By Abigail Bassett
In our Sanctuaries series, creative leaders and achievers reveal the special places where they go to think, relax and be inspired.
David Woodhouse, 48, has long had a passion for beautiful automotive design. Growing up the son of garage owners in Worcester, England, exposed him early to such classic British cars as Coopers and Altas. Woodhouse was a mere 15 when he won a design competition sponsored by the UK magazine Autocar. The prize — the chance to spend two weeks in automaker Rover’s design studios.
Given Woodhouse’s history, it’s no surprise that his sanctuary, so to speak, is racing and working on vintage cars. Woodhouse can boast a number of podium finishes at the Goodwood Revival, the yearly British vintage race car festival, and he’s raced in the Monterey Historics, the classic race car competition that takes place in its namesake northern California town each August. His car collection currently includes a 1955 Cooper-Norton 500, a 1951 GP Alta and a 1960 Dolphin-Ford Cosworth Formula Junior.
Q. Why did you choose working on and racing vintage cars as your sanctuary?
Woodhouse: A sanctuary takes you away, however temporarily, from the realities of life. It puts you in another reality. If the day-to-day is sedentary, or you’re dealing with a lot of people, there is something hugely fulfilling about doing the direct opposite — like traveling, being physical, playing with machines or engaging in some form of isolation that allows you to recharge.
Designers are by nature creative. But once they rise in the ranks, managing and guiding the creative teams becomes a priority and the more artistic aspects of the job often become secondary. I race vintage motor cars and love the hands-on skill of it. I particularly love the crafting of metalwork, machining, wrenching [and] assembly.
Q. What are some of the details about working on vintage cars and racing them that inspire you?
Woodhouse: In my life, details matter — from tools, to clothes, to music. They can help transport you to another place and time. Music, for instance, is the soundtrack that can truly complete a transcendent experience. It can have such a huge impact. Like a film score to a great movie, I choose the soundtrack to each of my sanctuary experiences, events or happenings. It is incredibly important to me.
To fully immerse myself in the experience of working on my cars, I play jazz music from that time period and feel the spirit and mood of each vehicle. When I race, the experience becomes just about me and the car.
Q. What’s the first thing you do upon arriving at your garage or the racetrack?
Woodhouse: The first thing I do is dress appropriately, then put on the right music to set the tone for whatever I’m doing. For example, I might listen to 1950s jazz like Miles Davis to accompany my work on my 1955 Cooper-Norton 500 and Alta racer, or listen to some 1960s jazz like Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk when I’m working on my ’60s racers.
Q. Who else is welcome in your sanctuary space?
Woodhouse: Most of my sanctuary experiences are reclusive. To be in the zone or to lose oneself is usually a solitary experience. Racing certainly would prove the exception. Outside the cockpit, it has a very social side.
Q. When were you last in your sanctuary? Was there a particular reason you visited or spent time there?
Woodhouse: Sadly, I don’t get to work on my cars or race nearly enough. Vintage racing and car preparation has diminished to a couple of events a year since I have two small children — Ava, 3, and Lana, 1. But as they get older, my opportunities will hopefully increase. And perhaps it will even include them, if they are interested.
Q. What’s the biggest creative breakthrough you’ve had in or around your cars?
Woodhouse: I look to these sanctuary experiences more as a cleansing, an opportunity to simply recharge. They allow me to be more creative at my day job. Having said this, designers are never really “off,” per se. We have the visual and philosophical affliction of always observing, critiquing — of becoming excited at the prospect of new ideas, of always desiring something better, or of finding a better way of getting things done.
Q. How long do you stay in your sanctuary before you need to go out and seek adventure again?
Woodhouse: Once I’m in a sanctuary experience, I rarely want to leave, because I find it so immersive and transcendent. It is more a case of “time’s up!” That, I guess, is what makes you want to do it all over again.
To see more spaces where creative leaders go to find inspiration, visit Sanctuaries.
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist and editor-in-chief of the lifestyle and luxury site c-ntrl.com. She lives in Austin, Texas.
360 image by Chris Floyd, hot spot images by Chris Floyd, Jordan Bennett and The Lincoln Motor Company