Heavy Metal (AnOther Magazine)
All copy as supplied to the publication.
Katie Treggiden speaks to Newcastle-based design trio Novocastrian – a designer, an architect and a metal worker – putting their hometown firmly on the map.
With their debut collection at the London Design Festival’s designjunction and Newcastle’s Northern Design Festival, and an award for Best New Designer under their belts already, Novocastrian has burst onto the design scene with a singularly local approach to design and manufacture.
Founded by designer Mark McCormick, architect Richy Almond, and metalworker Dean Almond, Novocastrian specialises in products that are inspired by and made in the North of England. “Our local history is a continual source of inspiration,” says Mark. “Repurposing forgotten craft, processes and techniques is hugely satisfying.” Their Staiths shelving unit was inspired by the iconic Dunston Staiths – industrial timber structures built in the River Tyne at the turn of the century to expedite the transfer of coal from rail to river. While their Binate tables comprise a blackened steel frame topped with either a slab of Cumbrian slate quarried 75 miles from their workshop or patinated brass. “We’re proud to source and fabricate in the UK, helping to retain skills that are rapidly dying out,” says Mark. “And clients are becoming less concerned solely with price, and more concerned with locally sourced, locally made pieces with a strong backstory.”
The team’s shared commitment to their local area is borne of a shared history. “Mark and I grew up together in the North East of England,” explains Richy. “We’ve long been inspired by each other’s work and have actively explored the ways in which our creative disciplines overlap – it was only a matter of time until the right idea fell into place.” Having chosen to study architecture despite a family business in industrial metal fabrication, Richy had also been exploring the overlap between architecture and metalwork. “In the end the solution was blindingly obvious,” he says. “We would simply start making things with metal.” Keen to explore the dialogue between designer and maker, they quickly brought Richy’s brother Dean, a metalworker, into their conversations and Novocastrian was born. “I’m really proud that we’ve found a way that we can work creatively with family and friends on a daily basis,” he says.
It’s this unusual combination of skills that provides the key to their design and making process. It starts with research: “Exploring our forgotten local heritage is really inspiring,” explains Mark. Then comes design: “The hardest part is always the first move,” says Richy. “That awful sketch you need to get the process moving.” And after that it’s simply a matter of refining and improving. “Dean offers a practical influence during the design phase that allows us to work very efficiently,” he says of their philosophy, which embraces the maker’s viewpoint as much as the designer’s. “It’s vital that Richy and I stay close to the making process. As designers, we learn from Dean every time we develop a new piece.” For Richy, this fabrication phase is the most exciting part of the process: “The sparks, the noise, the energy of production, followed by the calm as each piece is revealed, still hot to the touch and ready for inspection,” he says. “After witnessing the creation of something, you see it differently. There’s a sense of energy embodied in it.”