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Interview with Tom Dixon: “We try to cover as many disciplines as possible.”

Tom Dixon
Photo: Peer Lindgreen

From the beginning, Tom Dixon did not only design things – he actually made them. An approach which taught him everything about materials as well as manufacturing processes, about creativity as well as business. A conversation about the connection between all these aspects, and how they help to create quality in a time when living, working and leisure are more and more merging.

Mr Dixon, your designs are defined by rather pure shapes, carefully chosen materials and finishings. How important is materiality for you?
I didn’t do art school; I started off with my own hands making things. The interest in materials, particularly the construction methods, comes directly from there. The second layer of more hi-tech finishes or more precision-engineered manufacturing processes stems from the same interest. I like to make things which are relatively simple in material composition and which have a longevity about them.

Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio: Barbecoa restaurant (interior design), London, UK
Photo: Peer Lindgreen

Where do you see the most important changes in the design industry today?
We are entering a very interesting time in design. You can see a massive transformation in the relationship between designers, manufacturers, consumers, and the infrastructure around. The whole business is experiencing a disruption, just like the music business did ten years ago. It has certainly to do with functionality – with the changes in the way we live and work today. For example, there is a lot of discussion about whether the office as a separate space will even exist in ten years time. But most importantly there are changes in the way the things are made and distributed, and how close the consumer is to the adaptability of the furniture as well.

Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio: Himitsu cocktail lounge-bar (interior design), Atlanta, USA
Photo: Emily Andrews

The production and definition of spaces is changing.
Yes. We have seen it happen in the hotel sector with the disruption companies like Airb’n’b bring to it. And it is happening in other fields, too. There are new websites which are about using people’s homes as meeting rooms or offices during the day when the inhabitants are at work. The adaptability of spaces is also a reaction to the immense pressure that there is on city centres.

Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio: Mondrian London hotel, interior design, London, UK
Photo: Emily Andrews

Your company is quite active in the Contract Business. How far do these developments influence your work here?
Historically, we’ve been a more domestic company, and focusing on soft contract like restaurants or hotels. Today, more and more people want to work in environments which are more like home or like boutique hotels. The gadgets that you use for work are the same as you use for leisure. We try to cover as many of the – as would appear – opposing disciplines as possible, without really changing anything apart from the styling. We work in a middle ground where we are half contract, half domestic, we do as many hard contracts as soft contracts. So we don’t have to adapt as much as the companies that are much more specialized.

Tom Dixon Studio: Wingback long ottoman and Furry Wingback
Photo: Tom Dixon

How do you start a design? Do you work on a specific problem defined by a client?
One way could be that I get a passion for a manufacturing technique, or I spot an opportunity in some kind of a function. But we are also atypical from a product company perspective, because we have an interior design bureau, too. They act like a client as well – we have to specify objects into spaces, and often that is the best way of doing it. It really shows us what is missing from the market, a specific price, functionality, style. It’s a great laboratory for briefing the product designers.

Tom Dixon Studio: Curve lamps with Screw table
Photo: Tom Dixon

When coming to imm cologne or lately to Orgatec, you are here as both – as designer and as producing company. That’s quite special.
Yes, in this business the designers don’t usually take on the production, distribution or sales of their own products. In fashion business it’s completely normal. But when you do, you realize that it’s much more difficult, particularly from a product-development, operational, logistics perspective, to move these products around the world and to sell them, than it is in fashion. But I never made that distinction between the commerce and the creativity. And the business people that I admire are as creative as designers, thinking up new business models, new ways of getting some market… Anyway, designers have to be interested in these aspects. It doesn’t mean that you have to be led by it, but you have to understand it, and often find a way to go beyond it. Also, a big part of the business today is communication, which designers are often very good at.

Tom Dixon Studio: Melt Brass lamp, Wingback armchair, Mass table
Photo: Tom Dixon

Which brings us back to the fairs. imm cologne and Orgatec are about all of this, about business and inspiration and communication. Where is your personal focus at the fairs?
Both fairs are very important. We are moving away from the one big launch per year, to four launches. It allows us to be focused, given that we do all these different typologies. For us, the complexity of trying to make each launch count as much as possible while showing the whole brand is our challenge. And that is where imm cologne comes in. It is a great way of starting the year.

Tom Dixon ranks among the most renowned furniture, object and interior designers. Furthermore, the Brit is founder and creative director of the producing company under his own name. Works by him can be found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the MoMA in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.