detailed visuals, and then to monitor the translation of the design into the real world of the aircraft interior as it is taking shape. This adds to the technical ‘project management’ of the completion by scrutinizing the design at every stage. We are ‘creators’, rather than ‘builders’, and take the time to ensure our ideas and details are interpreted accurately on the Client’s behalf.
Q: You must get some fairly unusual requests?
A: Every client is different and each has their own ideas. We are working with a client just now who does not want the aircraft cabin to look like an aircraft cabin. He wants it to look and feel like a luxurious living room on the ground, so we are paneling over the windows and using viewing screens to create the effect of a room.
Another client wanted to be able to sit in the main cabin and yet feel like he was flying the aircraft. So we arranged a 47 inch screen on the bulkhead that entirely mirrored everything the pilots were seeing out the cockpit windows. Every client, in a way, wants their aircraft to be the equivalent of a residential apartment in the sky