Sighted
Tools for Everyday Life, by the Designers in Residence at Northumbria University

It seems ironic that the design school at Northumbria University‘s two most famous graduates would be Max Lamb and Jonathan Ive. At one end of the spectrum is Lamb, a designer so consumed with the act of making and the transparency of process that he films himself fabricating each piece from start to finish and posts the results on his website. On the other is Ive, who’s responsible for an object that’s more of a cipher, one that conceals its mechanics within and successfully erases any questions about the way it works or the context in which it was made. But perhaps the difference between the two designers is as simple as the difference between their concentrations at university: Ive graduated from a Northumbria program known as Design for Industry, which focuses on consumer experience, while Lamb finished a course called Three-Dimensional Design, where the act of making is as paramount as the artifact itself.

It’s the latter program that’s yielded the Designers in Residence who have exhibited at ICFF, for two years running, a collection of products known as Tools for Everyday Life, and it’s in Lamb’s footsteps that those designers follow. The residency program offers resources and workshop space to design school graduates who stay in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne region, and the pieces in the collection use the utilitarian language of those workshop tools as a jumping-off point. This year, the collection — which ranges from spun-copper lamps to cabinet pulls reminiscent of things like wing nuts — picked up an ICFF Editor’s Award for best products and accessories, and the booth’s elegant offerings set the blogosphere salivating. But few fairgoers seemed to have noticed a small newsprint takeaway at the booth called The Northern Tool, which documented the process behind each of the objects in question. Luckily your eagle-eyed editors spotted it, and we’ve reprinted for you its highlights along with images of the objects for anyone who didn’t make it to New York.

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Rivet Lights by David Irwin: Nearly all of the work on view at ICFF was produced at workshops on the university's grounds. One exception: the Rivet Light, designed by the young Irish-born designer David Irwin. Its spun-copper shades, which sit atop cylindrical Corian bases, were fabricated by a metalsmith in the jewelry quarter of Birmingham, England.

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Rivet Lights in the making.

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As their name implies, the lamps' forms are derived from different types of metal fasteners: Button, Cone, and Pan. Irwin is a former Designer in Residence, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who now works for companies like Deadgood, Habitat, and Gardiner Richardson.

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Industrial Blocks by Colin Wilson: The former resident took inspiration from wedges, v-blocks, gauges, and shims and used those forms to create a set of geometric brass building blocks.

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"Taking these items out of the context of the workshop environment gives the opportunity for play and adventure," Wilson writes in "The Northern Tool."

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Cabinet knobs and handles by Philip Luscombe: "None of the knobs directly mimics a particular tool," explains Luscombe, "but the intention was to create a collection of objects that aren't ridiculously tool-y (like if you were to glue spanners to your cupboards), but that, when presented together, look a bit like the contents of a toolbox. Of course, to achieve this aim, each handle does reference elements of certain tools."

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"The smallest knob was influenced by the proportions of an insert nut. The blackened steel one is inspired by block plane knobs. The inspiration for the brass one is a bit vague: It's meant to look like a component you'd find in a toolbox and don't really know what it's for, but one day find a use for. The beech knob references elaborate saw handles. And the color and form of the D-shaped one are directly inspired by tin snips."

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CC41 Jugs by Trevor Duncan: "The design of the jugs draws heavily on early C20 oil cans found in industrial workshops — a fixed volume of 1 quart, a balanced handle and a spout," writes Duncan in The Northern Tool. "Whilst these objects had little or no real intrinsic value their functional excellence now gives them a status and integrity that transcends being simply tools fit for purpose and makes them beautiful objects."

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"To amplify the functional value of the design each jug is produced from 30 ounces of Britannia silver (purer and whiter than sterling silver) and employs traditional manufacturing processes including hand forming, spinning, polishing and plating resulting in objects without obsolescence."

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Magnifying Glass Task Lamp by Danny Duquemin-Sheil: Tools for the tool.

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Made from brass, steel, glass, and miniature LEDs, Duquemin-Sheil's lamp reads like a Duchamp readymade but actually ingeniously facilitates fine craft work, like model-making, on a small scale.

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Northern Tool Box by Rickard Whittingham: For his part, program director Whittingham designed a simple newspaper rack that references a carpenter's toolbox. Made from black dyed solid ash, it's constructed with the dovetail joints seen here.

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"The turned wooden handle has a laser etched ‘knurl’ to notionally add grip but also to give a very domestic object an engineered value," says Whittingham.