‘Inspirational’, ‘pioneering’ and ‘iconic’ are words often bandied about in the highfalutin world of design, but when it comes to Tom Dixon, host of the Ambiente 2019 press launch, they are well deserved. Tom will exhibit at Ambiente for the first time in 2019 (Hall 1:0) with his spectacular collection of lighting, furniture, tabletop and home accessories.
The launch was held in Tom’s studio and restaurant in the brand new and soon to be super-trendy Coal’s Office yard behind St Pancras and King’s Cross Stations in London, where we were given a fascinating insight into the career of this cutting-edge British designer. It was also a very enjoyable event from a personal point of view, as GGR publisher, Charlotte Cowell, met her partner Denre Bruins in the same building 17 years ago when it was The Cross nightclub and the arches of the roof dripped with sweat not chandeliers!
Tom said his first interest has always been design, which he traces to a secondary school pottery class which inspired him to “turn mud into a useful object”. A brief interlude with a disco band was cut short when he broke an arm and a leg in a motorbike accident, which put paid to his bass-playing days but resulted in him learning how to weld. “I started to create from found objects,” he told the audience, “and learned to craft in anonymity”.
What he describes as the “conversion of objects into money” was a lightbulb moment for Tom, who had to sell his creations to pay the mortgage and “realised very early the power of design as a means of making a living.”
By the mid-80s he’d graduated from found objects and had started crafting furniture from unusual items he’d purchased, such as pots and pans or parts of VW cars, attracting clients in Germany, Italy and Japan before finding his feet in the UK market. By 2001 he was invited to Ambiente as a guest designer, where he welded together 100 dustbins for the Plastic Fantastic feature area. This period coincided with a ten-year stint as Creative Director at Ikea/Habitat, where he learned the business inside out before going back to being an independent designer with a label, which gave him the freedom to develop his own aesthetic and infrastructure.
“We started out mainly in lighting,” Tom explained, “which is less conservative than furniture with more room for innovation, specialising in contemporary chandeliers which,” he says, “finish off an interior and have a transformational effect on their surroundings.”
Furniture now makes up about 20% of the collection while the accessories and gifting collections were developed further down the line to avoid being seen as primarily an accessories brand. Instead, Tom says his concept can be described – “to use that dreaded phrase” – as a bona fide lifestyle brand.
“My obsessions is transforming materials,” Tom adds, “and we recently moved into textiles. The company also has an interior design department, setting it apart from many other brands in the market. Both hard and soft accessories will be displayed at Ambiente, including a new collection of divine-smelling soaps and perfumes.
As a market-leading designer, Tom has had to contend with the tricky problem of design plagiarism over the years, pointing out that there are a lot of fakes on the market, including many which explicitly state they are “replica Tom Dixon”, which makes them exempt from prosecution. This aside, “I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for designers to get things made”, he surmises, saying we must “exploit the robots” to get things done. There you have it, I’ts time to get the bots to work!