Ever since former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne coined the term ‘Northern Powerhouse,’ all eyes have been on the North of England—a region growing into a post-coal and postindustrial future—as rising London prices force creatives further afield.
Newcastle—the Lonely Planet’s ‘hipster capital of the North East’—has seen £250 million invested in arts and culture over 20 years, starting with the UK’s most recognised public art installation, the Angel of the North, designed by Antony Gormley and constructed in 1998.
The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (not far from Hotel Indigo Newcastle, on the other side of the Tyne) followed in 2002, before Norman Foster’s Sage Gateshead concert venue was built in 2004. A year later, Northern Design Event was established, and has attracted 250,000 visitors since.
The University of Northumbria, one of the UK’s leading art and design schools, turns out talented designers every year. Despite funding cuts in 2012, Newcastle has continued to thrive, and alongside the city’s food and coffee renaissance, design is a key driver its growth – with three furniture brands leading the way.
Born in Northern Ireland in 1986, David Irwin graduated in three-dimensional design at Northumbria University in 2007 and, like many of his fellow alumni, has been in Newcastle ever since. His M Lamp was inspired by lamps designed by George Stephenson in Newcastle in the 19th century. They were used by thousands of coal miners in the North East in the early 20th century, producing a quarter of Britain’s coal in at their peak in 1913.
“Newcastle is a small but creative city with a welcoming community of designers,” he says. “The city boasts a mix of old and new architecture, skilled artisans and craftspeople as well a burgeoning digital scene. The creative sector is starting to fill the void created by a decline of industry in the region, and it’s encouraging to see more and more practitioners basing themselves here.”
Coining a common Northern phrase, Deadgood is a furniture manufacturer based in Newcastle that collaborates with big-name designers like Lee Broom, Max Lamb, and Irwin. “The design scene in Newcastle has developed out of the collective beliefs of a creative community of smart thinking, entrepreneurial minds,” says co-founder and director Elliot Brook. “A talented roster of individuals and institutions who are not only proud to call the city home but are also exceptionally passionate about promoting their creative excellence on both a national and an international stage.”
Novocastrian was established by metalworker Dean Almond, his brother and architect Richy Almond, and their childhood friend and designer Mark McCormick — all born and bred in Newcastle. “We believe in the honest beauty of raw, natural materials,” says McCormick. ” Metal is our obsession, the backbone of our work. Each and every one of our pieces is hand-crafted with love and integrity by hardy northern souls.”
Their furniture is inspired by Newcastle, made in Newcastle and made from materials local to Newcastle, something that is very important to them. “The design scene in Newcastle is grounded, genuine and honest, with a strong theme of story and context,” says Richie Almond. “One of our key aims is to allow designers and makers the opportunity to stay in our region, so we put a great deal of effort into celebrating that.”