Wandering around the Tom Dixon Shop surveying his latest collection of beautiful furniture and exquisite lighting, it is hard to believe that the British designer fell into his trade by accident. With no formal training, Dixon found himself with 'time on his hands' while recovering from a motorcycle accident 30 years ago and taught himself welding while trying to put his bike back together. Little could he have foreseen then that his hobby would result in him becoming the well-known maverick businessman that he is today.
After dropping out of Chelsea Art School in 1980 only six months into his degree, Dixon played the bass guitar in the band Funkapolitan and organised warehouse parties for a time. But, with his accident putting dreams of being a rock star behind him, he refocused, developing a DIY approach to design that matched the post-punk mood of the early 1980s.
“I was immediately hooked on welding, mesmerised by the tiny pool of molten metal, viewed from the safety of darkened goggles, allowing an instant fusion of one piece of steel to another. It had none of the seriousness of craft and none of the pomposity of design: it was industry. It suited my impatience perfectly, giving me the opportunity to build, destroy, adjust and remake structures instantly.”
The self-taught designer-maker turned his attention to furniture design in 1983. Within two years Giulio Cappellini, head of Italian furniture manufacturer Cappellini, had put two of his pieces – the S Chair and Bird Lounger – into production. The collaboration can be seen as one of the most influential in his development as a designer, with Dixon describing it as
“..... a real eye opener. It was a window into a world where design was prized and respected in its capacity to grow industry."
Since then, Dixon has produced many products. Among the most notable are the Mirrorball and Jack lights, and the Wingback Chair, his constant quest for innovation reflected in lines such as the Eco Ware range of tableware made from biodegradable bamboo fibre.
Today, Dixon is creative director of the Tom Dixon furniture design company and also runs the Design Research Studio, which specialises in interior design schemes and projects that have included Shoreditch House, Paramount, Habitat on Regent Street and Tokyo Hipsters Club. The Studio’s most personal project, however, must surely be Portobello Dock on the Grand Union Canal at the upper end of Notting Hill. Found in a converted Victorian Wharf builing as part of an urban regeneration project by Derwent London (also responsible for The Tea Building in Shoreditch), the site is home to the Tom Dixon Shop and, more recently, the Dock Kitchen.
The building's original brick arches and beamed ceilings have been preserved and combined with an exclusive display of the full Tom Dixon collection of furniture and lighting to create an honest, open space. The Dock Kitchen, originally a pop-up restaurant launched to celebrate London Design Week (and the opening of Portobello Dock) in 2009 is headed by Stevie Parle - recently voted Young Chef of the Year by Observer Food Monthly – proved so successful that it never closed. Showcasing Dixon’s love of raw, honest materials, the Dock Kitchen features floors and tables clad in natural lava stone from Mount Etna, which have been hand-glazed and painted in a small factory in Sicily by surface specialist, Made A Mano. Danish innovators Sort of Coal have produced a custom-made wall installation using layers of different types of charcoal from the Kishu mountain region of Japan, and, of course, furniture and lighting from the Tom Dixon collection. Proving such a success, the Dock Kitchen has even launched its own cookbook titled Dock Kitchen Cookbook: Real Home Cooking from Around the World
More recently Dixon hosted Luminosity, an event sponsored by Derwent London that saw the canal-side transfordmed into an international design emporium during the London Design Festival. Exploring artificial light in all its forms and unveiling Lustre, Tom's first-ever stoneware pendant light. Three of the biggest names currently in design featured at the event too: Slovenian Nika Zupanc, Parisian concept store Merci and Dutch design superstar Piet Hien Eeek. There was also a one-off exhibition of London-inspired chocolate scupltures, with creations from Paul Cocksedge, Faye Toogood and Dixon himself in collaboration with Rococo and Cocomaya. The event also saw the launch of Eclectic by Tom Dixon; a brand new collection of home accessories, design objects and giftware. Dock Kitchen is never one to shy away from the fun and games; September saw the launch of Tart, its new in-house bakery offering lunches, teas and cakes. Yum!!
With a career spanning over three decades, Dixon has become an clear icon within the design industry. Awarded an OBE for services to British design in 2000, his unorthodox career has seen him create furniture and lighting using a myriad of ground-breaking processes and unusual materials. His pieces may form part of the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Design Museum in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, MoMA in New York, the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Vitra Museum, in Switzerland, but for Dixon, that’s only just getting started. Asked by Wallpaper* magazine which of his products will, in 500 years time, have stood the test of time, the designer replied: “I still haven’t made it... Next year’s production maybe.