Lee Broom has grown his empire to become a premium global design brand, and has himself been named one of the UK’s leading product designers. Since founding the company in 2007, the designer has created over 100 interior pieces and has collaborated with countless other leading fashion and design brands including Christian Louboutin, Mulberry and Wedgwood. With no signs of slowing down, it was only a matter of time before we got the chance to interview one of the biggest current names in the interior industry.
Lee, you have quite a past with fashion and theatre – can you elaborate on this?
I originally trained as an actor and was a professional child actor until I was 17 so my original career path wasn’t design at all. As a child I loved design and my dad was an artist, so I was always sketching and drawing when I was younger. I particularly liked architecture and also fashion. When I was 17, I entered a fashion competition called The Young Designer of The Year which was judged by Vivienne Westwood and I won. This then led to me working for her in London and Paris for around 10 months before going on to study fashion design at Central Saint Martins.
My plan became to start my own clothing line once I had graduated however, living and studying in London is expensive and so to support myself I would offer décor advice for a number of independent bars and nightclubs across London which cemented an organic move into interiors. I used to make mirror frames and curtains and upholstery and this soon turned into a small business.
Just after graduation in 2000 I was commissioned along with my friend and colleague from Central St Martins, Maki Aoki, to work on a 9-month long project for the design of what was to become London bar ‘Nylon’. After the project was nominated for the Evening Standard Bar of the Year Award, we set up an interior design practice called Makilee Design which created interiors for independent bars, clubs and restaurants across London. We did this very successfully for around four years. After Maki moved back to Japan, I decided to launch a furniture and lighting brand under my own name in 2007.
Where do you get your sources of inspiration from?
It is difficult to pin point one particular thing as I am inspired by lots of things. I have a photographic memory for anything visual so if I see something interesting, I store it away in my memory and then tap into it later on. I pick inspiration up all the time, just by walking around the city, travelling the world, seeing architecture, going to galleries or even visiting factories where I make my products.
I think the crossover between my different design disciplines, my theatre background in particular, has a subconscious influence on my work, especially when it comes to our exhibitions. I’m still very passionate about fashion too, even though I am no longer in that industry and I like looking at what people are wearing. I’m also inspired by materials and manufacturing techniques and how I can utilize the traditional in new and innovative ways, striking the balance between modernism and nostalgia, re-imagining silhouettes and playing with form and shape.
How does your background in fashion still show itself in your products and collections?
Vivienne Westwood showed me how she was influenced by tailoring and pattern cutting from previous centuries, and how we can learn from techniques of the past to make them relevant for the modern day. That’s something that has definitely filtered down into what I do now as a product designer, in that I have looked to traditional manufacturing techniques, craft techniques, and stylistic things from the past and reshape them for now.
Is there a collaboration that stands out to you in particular?
My collaboration with Wedgwood was a really interesting project to work on. I was contacted by Wedgwood who asked if I would be interested in designing a collection just over three years ago and the idea was for me to create a prestige range of limited edition vases using their iconic Jasperware. Jasperware isn’t something which has been touched by many designers over the years, so I was really excited at the prospect of creating my own interpretation of something we all know so well. I spent many days in the Wedgwood archive and visiting the factory. It was fascinating working with the team and the factory to understand the meticulous processes and craftsmanship involved in making the pieces and it is wonderful to be a part of their history.
How do your London and New York showrooms differ from one another?
There is a consistent brand image across both showrooms in Shoreditch in London and in New York. Our Manhattan space, located in SoHo, is a traditional Cast Iron building for the 19th Century whilst our Shoreditch showroom is an old Victorian Electro Plating factory. So, both are very different in terms of their architecture but similar in terms of their interiors. It’s great to have two locations that show off the products in different ways.
Any future projects you can tell us about?
For The London Design Festival this September we will be transforming our Shoreditch showroom to present a brand-new installation called Kaleidoscopia, which will be an experiential showcase featuring our lighting pieces. It will be an intimate exhibition but will have maximum impact. The show will play with kaleidoscopic impressions, and visitors will be invited to peer inside the installation to discover lighting products within a reflective environment, forming a sequence of multiple images and optical illusions – it will be a mesmerising experience.