Artistic angels of the North

Who scooped prizes at Newcastle’s Design Event 2011? Asks Annie Deakin
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The Independent Online

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that London is the epicenter of British design. Those Northerners have created quite an artistic storm over the past few days. Gravity-defying melted-look fish bowls, Bauhaus birdfeeders and bookshelves styled as tree branches are just a few of the exhibited work of young designers and makers in the North that deserve nationwide attention.

Earlier this week, the North East’s biggest design festival Design Event 2011 celebrated products, graphics, illustration and architecture over four days in Newcastle and Gateshead (14-18 October). It is the festival's seventh year and the highlight was the 4th consecutive Design Event Mart hosted in the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. Thirty-one Northern designers were exhibiting; of particular interest were the affordable work by REthinkthings, Ellen Thomas, Lazerian and Deadgood. Over 3,000 visitors enjoyed the 3-day event with sales figures doubling from the event last year.

Fittingly for the region, the Best Interior Product was awarded to the ‘Miners Lamp’ created by Northumbria University design graduate David Irwin. ‘I wanted to create something that has a link to the industrial heritage of the north of England,’ explains David who was previously the winner of the Peter Walker Award for Innovation in Furniture Design and 2008’s One Year On Award. Irwin became interested in the design evolution of the mining lamp from early Davy lamps first used in Hebburn Colliery to the Geordie lamp to carbide lamps and the battery equivalents of today. ‘An idea then evolved to design a small domestic light re-appropriating the mining lamp by referencing both its form and functional nature. Integrating features from various mining lamps such as a handle for carrying and hanging, a removable base for storing the flex and a rotating conical reflector for directing light has produced an immensely versatile product.’ His limited edition mining lamp is available in spun brass and solid black walnut exclusively for Design Event Presents.

Fellow Northumbria graduate Hannah Wales claimed the top prize celebrating Most Innovative Use of Material for the silicone mugs in her SILI range. Hers are an interesting product; the SILI range challenges our perceptions of appealing and familiar materials, textures and textiles. For example, her silicone mugs resemble a knitted woollen fabric enticing the user to touch and hold them – yet the products are moulded from silicone, a soft rubber-like material that is water and heat resistant. In order to create the silicone mug sleeve, Wales coated a piece of woolen fabric in Vaseline and covered it in plaster. Once hardened, the plaster is removed to become a repeat mould for a silicone mug.

Tatsuya Akita was the winner of Design Event MART Award 2011 Most Forward Thinking Product sponsored by Trendbible and Best Retail Product sponsored by Founded. It was his desk accessory range - made from wood, metal and concrete - that claimed these top prizes. An industrial designer from Japan, Akita graduated from Northumbria University this year after studying furniture and product design. ‘My intention for these mixed media desk accessories was to keep it simple, functional, and practical,’ explains Tatsuya. ‘I first thought of wood parts to jointing components for metal spun parts. It is possible to make metal parts fix to each other, but I wanted to explore different ways to fix them. Therefore, I came up with an idea of wooden rings. This range of desk accessories uses these wooden rings as a jointing feature.’

Design Event acting director Kala Preston said: ‘We are thrilled with the success of this year’s festival, the sheer volume of public support we have seen at all of this year’s events so far has been overwhelming. ‘It just goes to show how important design and culture is to our region, and how proud we are of the home-grown talent we have right here.’ Watch out London design students, these Northumbria University graduates are on your back.

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website