Material Man

Interview by Stephanie Peh
Images courtesy of Tom Dixon

There aren’t many OBE recipients who can claim to be self-taught in the discipline that garnered them their award. Tom Dixon happens to be one of them.

The Tunisian-born British designer literally fell into the trade, finding his calling in welded salvage furniture after a motorcycle accident found him (ironically) leaving his band and repairing damaged motorcycle frames instead.

Not that his lack of training matters. Having designed the iconic S-Chair during his time at Cappellini, the former creative director of Habitat and Artek hasn’t stopped after setting up his own label, a design studio, and, of course, being conferred the aforementioned OBE.

Despite all these accolades, the theme that comes up most often in our interview is how it’s crucial to look at every project with fresh eyes and not become “too much of an expert”.

You tell great stories of materials by bringing out the best of their qualities. When and how did you discover your love for materials?

I’ve always liked taking things apart and seeing how they work. I think it’s a natural progression as a designer, to go from understanding how things are made to trying to better understand the quality of a material and how it works, what it can actually do.

I can’t remember the first time [I discovered my love for materials], but maybe because I had a really good pottery teacher who was very good at getting people to understand how things are made in ceramics, so clay was probably the first material I became conscious of that had so many inherent possibilities, and it was just good fun to play with.

We have picked up pottery too.

You have? So you understand what I mean!

I’m still a beginner! Your products and lighting are being used in many cafés and restaurants. Do you think it is important for the general public to understand the stories behind your products? How do you make your work more accessible?

Well, I think the work is becoming more accessible through copying, actually. We are extensively copied all over the world now (laughs).

We are a tiny company that only started 10 years ago; we are growing rapidly and our work becomes more accessible as you get more volume, which is when we get a greater presence all over the world. We are able to buy things in a big enough quantity for them to become slightly more affordable.

Not that many people are that interested in design, compared to say film or fashion, so I think design is only just starting to come out of its shell. It is starting to become more popular. But if you think about what’s popular in TV programmes or publishing, design is still not as popular as shoes or movie stars or car magazines in England.

I think it’s got a long way to go globally before it’s really recognised as something of universal interest. It is only starting to happen now with design museums opening all over the world and specialist publications.

Read more in The U Press N˚6 (Singapore edition).