NZ design graduate joins urban renewal success story

Article by Home Magazine

Opening a physical shop to accompany an online offering might appear counterintuitive and, just three years after graduating, it wasn’t in designer Sara Spence’s game plan.

Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Designer and retailer Sara Spence at her Newcastle shop, Dubbleyou Design. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Dubbleyou. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

The If You Ain’t Dirty cotton tea towel is screen printed locally with neon ink. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.


Spence’s has been running since her final year in graphic and object design at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts (COFA), selling her locally made homewares and accessories. But after leaving her hometown of Whanganui and moving to Newcastle via Sydney, she was offered another option.

DubbleYou. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Notebooks, pencils, tea towels, plant stands and cushions are just some of the products made under Spence’s design direction. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Dubbleyou. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Spence produces a range of cushions, including Horsin’ Around at front. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.


Renew Newcastle is behind much of the Australian city’s evolution from moribund former port town to what is deemed a great urban-renewal success story. The organisation asks Newcastle’s commercial landlords to donate empty spaces to aspiring designers, artists, film-makers or anyone who “makes what they do”. The city centre has benefited from the influx of creative people, to the extent that its ongoing urban plan is based on a similar model of small shops, light rail and the protection of its extraordinary historic buildings.

DubbleYou - Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Focusing on keeping production local, the wooden ‘Clock Three Ways’ is laser-cut in Sydney. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.


Spence teamed with artist Sue Dawes on the application and was not assigned the 22-square-metre shop she expected, but a 102-square-metre space that they needed to renovate in three weeks. “My Dad came over to help us transform the space,” says Spence.

Dubbleyou. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Expecting a 22-square-metre shop, Spence ended up with 102. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.


Another small-town advantage: The “concrete guy” who’d quoted a few thousand for his services offered to do the work pro bono if they’d provide the materials. In return, Spence is building him a website and brand.

Dubbleyou. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

Spence creates a variety of design objects in leather, including dog collars for three pooch sizes. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.


Dubbleyou has bed linen, tea towels, clocks and a range of leather goods. Spence makes each prototype by hand, then takes them to a small, local team to produce. She offers other designers a lower commission rate for the store, so it’s affordable for both while they build their relationship. “If you love something and want to make it, you can,” Spence says, “but you have to think about a clever way of doing that.” –Sam Eichblatt 

Photograph by Nathan Dawes.

A selection of products for sale at Dubbleyou in Newcastle, Australia. Photograph by Nathan Dawes.


Dubbleyou Design
Shop 18/19, Market Square, Hunter Street, Newcastle, NSW

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