Northern Design Festival, Newcastle

Highlights from metalwork to textiles at this year's event

Visiting the latest edition of the Northern Design Festival in Newcastle, in the northeast of England, makes it clear how much exciting design is being produced across the country right now—and much of it in the northern regions. Artist and designer Dominic Wilcox, who CH met earlier this year is from nearby Sunderland, and at the Northern Design Festival, most of the other participants were based in Newcastle or close to the city. Set in the beautiful Assembly House, the festival showcased works of designers ranging from well-established industry figures to some fresh new faces. The Northern Design Festival is run by Design Event, which has promoted good design and supported designers across the Northern region for a decade now.

One of the best-known names at the festival is Deadgood, the furniture and design studio founded in Newcastle 10 years ago by Dan Ziglam and Elliott Brook. Deadgood moved its London Design Festival installation to Newcastle for the occasion, showcasing its latest product selection—including the playful “Working Girl” sofa in pink and red designed by David Irwin—surrounded by “book covers” on which some UK design leaders shared their favorite books. “We wanted something different, so we asked industry figures what their favorite book was and created the installation based on that reading list,” says Brook. It’s fun and offers insight into what designers read; apparently everything from “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Siddharta” to “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

As well as working with Deadgood, Newcastle-based designer David Irwin also designed an enchanting installation featuring 50 of his “M Lamps”—first produced with seed funding from Design Event in 2011 and then developed with and manufactured by Brooklyn-based Juniper Design. The battery-operated portable flashlight was inspired by miners’ lamps, which makes Newcastle an extra fitting place for the installation. The old industrial city used to be a center for coal mining, and was one of the places where the mining lamp was invented, bringing the design full circle. Irwin’s lamp, which comes in black, white or orange, is simple yet striking, and can also be used as a regular table lamp.

BLH Ceramics, the design studio run by Lynne Hutchinson, is a part of the Design Event MART exhibition held during NDF. It’s a curated selection of the best in contemporary design in the North. Hutchinson’s decorative, minimalist patterned vases are created by combining unglazed surfaces with glazed Sgraffito decoration. Though they’re handmade, the vases all look very much alike, giving them a pleasing symmetrical feel. “I make them from slab pieces of clay and cut them into uniform sizes, so they’re all the same shape and size,” Hutchinson says.

Also at MART were metalwork and design team Novocastrian, who won the award for Best New Designer at NDF this year. Their beautiful Staiths unit, made from blackened steel, is inspired by the nearby Dunston Staiths, which helped transport coal to waiting ships on the River Tyne. Despite being based on a Victorian structure, the unit’s clean lines make it look fiercely contemporary. Novocastrian’s coffee table “Slate Binate” also celebrates the north, as it’s made from slate from Cumbria in the northwest region. The modernization of the North’s industrial heritage, and the way in which this can be harnessed in contemporary design, is a theme that runs through all of the Northern Design Festival.

Graphic and eye-catching, textile designer Jane Eastwood’s monochrome throws are made from wool and silk and begin their lives being woven by hand, as Eastwood works out the structure of the designs. The contrasting black-and-white patterns are reversed on the back of the throws, which have names like “Bauhaus” and “Edo-Deco.” Eastwood teaches design at the University of Norwich and has previously done design and color consulting. Seeing her deceptively simple designs and realizing the amount of work behind it, you understand why people would want to learn from her.

The awards at this year’s NDF went to Novocastrian, to Sophie Thompson for her Terrarium range and to a CH favorite. Jake Barker—whose work CH covered at London’s New Designers earlier this year—won the award for “Most Innovative Product.” The awards were made by RASKL, who also showed as part of MART. The Newcastle-based brand’s own work was some of the best at the Northern Design Festival, where it showed its peg board and extending bench. The company recently started working with Valchromat, a material that’s an alternative to MDF, and the result is furniture that’s hardwearing enough for everyday use but still looks slick and refined.

The Northern Design Festival is on now through 25 October at at The Assembly House, 55 Westgate Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Jane Eastwood image by Bauhaus Photography (Sally Garnett), all others courtesy of respective designers