Trying not to do what most furnishings companies do is Tom Dixon’s unconventional approach. And it’s always been that way for the Tunisian-born Londoner, who taught himself to weld salvaged metal into furniture. He’s been producing noteworthy pieces ever since, from the early S chair for Cappellini to the self-manufactured Copper pendant fixture. In between, he served as head of design and creative director at Habitat, the retail chain founded by Terence Conran. Not bad for someone who left school at 17.
There really are no limits to the brand ambition of this design hit-maker. He now sells his furniture, lighting, and accessories in 75 countries—with two stores recently opened in the U.S. His architecture and interiors division, Design Research Studio, specializes in hospitality projects. The latest additions to the Dixon universe are lighting, accessories, and even liquid soap, marketed as the enthusiastically punctuated collection Washing! In addition to all that, he plays bass in a disco band, Rough.
Interior Design: How’s business going in the U.S.?
Tom Dixon: It’s our number-one market, probably counting for 20 percent of what we do. That’s why we’ve decided to open shops there.
ID: Your latest is in Los Angeles.
TD: We’re part of a new complex called Platform that’s equal parts food, fashion, and furnishings. From a visibility point of view, it’s been brilliant.
ID: What was the thinking behind your new range of office products?
TD: Imagine a dining-table aesthetic, only for the office. We’d noticed a change when we were designing Shoreditch House, a club in the Soho House group—were the members socializing or working?
People can now work anywhere, and they prefer environments that seem domestic. So we’re proposing a less office-y office range. We played with nostalgia, in particular the wooden school desk. The hole in the top that used to hold an inkwell is now for cable management.
ID: Why the entry into kitchen and bath?
TD: While designing restaurants and their bathrooms, we started thinking about not just the colors and textures but also the scents. The bathroom has become a ritualistic place of pleasure, and people don’t mind spending money on a product. For the kitchen, everyone understands the importance of investing in nice cooking equipment, but you’re left with a sad bottle of liquid soap that’s fluorescent yellow and smells synthetic. The kitchen deserves a smarter solution.
ID: Any other newfound passions?
TD: We’re feeling that we need some comfort and texture in our products, so we’re getting into woven textiles.
ID: What about interiors?
TD: In Paris, we’re refurbishing the brasserie at the Publicis Drugstore. It belongs to the third-biggest advertising group in the world, and we were asked to work on a Mad Men theme. In Sydney, Australia, we have a big project that includes retail, a café, and coworking space. Last year, we finished Himitsu, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar in Atlanta. We’re super-global, man.
ID: What’s your business philosophy?
TD: I’m trying to be less like a furnishings company, closer to a fashion company. You create a label with its own aesthetic.
ID: What do you have in store for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile?
TD: We’re working with collaborators on a pop-up galleria in a posh neighborhood of Milan. There will probably be 10 shops and a cinema, for which we’re shooting some videos. We’re also collaborating with IKEA on a multifunctional furniture project that’s previewing at the fair.
ID: And for ICFF in New York?
TD: Our band will play again at the Museum of Modern Art. I need to take the band more seriously—today, every business needs to be more of an entertainment business. You’ve got to work a bit harder to make people recognize that you’re there. A lot of my job is to provoke people.
ID: What do you love most about your job?
TD: The infinite possibilities. Once you’ve got a unique proposition, you can do anything—a restaurant, a hotel, a textile, or a band.
ID: Do you think people will one day regard you as the next Terence Conran?
TD: That would be amazing, a great accolade. But I’d rather be the first me.