Making waves

17th May 2023

Max Bainbridge and Abigail Booth - Forest + Found photographed by Alun Callender

Aino Grapin, chief executive of one of Britain’s leading superyacht builders, explains why the company is supporting QEST Scholars

A company like Winch Design, which creates dream homes on land, in the air and at sea, might seem a little distant from the work being done at QEST. And yet, over the past two years, the studio has supported three of its scholars.

The relationship began with London-based wood sculptor Max Bainbridge in 2020, and has gone on to include Robert Walker, who specialises in verre églomisé signmaking, and Nico Conti, who creates intricate porcelain objects using 3D printing.

What brought about this partnership? The answer is ultimately a deep-rooted passion for craftsmanship, says Aino Grapin, Winch Design’s CEO since 2016. Its projects put innovative workmanship front and centre, and increasingly incorporate local materials and techniques. The company has worked for years with leading designers, and the idea of supporting QEST Scholarships was sparked by a meeting between its founder, Andrew Winch, and Lord Snowdon, QEST Vice Patron. From the outset, Winch wanted to be “much more involved than just signing a cheque”, says Grapin.

Scholarship candidates have so far been suggested based on their relevance to Winch Design’s business – for example, Bainbridge’s work echoes Andrew Winch’s own interests: he studied sculpture and adores wood.

While QEST Scholars supported by Winch don’t work at the company’s site, there is scope for them to be brought into projects in the future. In 2021, QEST Scholars joined the Winch away day to highlight the skills they share. “We were all at tables having a go at making things, like a clay sculpture of a colleague or a traditional Moroccan painting on wood made using natural pigments,” says Grapin. “It was extraordinarily difficult, and very humbling for me.”

Winch’s involvement with QEST is partly about expanding its “secret black book of artisans and artists who can deliver on time and to the highest quality, but also bring something unique to the client”. But it also has knock-on effects for Winch’s employees and the wider economy, says Grapin. “The team loves that we support craftsmanship through QEST. And for the country as a whole, I think it’s fantastic. In France, where I’m from, and elsewhere in Europe there have been similar initiatives to help protect unique craftsmanship, and it’s A source of great national pride.”

QEST Scholars might also benefit from the company’s expansion into new areas. Last year it launched Studio Winch, which focuses on interior design and styling. Projects so far include a country home in the Cotswolds and a recording studio for an award-winning DJ. “That was really fun because we had to think about how to design a space to encourage creativity,” says Grapin.

Looking ahead, Winch’s focus is on sustainability. It has partnered with the Water Revolution Foundation – which aims to make superyachts more environmentally friendly – to develop greener manufacturing processes. Winch Design has a full-time sustainability materials specialist and is experimenting with cutting-edge interior design features such as vegan leather wall panelling and wooden floors made from off-cuts. Grapin herself chairs the sustainable yacht design task force that shares its findings among competing businesses.

“This is quite new, but we’ve all realised that we need to help each other if we are actually going to make any kind of progress,” she says. This is an area where QEST Scholars could have a role too. “Everything they do is extraordinarily sustainable. We are also trying to help by creating and supporting jobs and craftsmanship, though we realise we need to do a lot more,” says Grapin.

This article was written by Alexander Morrison and originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of the QEST Magazine.

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