Tom Dixon tells Jacky Parker how he went from bass player in 80s band Funkapolitan to a self-taught hero of British design in Notting Hill
Tom Dixon hadn’t always intended on a life in design. Having dropped out of Chelsea School of Art, Dixon started out playing bass in a band, Funkapolitan, at local haunts in Notting Hill (including The Wimpy, now M&S Food), when a motorbike accident became the catalyst for a new career. Learning to weld in order to fix his bike, he discovered a passion for working with metal and eventually started designing and making limited edition welded furniture, starting with the S chair and the Pylon chair. ‘I was lucky to grow up when punk and the idea that you can do it yourself was a London thing,’ he says. ‘Whether it was making up tunes, learning instruments, creating promotional posters or any other skill, I learnt from that experience that an original idea and a different attitude was the important thing and it has served me well.’
Clearly an innovator and entrepreneur, it wasn’t long before Dixon was in contact with Cappellini, the prestigious Italian design manufacturer, who were able to produce his work on a larger scale. ‘The Italians had a massive furniture industry and at the time one or two manufacturers were looking outside of Italy for new designers,’ says Dixon. ‘London then, as it is now, was seen as a hotbed of innovation. I started in a recession – not that I’d recommend it – but it feels more familiar to me than boom times.’
Space, his original shop on All Saints Road, followed along with further designs, including the award winning molded plastic Jack light, before he took up the mantle as Creative Director at Habitat in 1998. A ten-year stint ensued, where he worked with a number of design luminaries including Robin Day and Castiglioni and nurtured new talent such as Bethan Gray.
Since then, Tom Dixon, the brand, has grown into a global design company, with a distinctly recognisable and pared back style. Motivated by materials and processes, Dixon’s products have an elegant simplicity to them that enables them to sit stylishly in a home or in a large-scale commercial environment. If you’ve stepped into any fashionable bar, restaurant, hotel or shop around the world from Shoreditch House to The Galeries in Sydney it’s likely you’ve sat under a Copper Ball light, lounged in a Wingback chair or admired another covetable piece of Tom Dixon furniture or lighting – you may even have some at home.
Since settling in the former Virgin Records building in 2008, Tom Dixon has become synonymous with The Dock, and has turned it into a constantly evolving hotbed of creativity. ‘It was the perfect place for us. I like the connection with the canal as it was such an important part of the Industrial Revolution,’ he says. ‘This area used to be the most creative part of London, so we’re bringing that back.’