What do you get when you cross a metalworker, a graphic designer and an architect? Beautiful and timeless pieces of furniture, made out of raw, natural materials that never go out of style.
How did the three of you first meet and how do your skill sets compliment one another? Was it a difficult decision embarking into the world of business together?
Mark and Richy grew up as friends in Newcastle before Mark relocated to London to work in infographic design. Richy followed suit shortly after completing the first part of his architectural training and we immediately began discussing ways in which we could potentially collaborate. We’ve long been inspired by each other’s work and have actively explored the realms in which our creative disciplines overlap. There were a few failed projects along the way, but we both felt it was a matter of time until the right idea fell into place.
The dynamic between the three of us is natural, we’re first and foremost family and friends, and appreciate exactly where each others’ skill set lies.
In 2013 the initial concept of NOVOCASTRIAN was born, a creative outlet with a focus, an idea from which we could develop a brand. Having grown up around a family business in industrial metal fabrication, but preferring to choose a path in architecture, Richy spent much time deliberating over whether the two pursuits were at all compatible. In the end the solution was blindingly obvious, we’d simply begin designing and making things with metal.
Although we had a good understanding of the fabrication process, neither of us had the required level of hands-on experience in metalwork. We wanted to explore this dialogue between designer and maker and so began to bring Richy’s younger brother Dean into our conversations. As a metalworker Dean offers a practical influence during the design phases which allows us to work very efficiently. The dynamic between the three of us is natural, we’re first and foremost family and friends, and appreciate exactly where each others’ skill set lies.
Read Another Article – Patrik Larsson
Your work is inspired by the industrial north of England. Why and how has this influenced your work?
The North East, is an area steeped in industrial heritage. It has mined coal, built ships, invented steam trains and electrical lighting. Creation in this context is utilitarian, an unrelenting force for human progress. We can’t claim to be doing likewise of course, but this quietly powerful drive to solve problems through design is hugely inspirational. This inspiration manifests itself in a couple of ways, the first is in the structures, the relics of an industrial past. Particularly interesting is the rhythm these forms generate, the repetition. This is often a consequence of a Victorian railway system which the North East pioneered. The second vein of inspiration comes from industrial process, the techniques the region’s workforce mastered over generations of mining and ship building. The remnants of these skills still exist, although they are quickly dwindling. In our own small way we seek to repurpose just a little of this craft, reimagining it as designers, and turning it to new uses. For us there is a deep intrigue in how modern design and industrial craft embrace.
How do you keep this industrial heritage alive in your crafting process? Are there any traditional methods you use?
We help keep the grey matter ticking over in some of our more experienced metalworkers, requesting finishes for which they often need to revive processes they haven’t utilised in decades. At the same time we are fortunate to have some of the latest manufacturing technology available to us, and the design process often explores how to appropriately balance past and present.
Read Another Article – Pena Jewels
Can you tell us a bit more about the design process and the other sources from which you find inspiration?
Each of our creations is a blend of form, materiality, and process. One of these components tends to spark an initial idea, and then inevitably takes the lead in that respective piece. We’re contextualists, so a place or an existing object tends to act as the trigger. We find inspiration everywhere, not just in the North’s industrial heritage. Many of Richy’s influences are naturally architectural. The work of Peter Zumthor stands out, not only his buildings but equally his writings. The way he describes environments as immersive sensory experiences, how things feel to the touch, how they smell, how they sound. Junichirō Tanizaki’s literature has a similar vein, and In Praise of Shadows is a frequent reference.
Zen philosophy is also absorbing, and we find that it translates particularly well to the design process. The idea of a Zen artist being one who gives the ‘impression of disciplined restraint’, of ‘having held something in reserve’, is a simple but compelling concept, which is immensely powerful in the hands of the designer. It probably goes some way to explain why the Japanese have such a considered approach to design. Inevitably, we have each taken inspiration from past experience.
The North East, is an area steeped in industrial heritage. It has mined coal, built ships, invented steam trains and electrical lighting. Creation in this context is utilitarian, an unrelenting force for human progress.
Having studied at the Glasgow School of Art it’s difficult not to have a little Mackintosh in your blood. People pick up on the subtle references which is a huge compliment. We’re also very fond of the Escher, the geometry and symmetry in his work speaks as much to Mark graphically as it does to Richy architecturally.
As a graphic designer by trade much of what inspires Mark is of course graphical. He’s a minimalist at heart, and enjoys extracting rhythm and form from the architectural elements that often interest us. Visual language is hugely important, anything with a strong identity is ripe for extracting inspiration. The Staiths structures are a particularly good example of this.
The challenge for us is to find a vein amongst the plethora of inspiration sources which is appropriate to NOVOCASTRIAN. We’re especially concerned with modest, local materials, reinterpreting them to reveal a beauty previously overlooked.
You have already collaborated with a number of other designers and completed some special commissioned pieces. Who would be your dream brand or designer to collaborate with?
This is a tough one, in terms of architects and designers, Peter Zumthor, David Chipperfield, John Pawson, Studio Mumbai and Dieter Rams are all favourites. Sculptor Anish Kapoor would also be a dream to collaborate with.
As for brands, we look to the likes of Pinch and Vitsoe for inspiration. Their products are beautifully designed, beautifully made and beautifully photographed. We’ll be happy if we’re ever spoken of in the same breath.
What has been the most challenging piece of commissioned work you have completed so far?
Undoubtedly the Sonar boardroom table. At 6m long by 1.5m wide, this commission for a central London office was logistically tricky, shall we say. We meticulously planned every step of the process, from the fabrication, to the transport, to the delivery and install. The table had to arrive early in the morning to reduce traffic disruption, and we needed to borrow pretty much every staff member of the commissioning company to help offload and lift the table into place. We studied the floor plan of the building to calculate where we had adequate space to turn the table, and how to avoid as many steps as possible. Thankfully, the detailed planning paid off and everything went smoothly.
The upshot of such as challenging install was a setting dripping with inspiration. Drawing on the rich visual stimulus of the boardroom, a former Victorian magistrate courthouse, the response echoed the unrelenting rhythm of the lustrous mahogany panelling. The slender, elementary surface sits atop three orderly leg clusters, all finished in our Bronze Patinated Steel. The result is a stealthy, resonating presence, demanding attention yet reluctantly subordinating itself to the handsome space.
Do you have any exciting, upcoming projects in the pipeline?
We have so many ideas to pursue, so many notebooks full of sketches. We need to focus our efforts methodically, developing one idea at a time, and filing the others until we have the time we need to develop those.
Our first project in the new year will be in developing our Staiths shelving system in to a full range of products. We’ve had requests for a console table and TV unit versions and are keen to modularise the design. We’re then looking to bring couple of exciting new materials into our pallet, as well as a foray into lighting, but all will be revealed in due course.
Finally, our architect Richy has been commissioned to design Copenhagen’s first boutique hotel as part of LIND + ALMOND, so we’ll be looking to see how we can help out there.
Sharp lines, shadows, atmosphere, minimalism and modest materials.
Orchids, bad use of colour, contextless starchitecture, curves, and generic feature lighting.
Quotes / motto:
‘Work with people who are infinitely better than yourself.’
‘Insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results’ Einstein
‘Shy bairns get nowt’
More on Novocastrian