Living in a city like London, where there's constantly another show opening to attend, another private view to check out, another must-see product launch to go see, it can be easy to find yourself never venturing outside of Zone 6. If the world is on your doorstep, why go for a walk?
But, heck, there's a wealth of incredible stuff outside the M25 if you just take a look.
So we were dead excited when the good folks at Design Event recently got in touch to invite us up to take a look at Newcastle's design scene. So, come with us as we take you on a journey up north…
Design Event is a bit like a northern version of the London Design Festival, focusing on the incredibly fertile creative scene in and around Newcastle and Gateshead. It's in its fourth year, and is going to take place from 9 to 26 October, with work grouped under the theme of Northern Design – we'll give you a full run-down on exactly what's on nearer the time.
The Design Event gang asked if we'd like to go up ahead of this year's festival to check out what's already going on in the area, and we naturally jumped at the chance.
It only takes three hours to get to Newcastle on the train from Kings Cross, and there are some cheap deals, especially if you get two singles instead of a return, and book a few weeks in advance. Evidently we haven't done any long train journeys recently, as we were totally overexcited about being able to while away the journey by making use of the free Wi-Fi on the train - they even have charging points so you can plug in your laptop and/or phone. Technology today eh?
The city itself is fairly compact, which means it's really easy to walk from place to place; and even if you don't feel like walking, a cab isn't going to dent your pocket too much. We've put together this map to show all the places we visited, and a few more besides. You can also check out some more of our pictures on this Flickr set.
We kicked off our trip with a visit to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (top). We'd heard a lot about the gallery, and had been meaning to visit for ages. It doesn't disappoint. It feels a lot like the Tate Modern's northern cousin, though it has no permanent collection, instead focusing on a constantly changing series of exhibitions. The current main show is by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara (in collaboration with design team Graf), and it's a really lovely exhibition, featuring a selection of his pieces installed in a little village of sheds and houses.
The show runs until 26 October and there are some other shows kicking off while it's still on, including a David Shrigley exhibition (10 September – 9 November), and two new works by Turner prize winning artist Steve McQueen (10 September – 23 November).
From there, we nipped across the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects) to the newly opened Lazarides Gallery, which has a fantastic show on by the rather wonderful Dave Kinsey (Untitled - Jesus, above). It runs till 16 August, after which they're promising something else rather special. We'll let you know when we hear what that is…
Also down in that part of town is the Designed and Made Gallery, a smart space featuring contemporary design and craft work by the region's designer-makers.
We also checked out Vane, a charmingly eccentric space on the ground floor of a railway building. They were showing an exhibition of work by illustrator and film-maker Jock Mooney; check out their site to see what's coming up next.
There's a thriving community of designers and creators in Newcastle, collaborating all over the place on a huge variety of projects. Much of this cross-fertilisation is thanks to the brilliant workshop spaces set up by designer-maker Nick James. Nick's main gig is creating bespoke furniture made to commission; but not content with that, he decided to buy a couple of buildings to turn into workshops. As you do. Mushroom Works, in the Ouseburn Valley area of Newcastle (a twenty minute stroll from the centre of town), was the first of these, and it's open to the public on the first weekend of every month. Not far from there, a fine collection of artists, designers and makers are doing their thing at the Lime Street Studios; including the very groovy Dan Civico, whose work stretches across a whole range of disciplines.
While we were in town, we also hooked up with product designer (and RCA graduate) Richard Liddle, who's doing some great work with a really strong environmental edge.
After all that product and furniture stuff, we were hungry for a bit of graphic action, so we made our way across to Electrik Sheep (above), the shop and gallery space run by design studio Reluctant Hero. The shop is one of those perfect spaces that stocks a mish mash of clothing, products and prints, including stuff from their own-brand, Prefab. And if you're eager to get an even bigger shopping fix, make sure you check out the store at the Baltic too (below) - it's a finely curated collection of lovely bits and bobs.
While you're in town, there's a fair few other tasty places that are worth a look. We popped into the recently restored Tyneside Cinema, which is just glorious, and it even has a section in the main screen with sixty handmade leather armchairs. Lush.
If you get the chance, pop into the Literary and Philosophical Society, just next to the train station. It's got a fantastic galleried library, and is just dripping with historical goodness.
For a bit of architectural fun, there's also the Foster-designed Sage Gateshead, the shell-shaped music venue next to the Baltic (better from the outside than the inside, but still great); and also the Byker Wall by Ralph Erskine, which recently got all smart and fancy with a Grade II listing. And of course, if you're up for a trip out of town, Gormley's Angel of the North is only a short drive away.
All that shopping and culture left us mighty hungry, and more than a tad thirsty. Fortunately the Design Event team had hand-picked some perfect places to grab some top nosh. We grabbed a great pub lunch at The Forth (and popped back later for a pint or four), which is a warm and friendly place which doesn't try too hard to be cool; and also stopped off for a drink at The Cluny, just next to the Lime St Studios. In the evening we pleasured our tastebuds at Secco and Paradiso in the centre of the city; as well as feasting on some South East Asian goodness at Mark Lagun's ecclectic eatery Barn Asia.
We stayed at the Grey Street Hotel, a smart and friendly boutique hotel with single rooms from £145; but if you'd rather save your cash for shopping and eating, check out the Premier Inn, which benefits from a great location down on the Quayside (just across from the Baltic).
We were definitely looking forward to our trip to Newcastle, but it totally outdid our expectations, and we're looking forward to getting back up there very soon.