While the brand name is familiar, do you know how the British design brand Tom Dixon started? We find out more about the founder’s early career, the first products launched and what to expect in the future.
Who is Tom Dixon?
Tom Dixon started his career in the 1980s and founded his namesake luxury design studio 20 years ago. He has designed everything from bold pendant lights and beautiful glassware to a modern bathroom collection. Now, his design studio has some iconic pieces in its portfolio.
But where did it all begin? Well, acting editor Georgina chatted to Tom to discover how it all started…
Tom, when did you first notice you had an interest in design?
It wasn’t design that got me, but the making of things. Pottery and life drawing taught me the lessons of proportion, and welding gave me the framework to work in design.
What were your first creations?
I have a poor memory, but often people come up to me and say they own my first design – a chair, a lamp, or a jewellery stand – and obviously they can’t all be right. But my first creations in the early 1980s did span widely.
Learning the craft of oxyacetylene welding, I began making metal chairs and other salvage furniture from whatever junk and spare parts I could find. I probably made more than 100 chairs in my first year just because I could. I then began my own welding studio in south London.
Do you remember where you were when you first had the idea for Tom Dixon?
It had brewed at the back of my mind for years. I had a firm going in a variety of formats since around 1983, but during my years in the late 90s as creative director at Habitat it was slightly hibernating. Being there taught me everything about what goes alongside design to deliver it.
Making something isn’t enough – it’s also getting that furniture at a price people will pay for it, looking at what your competition is doing, thinking about how much things cost and who will buy it. I took those lessons with me when I finally launched Tom Dixon Studio in London in 2002.
What were the first Tom Dixon products?
We launched with a range of furniture made from extruded plastic, where we melted raw plastic, then moulded it into a particular shape in one, continuous piece. Jack was one of my first experiments with plastic. This ‘sitting, lighting, stacking’ thing proved a convincing attempt at mass production and was one of those career-changing objects.
What were those first years of Tom Dixon like? And how is it different to now?
It was a lot easier at the beginning, but when you reach a certain size and you’re distributing to 90 countries you have to start making decisions that are commercial. It’s quite often a fight between maintaining the joy of making stuff and keeping freshness when the thing becomes a proper business.
One of the joys of being more of a commercial powerhouse is that it comes with opportunities. Last year, for instance, we created Liquid, our first bathroom range, in collaboration with VitrA. It was a fun deviation from our core products.
How did it feel, seeing your creations in people’s homes?
In the beginning it was exciting to see our design in residential or even commercial settings. But, today a true testament to the longevity of our work is when we see products pop up years later in new forms at auctions, on eBay and even at car-boot sales, which is equally as exciting.
Were there any designs that did particularly well – or not so well?
Mirror ball is a sort of a failure in design terms. The lamp is one of our best-selling products, but its success was completely inadvertent. I thought that if I made the simplest shape I could get away with – a complete spherical object – in highly polished mirror, it would be invisible because it would reflect its surroundings.
In practice, it did the complete opposite – it is very much a blingy, focal point of a room. But it made it a more successful object commercially. So, sometimes your biggest failures could be your biggest successes.
So that’s the past, how about the future?
I never had a plan, and everything that has happened has been a good surprise. In 2022, we celebrated our 20th anniversary for the label – with the travelling Twenty exhibition – I would like to think we are still young and that the next 20 years will see many more surprises.