When Dezeen announced their 2020 public vote awards, a hugely prestigious awards programme which celebrates the best in design across the world, there was one very exciting Northern nomination which immediately jumped out.
Manchester-based YOUTH are the only UK nomination among a very impressive line-up in the Emerging Interior Design Studio of the Year category. “Design in Manchester isn’t often recognised on this kind of global scale,” says YOUTH’s co-founder Oliver Collinge, “and often studios in London, Tokyo, Copenhagen will take all the attention, so we’re really excited that we can put Manchester on the map for this!”
We recognised that there was an opportunity to take what we’d learned from exploring design in other countries and push the boundaries.
Established by Oliver and co-founder Liam McGroarty in 2016, YOUTH was borne out of a frustration with the lack of creative vision around them. What began as the vision of two talented 24 year olds is now a studio with a global portfolio, based in the heart of Ancoats, spanning from the UK to China.
“We met at university studying interior design,” Ollie tells me, “and both went on to work for design agencies in Manchester. It wasn’t long really before we became disillusioned, and started to travel and become more aware of how Manchester was falling behind in regards to design. YOUTH was born because we didn’t believe in the hierarchy structure in typical design studios whereby you have to work your way up to be a senior before you can creatively lead a project. We recognised that there was an opportunity to take what we’d learned from exploring design in other countries and push the boundaries. We’ve always strived to create meaningful experiences that have the power to affect, influence and inspire people, and break down industry and sector barriers.”
YOUTH believe the role of design is greater than simply making spaces look good, always seeking to find the balance between life and style, culture and commerce. They define their ‘studio style’ as “refined rawness; an aesthetic that experiments with the balance between raw, honest materials, contrasted by soft tones and textures.”
“Our projects are like our children,” they say, “we couldn’t possibly pick a favourite.” However, Excelsior Works in Manchester – their largest body of work to date, with the complete interior architectural coordination of 108 apartments and communal areas across the scheme – holds a special place in their hearts. The largest printing and bookbinding factory of its kind in Manchester in the late 19th Century, Excelsior Works has been brought back to life by YOUTH in partnership with Tim Groom Architects, on behalf of developer Mulbury City. “From concept to completion, we focused upon creating a brand and lifestyle complementary to the location surroundings and future residents,” says Ollie. “We wanted to link to the site’s heritage as a bookbinding and printing site, but avoid design that strays into clichéd historical and industrial references.”
“We love working in collaboration with architects,” Ollie says, “especially those like Tim Groom, who we really align with creatively. We are really proud of this project because we coordinated the full interior architecture and developed bespoke branding for the scheme, linking back to the original concept and theme.”
Another Northern project the studio were proud to work on was Stone Cross, an iconic Grade II Gothic-style manor built in 1878, located in rural Cumbria. “We were approached by Persimmon Homes to consult on how to respectfully restore and modernise this historic building,” Ollie tells me. “Our aim was to bring a modern, contemporary liveability to space, whilst creating a strong design narrative which wove together British history with drama and character.”
The challenge was to complement and accentuate the existing ornate architectural features with current materiality and shapes. “Our design approach was to play with the existing tones, juxtaposing features through joinery and finishes, highlighting both the beauty and contrasts of the old and new,” he says.
While the studio have worked on projects across the UK, they have also been keen to bring a little bit of Northern charm to the rest of the world too, creating a shade of Dolomite Plaster in collaboration with St.Leo, inspired by their studio base. “We joined 35 other international architects for a workshop at The Audo in Copenhagen, where we were asked to mix our ideal shade. We knew we wanted to create something which had a tie to Manchester, particularly Ancoats where our new studio space is located, and decided to go with an industrial green, influenced by the dark hues that feature prominently on urban architecture in the neighbourhood.Their product development team then chose to put one standout colour into production, and it just so happened to be Ancoats,” says Ollie. “We’re yet to use it within one of our projects, but we were really excited to see it used at Copenhagen’s Lagkagehuset bakery recently; a much-loved spot which we enjoy visiting when we’re over there.”
As for current projects, YOUTH are working on a retail store in London for a large client. “It’s something very different for us in terms of colours and aesthetics,” says Ollie, “and it’s encouraged us to explore different materials and tones that I think will surprise most of our followers. It’s been really exciting to see some of these palettes coming together in a way that totally represents a new aesthetic, whilst still having that refined rawness we’ve developed as a studio style.” There is also another exciting project in the works. “We’re really happy to be working with General Store to design their new space,” Ollie tells me. “We’re regular shoppers there, and we have big respect for Mital who owns it. We align on a lot of things, especially creating an exciting culture in the city and we’re collaborating to create a new dynamic social hub. Watch this space!”
Ollie and Liam consider their recent Dezeen nomination to be a real pivotal moment for the studio. “When we started out, we always said that if we could have one of our projects featured in Dezeen, we’d know we were making waves. So to be shortlisted as the only UK studio in the ‘Emerging Interior Design Studio of the Year’ category, it’s been next level. It would mean a lot to us to be able to put Manchester on the map like this. But more than anything, I think it really recognises our goal that we set out to achieve, and prove that you don’t need to climb the hierarchical ladder in order to be a great designer.”
“We’ve always had big dreams for the studio, and two of those dreams were to have our own studio store, and to have our own furniture collection. Both of those things are now in the pipeline which is a huge milestone for us. Looking ahead, we want to develop YOUTH as a lifestyle brand, not just an interior design studio. This will come in many different forms and collaborations, nothing is off limits, we just want to focus on creating powerful, meaningful designs wherever the opportunities arise.”
You can cast your vote for YOUTH in the Dezeen Awards 2020 public vote here. Voting closes on Monday 12 October and public vote winners will be announced the following week.
Portraits © YOUTH. Photography of Lagkagehuset bakery © Armin Tehrani/Værnis Studio, Excelsior Works © Iltimes, Stone Cross © Felix Mooneeram and St.Leo Ancoats © Priszcilla Varga. All used with permission.