How to build an invisible nightclub: Winch Design

The superyacht team at Winch Design is regularly asked to create the future. As one of the world’s most admired studios dedicated to the exterior and interior design of superyachts, private residences and jets, their clients are typically astronomically wealthy, ambitious and visionary individuals.


They are also ones for whom market data, news and sports team performances, or film, music and other digital content are indispensable elements of their day-to-day exercise of power or pleasure.


So, it’s no surprise that the team at Winch Design are renowned for their ability to blend technology and design into an inhabitable work of art. They are designers working on the leading edge of physical objects and tech-enabled experiences. Because of their clients—and their clients’ budgets—the Winch Design team are, in a very practical way, developing the look and feel of technological luxury.


Andreas Iseli, head of yacht exteriors, and Nick Brosnan, head of yacht interiors very kindly agreed to step away from the drawing boards of their latest projects to talk about technology, design and invisible nightclubs.



One of Winch Design founder Andrew Winch’s favourite quotes from Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs. It reads: “Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.” But Jobs was creating single devices, not whole living and entertaining spaces. How do you design superyacht-scale audiovisual technology into the rest of your design objectives?

A superyacht’s audiovisual environment is so important to the owners’ experience that we’re handling it at the very start of the overall design phase. It’s part of the initial brief. Some yachts are designed primarily as wonderful places to celebrate and throw a party, so the music, lights and everything around that are very much top-line in the design. Then again, equally important is the ability to revert that space to a place of calm and relaxation during daylight hours, for instance. So a lot of what we do is find ways to conceal the technology when it’s not needed.  


Can you give us an example?

On a recent project, together with the team at Harris Grant (read Neil Grant's insights here) we designed the outdoor seating area around the speaker system. In fact, the seats—which have the primary function of being seats—needed to have some very specific design integrated into them to enable the sound from the speakers and subwoofers to work through them. Everything was designed and tested beforehand: We set up the entire audiovisual arrangement to work on a soundstage in London so that the owner could experience how the technology (audio, video, lighting, smoke machines, etc.) would work before we integrated it aboard. It was an amazing experience to be involved in a highly focused audiovisual design process for such a passionate owner.


The intersection of technology and design offers so many opportunities for innovation. When yachts offer full nightclub and cinema experiences, there must be plenty of lessons learned along the way.

We get to work through a lot of ideas. Some work and some don’t. We were commissioned to design an interactive bar-top for an outside area so that anyone seated at the bar could touch the bar to open a digital window, resize it and pull it around to watch the news or a film through the bar-top. It was a very ambitious and very exciting idea. But when the video function was off, the surface was simply a glass top, which the client rightly felt wasn’t rich enough in look and feel. The lesson is that even gimmicks still need to feel special when the technology is off, otherwise the technology overrides the experience and renders the design ineffective. They must work together.


Have you ever had to develop technology yourselves to meet an interior design brief?

One idea we developed was an automatic wine delivery system that would robotically pull the remotely selected bottle from below-decks storage, then deliver it up through the middle of the table. The client didn’t go for it in the end. 


We tend to assume that technology is getting smaller all the time, but from our perspective working with clients who have some of the biggest design budgets in the world for personal entertainment, the opposite is true.

What’s pushing your boundaries on exterior design?

The new 200” LED screens are of particular interest, though we haven’t installed one yet. Concealing them means you need about 6m of the housing below deck; which is about two decks’ worth of space, so that’s a challenge. But the advantage is that they look really, really great: they’re incredibly bright so can be watched in full sunlight, and they’re rigid so can handle the wind unlike projection screens. I expect we’ll be designing a retractable outdoor screen system like this very soon.


Requests for retractable TVs and hidden sound systems have been around for a while now, so is integrating technology into design getting easier?

Not really. We tend to assume that technology is getting smaller all the time, but from our perspective working with clients who have some of the biggest design budgets in the world for personal entertainment, the opposite is true. TVs are getting much larger and therefore harder to hide when they’re not needed. So too are the speakers and the technology boxes and even the server racks, which have grown from 600mm to 800mm to house larger, more powerful equipment. There are more server rooms on board: some yachts have one on each deck. And these, of course, need cooling and ventilation. 


Are these increased technological requirements impacting the design process?

Absolutely. A lot more work is getting done at the general arrangement stage. We recently developed a GA that planned out each audiovisual room with an adjoining air-conditioning room. The AV racks were planned and the air conditioners specified to get the heat out of those rooms, and that was all done before the contract was signed with the shipyard. The owner was very well-advised to spend time and money getting all of that right before it was too late. We worked with BondTM on that project and they were fantastic.


How important are consultants like BondTM in your design process?

At Winch Design, we’re very lucky to work with excellent consultants and subcontractors. It’s simply not in our vocabulary to use technical equipment that hasn’t been designed for purpose to work on yachts at sea. We are all really practical in the way we design. We look for functionality and practicality in the amazing experiences we design, because these things simply must work, and they must be able to be maintained and repaired by the crew. BondTM offers critical guidance and oversight on how to keep costs down while ensuring reliability and robustness of the technology design.