“What’s really nice about being a designer is this idea that, theoretically, you should be able to design anything.”
July 29th, 2016
We caught up with Sean Dix on a recent visit to Sydney to discuss his latest furniture pieces, some of his more sky-high design ambitions, and the coolest restaurant in Hong Kong.
INDESIGNLIVE ONLINE EDITOR, SAMMY PRESTON: You’ve had such a diverse range of clients over the years – from hospitality through to fashion. Which industry do you prefer to work with?
SEAN DIX: Nowadays a lot of my work is in hospitality, and I really enjoy that world. I kind of came from that world when I was a kid. I worked in nice restaurants in San Diego; I was a dishwasher, then I was a bus boy, then I was a waiter, then I was a bar tender, then I was a bar manager. And I enjoy that world. I love to cook; most of my friends are chefs. The fringe benefits of working in hospitality are great.
The fringe benefits in the fashion world are maybe less appealing to me – I was working with Moschino. The beauty of my job – which is the one of the most fun in the world I think – is that I am a generalist. What’s really nice about being a designer is this idea that, theoretically, you should be able to design anything. I had a really hard time when I was a kid figuring out what I wanted to do, because I really wanted to do everything. Design saved me, because with design you can be a generalist, and you work with specialists who help you realise what ever it is you are working on at that particular time. And it allows me too to not worry about the stuff that doesn’t interest me, like ventilation ducts – the boring stuff.
In my office, we do what the Italians call ‘projeto artistico’ – the artistic projects, which for us means, if you can see it, then I’m responsible for it. Obviously there is a lot of overlap, and we often have to find a way to make it work. But for the most part, we just do the fun stuff.
PRESTON: So then, what’s your dream job?
DIX: There are two in particular – one is a hotel. I think there is a lot of potential for a lot more in depth thinking about cultural things, social things, anthropological things – how people use things and why they use them. When you walk in to a room, where do you put your bag and why, how do you turn on that light. The last hotel I stayed at I will never know how you turn out the bathroom light; I’ll never figure it out. That’s one thing that I would like to take on, like top to bottom, redesign everything.
Even more than that, my dream job would be to redesign an airline economy class. Not business class, those guys don’t need me. I want to do economy class. I’d love to really radically re think it. I know realistically there are so many limitations, but I’d love to give it a crack. That would be the most interesting thing for me.
PRESTON. Totally, I think the world is definitely ready for that.
DIX: I think so. And as a designer, and someone who works with manufacturing, I tend to be more interested in bigger scale things. Bigger scale in the sense of not being the niche market. You know niche market is interesting and I play in that world a lot – but it’s cooler when you can do it when it’s a little more mass market, where you have a broader audience, and you can affect more people. Those cool little boutique hotels don’t need my help either; it would be cool to do something like a Holiday Inn, where it’s not expensive necessarily, where it’s not too design-y… to create something that is so well designed that you don’t think about the design. That would be the best for me.
PRESTON: Going back to your work in the world of hospitality – what makes for a well designed restaurant, and are there any here in Australia that have caught your eye?
DIX: It’s really been too long since I’ve been here – but I can say that when we start a project, we do a lot of visual research. We look at what’s been done in that particular typology – say a pub for example – at different instances around the world, if for no other reason than to avoid doing what somebody else has already done. We’re a design office that doesn’t really search out, ‘cool restaurants 2015’ or ‘cool restaurants 2016’’, that’s not how we work – but we do a lot of research. Of course I want to see what other people are doing – and a lot of stuff pops up from this part of the world. And it’s such a breath of fresh air to come here.
PRESTON: Your furniture range is available in Australia at Zenith. Can you tell me a little about what’s new here?
DIX: Cosimo is a very simple stacking chair, that’s a part of a family of counter stools and bar stools, there’s a side chair and armchair. They stack together. I actually named these after one of my kids, he’s a really tough little, funny guy – and there was something kind of tough and funny about this chair. They’re tough and simple, but there’s a friendly character to them.
The Ronin stool was first designed for a really cool restaurant in Hong Kong. When Ferran Adrià comes to Hong Kong, that’s where he goes to eat. It’s a 14-seat Izakaya, it’s such a jewel box. It feels like an old gentleman’s club, or a cigar bar or something like that. It’s really muted, everything is upholstered, so the acoustics are incredible, they play like old school dub. They have the best Japanese whisky collection in Hong Kong. Anyway – the name of the restaurant is Ronin, so we named this stool for them. The word Ronin is slang for freelance – all the Apple guys come here.
Sean Dix furniture is available in Australia via Zenith Interiors.
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