Harriet Verney meets Tom Dixon
“He’s been known to walk out of interviews after one question,” warns the PR officer moments before we step inside award-winning product designer Tom Dixon’s studio. The challenge was set.
Tom Dixon, of course, is the man who turned a doodle of a chicken into the iconic S-Chair (you’ll have to use your imagination). The man who transformed lighting in 1994, giving the grunge era a new glow with his Jack light, a freestanding, stackable polyethylene lamp. The man who created a hugely successful capsule collection with Adidas, which included flat-pack trainers. Tom has conquered the design world and has an OBE to prove it.
We begin to talk and a smile reveals his gold teeth. A punk legacy, perhaps? “Disco punk,” he corrects, from the early 1980s, when he and his band Funkapolitan played Top of the Pops.
A brass motorcycle helmet on a shelf is a reminder of what followed: he broke his arm in a crash and was replaced on bass by a “session musician”
(he sneers the words). The end of one career, however, was the beginning of another as he made his first moves into design.
A second bike accident, during a brief stint on a foundation course at Chelsea College of Arts, forced him to take up welding in an attempt to fix his motorcycle. It was never repaired, but an infatuation with the welding torch, metal and what he calls “the ease of construction” propelled him to start making things. Then people started buying them, and Tom Dixon the designer was born.
“It was stage furniture, then it would be something else, but there was always the excuse of functionality,” he says. “I liked making things that at least had the framework of a function.”
He finds a balance of form and function in everything: “Even the most minimalist of designers are obsessed with the shape and sculptural design of an object.” During a tour of his latest pieces, he introduces to us a chandelier-like light with round white light fixtures that sits on an angular brass frame. It looks Art Deco-inspired. “You see one thing, another person sees something inspired by Star Trek, but none of those were the intention at all,” he explains. “These pieces have a duality about them which makes them hard to place. That’s a quality that I am trying to work on: a difficulty placing
the period. The natural consequence is that it stops it being fashionable and then maybe has a longer life.”
On top of his design empire, Tom also owns the Dock Kitchen, a restaurant above his showroom in Ladbroke Grove, and has branched out into perfumes and candles. So what’s next? “This year was more about smell, but next year will be about sound and the acoustics of spaces,” he says. “What’s great about being a designer is that it doesn’t matter what you apply yourself to – you can have completely new adventures all the time.” His most recent was a concert in Paris with his new band Ruff – one for which he actually got paid. “I’m a proper musician now,” he says, laughing.
Text: Harriet Verney
Portrait: Peer Lindgreen