Conversations: Ross Baynham of Instrmnt
20th August 2018
For Ross Baynham, it takes a certain amount of patience and perseverance to truly appreciate the beauty of subtlety. His obvious love for the intricacies of considered design start from the perpetually propelling mechanisms of a watch, and stretch out to the seemingly cold and complex network of brutalist architecture of the Barbican. Along with Pete Sunderland, Ross is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Instrmnt Design Studio. Taking his measured eye to create a range of watches, among other fascinating creative projects in the city.
In conversation with Ross, we talk about both the freedom and pressures that being an entrepreneur entails, and his support of industry innovators and underdogs like Frida Escobedo, (the Serpentine Pavilion’s first female architect), and sustainable paper mill GF Smith. This support may be attributed to a shared network of empathy within London’s creative community. After all, we’re all just trying to survive and prosper in this endlessly rich and wonderful city that we call home. 
Please give a short introduction on yourself and what it is you and your idea or business does?
My name is Ross Baynham, co-founder and creative director (with business partner Pete Sunderland) of the design studio Instrmnt. We’re known primarily for our range of watches, but have worked on various projects across quite a few sectors in the industry.
What is it about running your business that excites you creatively?
To me it’s the balance of pressure and freedom which I find most exciting. Knowing that the two of us alone are ultimately responsible for the entire creative output of our studio — and also its success or failure — keeps us working hard and pushing to come up with ideas. While we now have irreplaceably important colleagues to help us with finance, HR, planning, development, and everything else associated with a start-up, in the early days we did all of that ourselves too. Having the minutiae knowledge of the nuts and bolts has helped us greatly over the years.
Equally, running your own business gives you a certain amount of freedom to sometimes just go with your instincts, creatively or otherwise, without having to quantify it to anyone else. It also allows you to take time as you need it and schedule your day around the work that gets done (so you can snoop off early on a Friday if you’ve been diligent through the week). I worked in large design studios prior to Instrmnt and wasn’t great at being told what to do. 
What is it about London that you love the most and does it motivate you?
It’s a very intense city, but it’s also richly cultural, creative, and quite beautiful if you’re on the right street. Living and working here definitely motivates me, perhaps because there are so many other talented creatives to compare yourself to, and aspire to be as good as. The rest of our team is based at our studio in Glasgow: the city in which I grew up, which is also another fiercely creative place. It has a different pace, and it’s where I go when I need a rest.

Check out our other Conversations here

Is there a certain part of London that you feel a connection to, and if so, where and why?
The Barbican is very special to me for so many reasons whether that is architecturally, socially, culturally, or aesthetically. For such a sprawling concrete brute of a scheme, the overriding theme is in my opinion — subtlety. The details need time and attention in order to be appreciated. The sense of calm gained from building inwards to shield its residents from the city; the at-first puzzling, but learnable, network of walkways and stairwells to efficiently move visitors and residents across a 10 hectare site. The circular and crenellation design details usually missed, but in fact found around every corner and included as a nod to the original medieval site. The apartments’ interior features, many of which were ripped out in the 90’s before their value and novel design was realised. The stark material choices that actually appear much warmer and more complex in finish on closer inspection. All of these things need patience to see and understand. Yes - there are flaws, but I think overall it is such an outstanding project, ambitiously conceived by three young architects, while dealing with massive post war political and social turmoil. It is definitely my favourite place in the city.
"Living and working here definitely motivates me, perhaps because there are so many talented creatives to compare yourself to, and aspire to be as good as."

Who, what or where is grabbing your attention creatively right now in terms of the most interesting people, places, experiences or ideas?
Person: Relatively unknown outside of South America, Frida Escobedo, the Serpentine Pavilion architect for 2018 has produced an outstanding building for that project, and I am very excited to continue following her work. Credit to Serpentine for introducing her to such a wide audience (and for looking further into the field after 7 consecutive years of awarding the build to male architects leading multi-million pound firms). 
Place: Dundee is really exciting at the moment. Only a few months from the opening of its Kenzo Kuma designed V&A museum (the first outside of London), it has to be one of the most exciting developing cities in the UK right now after many years of neglect. With DJCAD design school producing some of the best young designers, it has massive potential as a hub for creativity in Scotland and the UK.
Experience/Idea: We’re really interested to what our friends at the paper mill GF Smith are doing to revolutionise their industry right now — not only in terms of quality, wear, and finish, but more importantly their massive investment into sustainability and ecological technology. Their latest stock is made from recycled paper coffee cups — notoriously difficult to re-purpose due to their heat resistant plastic coating.

Credit: Fred MacGregor

Where do you always find yourself going back to in London – (a specific restaurant, café, bar, pub, venue, hangout or other)?
Rochelle Canteen: buzzing the doorbell off Arnold Circus and being welcomed into their beautiful garden courtyard for a never-not-good lunch is undoubtedly my favourite thing to do in London.
Keeping it in the family, St John is the only restaurant Instagram account I follow. Their imagery and copywriting is so good that I have, on some occasions, immediately phoned to book a table.
Victoria Miro Gallery is such a beautiful piece of architecture internally and externally, nearly always quiet, and usually shows artists’ work who I haven’t heard of. The Albion in Islington for the back garden. The Barbican to see a show, do some work, wander around, visit the conservatory, or catch up over a beer on one of the hidden terraces by the water. The Roebuck on Richmond Hill, for a pint on the benches after cycling through the park.
When travelling to other cities, is there a particular space, B&B, hotel or apartment you’ve stayed that jumps out as being ‘less ordinary’ in any way?
Hotel Henriette, tucked down a quiet alley on the left bank of The Seine is a special place. Likewise The Fleming in Hong Kong, on the edge of the crazy Wan Chai metropolis, and The Standard in NYC as it has so many fun memories associated with it. I need to stay in more airbnb’s but when you’re on a business trip and have been working all day and evening, sometimes coming back to a folded towel and neatly arranged contact lenses is greatly appreciated.

As far as where you go or where you like to socialise in London, do you have any hidden gems you’d like to let us in on?
Make the trip down to Camberwell for the best pizza in London, found at Theo’s. 
Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies 


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