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In Conversation: Tom Dixon

While in Singapore, Tom Dixon speaks to us about his recent projects, British design, his plans at the Milan Furniture Fair, and more.

In Conversation: Tom Dixon

Tom Dixon hardly needs any introduction. A household name in the British design scene and recognised around the world, the self-taught designer continues to make his mark whether he’s working on a piece of furniture, an interior or putting out a new range of accessories. While in Singapore for Maison&Objet Asia, we caught up with him for a quick chat.

Etch Tom Dixon
(Left) New – Etch Shade Black. (Right) Etch Shade Brass

Can you tell us how being a self-taught designer impacts the way you go about your work?

I think I still do almost everything with a level of amateurism, which is quite naive in its outlook. This means I end up probably making more mistakes than other people, but it sometimes brings an original way of looking at things, which I think is important.

New – Y Chair

If you could turn back time, would you have gone to design school?

Had I trained as a designer, I might not be doing design anymore. I think there’s something about being an outsider that I quite like. And I am constantly putting myself in situations where again, I’m no expert. The restaurant that we have in London is a very good example. I don’t think if I’d trained in the restaurant business I would have enjoyed it nearly as much as doing it by accident. It just so happened that the building we moved into had previously been Virgin Records and they had a canteen so the kitchen was there. So rather than rip the kitchen out and make a showroom, which was what I had in mind, the idea of combining a showroom and a restaurant became a reality. But I would not have done it if the kitchen had not been there.

I think there’s something nice about not predicting your path too much. And it seems to have served me rather well…

Beat Light in Brass

Tell us about your book, Dixonary. What made you decide to come out with your own monograph?

What was happening was that books were being published by other people about me, by just taking things off the Internet. And so I didn’t really set out to do a book, but it just so happened that I didn’t want other people’s books about me, because they weren’t accurate. So I thought I’d just put some accuracy and some order into it all. And it was much harder than I thought it would be actually.

Tom Dixon Eclectic
Eclectic restaurant in Paris

Which project are you most excited about right now?

Probably the hotel Mondrian [in London], which is part of the Morgans Hotel Group. It will be [opening] in July. It’s been four years of pain and we’re finally getting there. And what’s kind of nice [for me] is this idea that you can create a whole big world of stuff that you’ve never been particularly interested in before, like Spa, Cinema, Rooftop Bar, Corridor, Lobby space… there are many different environments that I’ve never designed before.

It’ll be interesting. And because I’ve no idea what’s going to happen, I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m stressed out, and I’m bored, because it’s been four years… and so there’s a lot of conflicting emotions.

Tom Dixon
Eclectic collection

One of your mission statements is to “revive the British furniture industry.” Can you comment on the state of the industry when you first started Tom Dixon studio till now. How is it doing?

Well you know it’s been a pretty rubbish one hundred years for British interior design. I think the UK was very strong when it had a very strong industry in the 19th century. It had a very strong style, and it was also interested in the arts and crafts… but really from a stylistic perspective, at least from the Second World War, it’s been looking back a lot. Although there still is a significant furniture and interiors sector, it tends to be very nostalgic and very much about the past glory rather than the future glory.

New – Cog collection

And so I think I’m trying to work out what are the interesting bits of heritage and adding on other interesting things like the pop culture of the 1960s or British engineering or British contemporary arts, and trying to work out what furniture could have looked like if it had continued to be significant internationally, which it just didn’t manage to do. The Americans were amazing at it in the ‘50s, the Italians were fantastic in the ‘60s, the French kind of great in the ‘70s, and the British furniture industry was just looking back. It was just classical. So we’ve got quite a big job but what’s quite nice is that no one else is really doing that, so it gives us this kind of space

New – Arc collection

You’ll not be exhibiting at MOST at this year’s Milan Design Week, you’ll be at the fairgrounds. Why the move?

Because I’ve never tried it before, and I always like to try new things. And because I think Milan has become so much of a playground for the big corporate brands, and that it becomes more and more difficult to stand out every year by doing something bigger and more crazy. Ultimately I think it would be more radical for me to go into the fair and try doing a booth for a change and see what happens, and think of something really unexpected for next year as well. Also, people were starting to expect me to do what I do in Milan, and if I’m not surprising people anymore by being radical, then maybe I’ll surprise them by being conventional (laughs). That’s my plan.

At this year’s Milan Design Week, Tom Dixon makes his debut at the main fairgrounds at Hall 20, Stand B06.

Also, check out more of our interview with the designer in the June/July issue of Cubes Indesign.

Tom Dixon’s collections are carried in Singapore at XTRA.

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