Designer Profile: Tom Dixon

With a highly anticipated IKEA collaboration just launched – and a behind-the-scenes look at the partnership in the new BBC2 documentary Flatpack Empire – Tom Dixon isn't showing any signs of slowing down. After ten years at the helm of Habitat as head of design, he established his eponymous brand in 2002, going on to produce such iconic pieces as the Wingback Chair and Mirror Ball pendant. With a growing line of accessories and interiors projects under his belt (we still can't get enough of those divine spaces in the Mondrian Hotel, Bronte's bar and Harrods Sandwich Cafe), it seems Britain’s furniture maverick is just getting into the swing of things...

DO YOU HAVE A DESIGN MANTRA?

‘Extraordinary objects for everyday use’ is my mantra. I guess I’m trying to create a modern take on British design – whatever that looks like.

WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LOOK AS MASCULINE?

Well, I think I’ve got a feminine side, but I keep it well hidden! I’ve never been a big one for comfort. I’ve got the industrially produced things in the collection, like the car headlight-inspired pendant lamps, which are very masculine. As the collection gets bigger, I’m able to work in a couple of different aesthetics.

Dixon’s projects extend to home interiors – this one is in Hong Kong

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR DESIGNING HOME INTERIORS?

For me, successful designs are never ‘mono’. Too many designers have a mono aesthetic – your house should have a different feel in every room, from the bedroom, where it can be warm and soft, to the kitchen, which is a machine for manufacturing food. Shoreditch House is a good example of that. I like people to go through a sort of adventure, from space to space – like ghost trains, where you go through different events. Contrast is the key for any space, whether it’s texture, shape, colour or materials.

A multitude of his iconic Wingback Chairs can be seen in Dixon’s scheme for private-members’ club Shoreditch House

WHAT’S YOUR OWN HOME LIKE?

I’m not one to impose my designs on my family. I lived on my own for a long time when I was able to do that – I’ve even lived in my own studio. If you’re around your work 24 hours a day, it can be too much.

IS THERE A PIECE OF DESIGN YOU’D LOVE TO OWN?

I’m not very acquisitive – the more I design, the less 
I want things, really. But I like things like transport – I’ve got a Fifties Bentley that I’m currently restoring. It’s that type of thing that I covet – I like big objects.

Y nylon and steel chair, £245, Tom Dixon

WHO OR WHAT HAS INFLUENCED YOUR LOOK?

The people that have inspired me are engineers and sculptors. From Noguchi and Hepworth all the way to Anish Kapoor. And the more maverick engineers, like Eiffel – you can see the Pylon chair has taken direct influence from him.

Dixon’s design for the Restaurant at the Royal Academy

WHICH DESIGNERS DO YOU ADMIRE?

When I joined Habitat, I went to see all of the masters – I met Castiglioni and Panton and lots of extraordinary people, just before they died. Philippe Starck is quite inspirational. It’s not that I like his stuff, but you have to admire his openness to the new and for being the only recognised designer in the world – ever.

WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR BREAKTHROUGH PIECE?

There are several career-changing objects, like the S-Chair that I did for Cappellini, which got into New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The Mirror Ball pendants kind of powered the company along for a little while, so that piece has actually allowed other ideas to flourish.

Trace glass coffee table, £1,250

LIGHTING IS A BIG PART OF YOUR RANGE – WHAT IS IT ABOUT LIGHTING THAT INTERESTS YOU?

It’s partly the fact that I can use the latest technology and partly that I can be more radical. A lot of people feel unknowledgeable about lighting and maybe I help to simplify it. 
I think customers who are slightly conservative are more forgiving of innovation or crazy shapes than they would be with furniture.

Copper Bronze brass pendants, £375 each, Tom Dixon

YOU DESIGNED THE MONDRIAN LONDON HOTEL – WHAT WAS THE CONCEPT BEHIND THIS LOOK?

The original building is called Sea Containers House, 
so the idea was that the rooms were ship’s cabins – they’re relatively small spaces but with amazing views. But the main challenge was the furniture.

HOW SO?

The battering a hotel gets is unique – it’s like a new family moving into your house every day. I mean, 
it has to be able to be cleaned constantly and bullet- proof, basically. But it was a good lesson in how to make things robust and really thinking through every misuse things can be put to.

Spun brass Short table, £1,075

HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH JAMIE OLIVER ON HIS BARBECOA STEAKHOUSE?

Jamie’s a great guy, he’s very opinionated – he’s not hands off, but he’s not always there. Jamie’s fabulous to work with, but he was working alongside an American chef. So two chefs together – I wouldn’t recommend that for any interior designer!

The bar in Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa restaurant

YOU’VE ALSO DESIGNED THE SANDWICH CAFE IN HARRODS – WERE THERE MANY RESTRICTIONS WORKING WITH A DEPARTMENT STORE?

It came with a few restrictions, but we’re used to that. I don’t think that designers should complain about restrictions – we’re not making contemporary art, the restraint is the thing that makes it design. But I also like commerce. I’m sort of rare in that way – commerce is intrinsic to why I became a designer. I couldn’t believe that people would buy things that I made and that sort of legitimised the whole reason for doing it.

WHAT WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL NEXT PROJECT?

I haven’t done white goods, I haven’t done auto design… where do I start? There are lots of adventures left to have.

Learn more about Tom Dixon’s designs and interiors projects at tomdixon.net

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