Where I Work: Tom Dixon
Design Milk and Design Milk Shop favorite Tom Dixon is never not designing, whether it’s a new lighting collection, furniture, objects, candles, restaurants, interiors, you name it, he’s always up to something good. One of the coolest things is that you can almost always recognize his unique aesthetic that’s a mix of polished, quirky, and always covetable. An example is his own headquarters, The Coal Office, in London’s King’s Cross which were designed a few years ago. In addition to his studio/offices, there is also a showroom, flagship shop, and restaurant, all transformed to house Dixon’s entire operations. To mark the last Where I Work of 2021, we tapped the British icon to share more about his design process, how it changed during the pandemic, and a bit about his expansive London compound.
What’s your studio work environment like?
Messy with occasional obsessive clear ups. Chaotic, rather than messy. But there’s also our pandemic lockdown studio, the greenhouse: huge, luminous, lonesome, and planted.
How is your space organized/arranged?
It’s a shared space with a meeting table. People do wander in and out. I try, as much as possible, to break up the working day and also get people away from their computers so there’s no fixed computers in this room (the studio). But I also like working in the restaurant, we’re fortunate to have a restaurant and a shop – we have 17,000 square feet of a shop, restaurant, and office which is all either office or a space to demonstrate and test out products.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
Bigger workshops. I think the constraints of Central London real estate makes for minimum amount of space for workshops. I’ve been used to, when I started, having huge production facilities because I was making my own thing, so I miss having the machinery that you can have in a studio which is “making-based”.
Have you had to make any adjustments to how you work because of the pandemic?
When lockdown hit, I was fortunate enough to have a friend who owns a greenhouse who let me live in the space. It’s in the English countryside and is flooded with natural light, and it was amazing to be surrounded by plants, to have less people and to actually make things with my own hands again. Despite the constraints and the nightmare of the pandemic, there’s been an opportunity to work in a different way which has been quite refreshing and resembles a bit more what I used to do when I started.
How do you see things changing in your workplace moving forward, with COVID-19 now a part of our reality?
There’s a drift towards getting back into old habits. There’s a particularly unpleasant domination of digital time – screen time is the big shocker – and I’m making an active campaign against everything being on Zoom. That’s the big trap that we’re sleep-walking into, spending more and more time hunched over the screen, working in times – there used to be a clear cut-off from work – I think that’s a disease that needs to be fought against, so my big battle right now is to try and get people to come back into the office, and to try and get some sense of purpose and collective unity.
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Is there an office pet?
People bring in their pets (maybe I’m the office pet, like a mascot!). People bring in their dogs, there is a big furry cat that has been in, and there’s big dog and little dog – Elsie the toy poodle (@elsiepoodle) and Daphne the Afghan hound (@daphghan).
Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some of your favorites?
I avoid music in the background because I think that it’s a constant distracting hum. Later in the day I’d have music in the foreground and turn it up really loud with some inspiring disco hits of the 70s usually. But there’s also my much-loved new love, the London Grime and Jazz scene that’s happening right now.
Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?
We have inspiration tables but tend to prefer three-dimensional objects and big lumps of material. Our presentations to clients for interior design projects or internal meetings tend to be dominated by big bits of brick, concrete, wood, and cork, so that’s the way we work, with real stuff.
How do you record your ideas?
I don’t! I forget 90% of them on the way into work, so a sort of natural selection process.
What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project, or do you keep it the same?
Each project has got its own narrative and departure point, but we tend to end up with the same obsessions, which are to do with the factory or the craftsperson. The means of making something is always really interesting to us, and then the materiality is really important to us as well, so we like to try and push either the process of manufacturing or the material to a new conclusion. We tend to do a lot of model-making and then ultimately we try and bring the computers in as late as possible to solve engineering or manufacturing problems.
What kind of art design objects might you have scattered about the place?
I’ve got my eBay collection of life-size busts – I’m up to about 50 now. And also what I collect from my travels, coming from the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma, Switzerland – I’ve got them from pretty much everywhere I’ve been.
Are there any tools and/or machinery in your space?
We have a reasonably equipped workshop with some welding, rapid prototyping, and some woodwork but not nearly enough for my obsessions. What we do have is a massive kitchen where we produce stuff all the time, but that’s a different story.
Tell us about your tech arsenal devices?
There’s one very cracked iPhone and a MacBook that’s been through the wars – I don’t know how it’s survived, it’s very dented, so I’m not going to say I’m Mr. Digital. I do have an OP-Z and some synthesizers from Teenage Engineering that are quite good for sampling vocals and taking notes.
Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
I have a collaboration with PROLICHT, which celebrates the LED, to remove anything apart from the circuit-board. Really exploring the new luminosity that’s possible with LEDs has been a real passion project, and also a move towards more professional lighting partnerships and gaining knowledge from a contract lighting manufacturer, and a more made-to-measure or made-to-order attitude as well, reducing the amount of materials and the amount of stock that we need, it felt like quite a modern project.
Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?
The Cork Table that we created for Chelsea Flower Show in 2019, which is my material obsession at the moment, the carbon zero qualities of it, and, as much as anything, because it smells extraordinary!
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