Tom Dixon is a household name, even for those who aren’t interested in design. The British-based designer has been extending his repertoire since he started welding furniture together from the garage in the backyard of his home. Dixon’s S-Chair (shaped in the letter S), designed in 1987, along with his ‘Jack Light’ a floor lamp designed in 1994, can be found in museums and homes around the world. Now with 500-odd products to his name, from chairs and lights, through to soaps and candles, there’s very little ground that hasn’t been covered, or more correctly ‘touched’, by this legendary designer. Stephen Crafti caught up with Tom Dixon at the new dedece showroom in Richmond. In Melbourne for less than 10 hours, the count down begins as my writing pad hits the table.

Dixon decided to head down to Melbourne at relatively short notice. He is currently working on a couple of bars and office fit-outs as part of the refurbishment of the AMP headquarters in Sydney. “The last time I was in Melbourne was 20 years ago and it seemed a good idea to combine that visit with the opening of dedece’s new showroom (dedece is the largest supplier of Tom Dixon’s furniture and lighting Down Under),” says Dixon, turning up in a brown plaid suit worn with a mustard-coloured knit.

Dixon isn’t the typical designer who graduated from design school and landed a plum job for one of the large British manufacturers. After having a motorcycle accident in his youth, his career as a bass player in a rock band came to a halt. He started welding, impressed with the speed that things came together. “I must have made at least 50 steel chairs, most of them rusty. They didn’t look anything much. But the experience made me an expert welder,” says Dixon, who went on to create the Jack Light for dedece, then billed as a ‘sitting, stacking, sitting thing’. The rest, as they say, is history.

A former creative director of Habitat, Conran’s homeware store, Dixon has had numerous design gigs. He’s worked with many top-end design companies such as Cappellini (his S-Chair was produced for them), as well as large multi-national companies such as Ikea. In more recent times, he’s brought his talent and importantly, his name, under the banner, ‘Tom Dixon’, opening exclusive Tom Dixon stores.

“In fashion designers all compete with each under within the one store. It’s not dissimilar to the way furniture and lighting is sold, in the one showroom,” says Dixon, keen to take control of everything from product design through to marketing and communications.

At the Furniture Fair in Milan this year, Dixon re-released three of his ‘iconic’ designs: the S-Chair (1987), the Pylon Chair (circa 1991) and the Bird Rocking Chair (early 1990s). “It’s like old friends coming home,” says Dixon, who recalls the trials and tribulations of when he first designed the Pylon Chair. The original Pylon Chair was driven by Dixon wanting to produce the lightest chair. He used 1.2 millimetre steel rods to create the wiry sculptural chair.

“The first set of four was sold to an American businessman who was somewhat overweight. It hadn’t been designed for that person’s weight and it simply collapsed.” Now this design is made from 2.4 millimetre rods and, with this, loses its title as the lightest chair. Other designs, such as Dixon’s ‘Mirror Ball’ pendant lights, one of the most copied pendant lights in the world, didn’t exactly fulfil Dixon’s initial design brief.

“The idea was the light became almost invisible, reflecting the contents within a room. But it became one of the most glitzy lights in my collection,” says Dixon, who leads the way in exploring other materials, such as cast iron. “For the cast iron products, I wanted to capture the essence of the British sensibility,” he adds.

Dixon seems to be able to turn his attention to almost any project. He was recently approached by Ikea to design a collapsible day bed. “I was interested in creating something that could be used from the ‘crib to the coffin’,” says Dixon, who designed a bed that could be made into a sofa, a lounge or even a love seat. With a bedhead it could become a full bed. While Dixon can see thousands of these sofa beds produced, the Icelandic sheepskin cover that can be purchased separately and attached to it, transforms this piece into a luxury high-end item. “I don’t think dedece are quite convinced about this one yet.”

Other products come from changing circumstances. Smaller apartments worldwide, with lower ceilings, have meant that many of Dixon’s voluptuous pendant lights look out of place. His response was to literally flatten many of these designs to create the ‘Surface Lamp’. These ‘melted’ and disfigured lights are referred to as the ‘sunglasses’ of Dixon’s collections, with the same technology used to create mirrored sunglasses. Other surface lights can be seen at Dixon’s ‘Bronte’, a restaurant near London’s Trafalgar Square. “These ceilings were also quite low and needed lights that animated the space,” says Dixon.

In recent times, Dixon has moved slightly away from many of the shiny and reflective surfaces that he’s become known for. In Milan this year, he presented a range of textiles, including velvets, wools and boucles that soften the interior. “Nothing overly patterned or fussy. It’s more about bringing ‘ying to the yang’, and pulling back from the overly masculine feel,” he adds.

Dixon seems to have had his hand on many things we touch. Those who can’t afford his high-end furniture could enjoy the scent from one of his candles. He’s currently working on a new washing-up liquid. “I’m trying to get rich with this latest invention. What could be more appropriate than having a beautiful bottle of washing liquid sitting on a marble bench,” says Dixon, who recently tested this product on the American market. “The problem is Americans won’t step away from their dishwashers. One guy thought I sent him shower gel!”

Other commissions, such as architecture, are rare. Although Dixon has conceived numerous products for the home, he has only designed one house in his lifetime. Located in Monaco, it’s a brutalist cast concrete house built for a private client. “Its simple and quite stripped back. There’s a dome, a cube and a rectangle all fused together. You could say it’s like one of my household objects,” adds Dixon.

Text by Stephen Crafti.

Lifestyle & Design

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