PINCH: Creating thoughtful designs for thoughtful spaces
For husband and wife design duo, Russell Pinch and Oona Bannon, PINCH began with a singular aim — to create beautiful furniture that they could surround themselves with. In a world of endless clutter, space has become more and more intimate; and people are so careful about choosing the items that help define their private sanctuaries. What makes PINCH Less Ordinary is their dedication to designing with ‘a lightness of touch, rather than an egotistical weight’ resulting in thoughtfully made pieces — that can populate peoples’ lives with care.
In conversation with Russell and Oona, we talked about their life-long love for furniture, London’s most beautifully designed spaces, and the ups and downs of working as a couple. With countless design awards under their belt, including Wallpaper* Design Awards, Elle Decorations British Design Awards, and Homes & Garden’s Design Classic Award, how does PINCH consistently push the boundaries for the Less Ordinary? According to Oona, it’s as simple as ‘not cutting corners, sculpting your shapes, and daring to dream.’
How did you two meet?
We met at work, in one of his other lives, Russell used to run a marketing/graphics agency and I worked as an account handler a million moons ago. We both found ourselves side tracked by the world of marketing. It didn’t take long after we got together for Russell to decide to break away from owning a fairly large design business and to go back to his true love of being a furniture designer. I needed little persuasion to remove myself from the world of focus groups, to build our own business that we believed in creatively and emotionally.
How did your love affair with furniture design begin; and how did Pinch come to be?
I have always been obsessed by spaces and making sanctuaries. My dad is not materialistic, and a true hero of skip finds. I always loved the pieces he would find, usually fallen into some disrepair, but essentially well made items with beautiful and proper detailing. The second language of furniture has always spoken to me on a weird hippy level, and I always read the persona of a piece.
Russell grew up playing and making in his dad’s workshop, his was a very artistically rich childhood, always being dragged to exhibitions and living amongst a family who built their own homes, and almost everything inside too. When he was 15 he saw an exhibition at the Design Council on furniture design, and he pretty much decided that was what he was going to do.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? What is the special quality in a piece of furniture that draws you in?
The three things that we expect are strong shape and proportion, beautiful materiality, and expert making. Our pieces are simple, but arrive at simplicity whilst delivering dimensionality is actually a huge challenge. A certain element of poise and elegance is also really important to us, when we are reviewing our prototypes we talk about them as humans, ‘she needs to draw her waist in,'‘those feet are too pigeon toed’. We seek to design with a lightness of touch rather than an egotistical weight; and we hope that makes for pieces that feel effortlessly poised but also instinctive.
How have your experiences with The Conran Group and Mr and Mrs Smith - helped inform the way you approach Pinch?
OB: Working for Mr and Mrs Smith reminded me not to compromise, and to appreciate the whole. There were many times I visited hotels with great architecture but terrible fake wood floors, such a shame to skimp on some aspects where there is so much potential. I realise now that it is very rare to find places or things that are done really well across the board, and that is our ambition. It’s definitely a journey, but it is our guiding light.
RP: I enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy when I first worked for Terence, probably because I was his first proper design assistant, and therefore could carve out a space in a fairly big business. I realised quickly that this wasn’t a business with a million departments to get the pieces I was working on into production. It was down to me, so I learnt that if you want to make things happen, you have to roll up your sleeves and find that drive to keep going until it’s done.
Your products have garnered plenty of design awards throughout the years — do you have a favourite piece?
Nim because it’s a bit bonkers, and marked an important celebration for us.
Emil because it so perfectly represents our simplicity but distinct language.
Clyde because it is a perfect example of how we strive for poise in our pieces.
Anders, because its omits a beautiful quality of light.
What is the best / worst thing about working with your partner?
Working together allows us to dream and plan, and I think we actually achieve a lot more than the sum of our individual energies. Another great aspect of working together is that when it all feels a bit much for one of you, the other than carry the can for a bit until you can get back in the zone. Of course the worst thing can be never switching off, but 15 years in I think we are able to realise when it happens. We both know the value of just checking out mentally for a bit. When it's clear you need to just talk about anything other than the business.
Talk us through your creative process. How do you go about designing a piece? Where do you start?
Daydreaming and range planning. Discussion of moods, and how these might play into to the form, palette and materials. Then Russell starts model making, usually 1:5 with balsa wood. We review this back and forth, deep diving on colours, edges, and overall experience. Then our design assistants will start to build a full size prototype for us to finalise the details, and then we will move to technical drawings and workshop liaison.
Do you have any Less Ordinary hidden gems in London that you can share with us?
St John Restaurant, Jasper Morrison shop, Barrafina, The French House, Couverture & The Garb store in Notting Hill for excellent fashion from emerging and artistic brands.
Throughout your travels, has there ever been a Less Ordinary space abroad whose design really resonated with you?
Silent House in Santa Clara, Lisbon.
In what ways do you try to be less ordinary with what you do?
Don’t cut corners, sculpt your shapes, dare to dream.
Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies