Five Minutes With… Tom Dixon

The maestro of British design talks about his latest project – the ultimate IKEA hack.

If you’ve been following BBC2’s Flatpack Empire series, you’ll understand our excitement about Ikea’s latest project. The Swedish furniture retailer has joined forces with British design overlord, Tom Dixon, to create “a malleable and modular piece that has been designed to adapt to changing lifestyles and stand the test of time”. In other words, something with Tom’s signature snazzy design without the price tag.

The result is a bed sofa (that’s definitely not a sofa bed) which you can customise. Clamp on a lamp, swap the backrest, add an armrest, clip on a side table, or change the cover completely. Just make it your own. IKEA has never created anything so customisable before. Perhaps this collab could be the catalyst for more transformative designs? We hope so. With so many questions, it was about time for a catch up with the man himself…

THE PIECES ARE VERY VERSATILE AND SUIT A MULTITUDE OF DIFFERENT FUNCTIONS, ESPECIALLY FOR URBAN LIVING. DO YOU THINK FURNITURE IS MOVING IN THIS DIRECTION?

Both Marcus Engman and myself were fascinated by industrial production and interested in the way that larger pieces of furniture are still made using fairly primitive manufacturing techniques. We talked about many ways of making a longer lasting, more sustainable and adaptable piece of furniture which incorporated a lot of discussion about how people’s domestic lives are transforming with smaller spaces, more moving home in a lifetime, and more flexibility needed from more flexible human relationships. I would hope to see the bed or sofa in 20 years being used in a completely unexpected functionality – one that I couldn’t have predicted myself. That would be success.

YOU PUSHED IKEA OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE BY SUCCESSFULLY USING RECYCLED ALUMINIUM INSTEAD OF WOOD. IS THIS THE FUTURE FOR THEIR FURNITURE?

We had looked at cardboard first to try and make a very affordable frame and then at natural fibre and resin, but we wanted something that had a sense of permanence and solidity about it, with an number of technical functions. We also wanted it to be re-useable and adaptable, so aluminium came up as the optimum material.

HAS THE COLLABORATION INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE MORE ACCESSIBLE PRODUCTS AND TARGET A WIDER CUSTOMER BASE?

I have my own company designing, developing and distributing our own high end furniture, lighting and accessories. But I like the way luxury companies and high street companies collaborate in the fashion industry. Karl Lagerfeld or Comme des Garcon and H&M or Jill Sander and Uniqlo are great examples. I had a long association with IKEA so I knew a lot about how it works. When I started thinking about trying to work on a project about design for the beginning of life (cots ) and the end of life (coffins) it felt like IKEA was the best place to do it.

WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH NEXT?

I would love to do more transport and electronics – I would also like to do more architecture and master planning.

DOES YOUR OWN HOME KEEP THE SAME DESIGN OR ARE YOU ALWAYS REDECORATING?

I’m not one to impose my designs on my family. If you’re around your work 24 hours a day, it can be too much.

WE KNOW MUSIC IS A BIG PART OF YOUR LIFE AND YOU JOINED A ROCK BAND A FEW YEARS AGO. CAN WE EXPECT ANY ALBUMS?

I still play. But the idea of getting into a transit van to play a gig at some shit venue is less appealing now. There’s something about the freedom of music that I transferred to design. That freedom of creation is exactly the same joy.

IS THERE ANYTHING LEFT TO DO ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?

I really feel that I am only starting to find my feet as a designer. I want to design more things that I have never tried before: buildings and motorcycles; books and gardens; foods and discotheques; water purification systems.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE DESIGN CLASSIC?

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.

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