Designer Spotlight: Tom Dixon
Whenever Tom Dixon sets his heart on something, he simply does it and comes out successful. Most of his feature biography attempts to explore the complex facets of his expansive career—highlighting how his eccentric and anarchic mind works.
“Every time I think of a new idea, I have to go off and become an expert of plastic, glass or whatever it is. But at least I never get bored, right?” said Dixon in an article by Forbes.
Despite being a Chelsea School of Art dropout, Tom Dixon has then became one of the most lauded British designers known for his furniture and lighting innovations, as well as arduous efforts to challenge the conventions of the industry.
The Tunisian-born designer moved to England as a toddler and was raised in London. After quitting art school, he opted to play bass for Funkapolitan, a band that toured with The Clash in its halcyon days.
A motorcycle accident later awakened the young Dixon’s knack for industrial design. It was during his recovery that he discovered the art of welding while repairing his motorcycle. He then branched out into welded furniture, which marked the beginning of his 30-year career.
Dixon rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as the talented self-taught designer. By the late 1980s, he was working for the Italian furniture giant, Cappellini, for whom he designed the iconic “S” chair.
In the 1990s, Dixon was already a household name in the design industry. Another iconic piece he is known for is the “Jack,” his air rotational molded plastic “sitting, stacking, lighting thing,” which he designed for his own company, Eurolounge.
Dixon spent the next decade and a half designing for various companies, serving as a design leader, and even receiving a medal for services to design at Buckingham Palace.
In 2002, the Tom Dixon brand was born in London. He continued to make more iconic designs such as the famous Copper Shade and Mirror Ball, which put Britain back on the map as a hub for innovative, thought-provoking design.
To date, the Tom Dixon brand has added a range of small gifts and accessories, even collaborating with Adidas for the Spring/Summer 2014 “The Capsule” collection.
The brand also includes an interior design offshoot, the Design Research Studio, that produces high-concept interiors, installations, and architectural design projects for a wide range of clients.
Such projects have included the design for London’s upscale Metropolitan Wharf Apartments, the transformation of the Sea Containers House into the chic Mondrian London Hotel, and the 1970sinspired Eclectic restaurant in Paris.
Artistic Influences and Design Philosophy
Having taught himself to weld, Dixon initially peddled his first designs of industrial scrap-turned-furniture. Being involved in music, he was acquainted with creative people with businesses of their own—fashion designers, music producers, photographers, and hairdressers—who needed window displays, props, or objects for pop videos.
The music industry had trained him to be self-propelled. It taught him to do everything himself: create his own tunes, find places to play, promote his own gigs, and make posters. It was all about self-production, so designing was a direct extension of that experience.
From this DIY approach to design, his S-Chair then helped him to step out of self-production as Cappellini commercialized it, and his experience at Habitat allowed him to get a proper grounding in the business.
In an interview with Fast Company, Dixon describes his most remarkable work ethic as a continuing desire to keep evolving. He says, “You’re never really happy as a designer. You’re always in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. That’s my view and that’s what makes a good designer: you want to improve things.”
His modus operandi, he meanwhile describes in his Forbes feature, is “chaos theory.” Unlike most designers, Dixon is involved in the commerce of design. He also has his hands involved in the production, which he tells has always been his inspiration from the beginning.
Dixon takes pride in the fact that while other designers have a design studio, they don’t get stuck in the commerce and production side of it. But, he does.
“In my career,” he further conveys to Forbes, “I’ve had intimate experience in making things with my own hands, getting really dirty doing it, and the more glamorous front-end of selling stuff, retail, or communicating it, building a reason to buy stuff… What gives us our edge is being quite close to how things are made.”
Designs and Awards
In 2000, Tom’s work was formally awarded OBE by Her Majesty the Queen in Paris. His creations have been acquired by some of the world’s most famous museums, and are now in permanent collections across the globe including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Museums of Modern Art New York, and Tokyo and Centre Beaubourg (Pompidou).
The Tom Dixon brand gave Tom a platform to produce iconic designs. The company is now international with customers in 68 countries and offices in London (Headquarters), New York and Hong-Kong.
The Tom Dixon brand includes an Interior Design subsidiary, the Design Research Studio, which designed the Shoreditch House for the Soho House Group and the Joseph flagship store on Old Bond street. It also includes a restaurant at The Royal Academy, London, a Tazmania Ballroom, a pool bar in the Central district of Hong Kong, and Jamie Oliver’s new restaurant, Barbecoa.
Most recently, Design Research Studio won their first ever hotel project, redesigning the iconic Thames-side Sea Containers House in collaboration with the U.S. hotel giant, Morgan’s Hotel Group.
Design Research Studio’s recent awards and nominations include Designer of the Year (London Design Museum), Best Lighting Design (ICFF show), Best Accessory (Elle Decoration), and Designer of the Year 2008 (Architektur & Wohnen Magazine). Tom is also a Ph.D. at the University of the Arts London.
He has also worked with Revolution Precrafted for his modern prefab home design called “Home,” which exudes such curious and eager energy—taking inspiration from science fiction to a classic Polynesian architecture.
As a designer, Dixon is always up for a challenge. He is happiest when he delves into the unknown and not having full knowledge of where he is going. For him, it is important to keep a degree of naivety and learn something from scratch because being an expert on something puts out the fire to innovate and improve.
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