May 11, 2022

Episode 87

Tom Dixon

Tom Dixon Headshot


From learning how to weld for practical reasons to designing the iconic S-Chair for Cappellini and being awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, the self-taught Tom Dixon took an unconventional path to becoming one of the UK’s most renowned designers. In 2002, he launched his eponymous line of lighting, furniture, and accessories (which has a presence in 90 countries) and has since taken on interiors projects, including his hit London restaurant, Coal Office.


Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, I’m here with Tom Dixon, Tom. Thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Tom Dixon: I’m good. Thanks for listening to me.

SSR: Yeah, of course. I’m excited. So on this podcast, we always start at the beginning. So tell us, where did you grow up?

TD: Well, it depends how far back you go? I was born in Tunisia, spent one year in Tunisia before moving to Morocco and then onto Egypt and Suez by the canal. And then to Yorkshire until I was five, which is in Northern England. Very cold. Very big culture shock. And then I’ve been a Londoner since I was six.

SSR: That’s amazing. Was that because of your parents’ jobs that you had to move around a lot or?

TD: Well, my mother’s half French and was living in Morocco and that’s where she met my dad. So yeah, it is my parents’ fault.

SSR: Were you a creative as a kid? Were you into design from an early age?

TD: No, I wouldn’t say that. I loved drawing and I wasn’t academic. I was more bookish actually. I used to read a lot, a hell of a lot. Almost too much. It used to drive my system mad, wanted to play. But I read and I read. Academically, I was not great. Schools were not fantastic. But age 16, I was going to quite a big kind of state school, which was really appalling academically, but had amazing ceramics department. So that’s really where I discovered an ability, I guess, to just turn greasy, wet clay into something a bit desirable. So, when I look back that really was a kind of formative moment. And that was probably, I guess, age 15, 16. Yeah.

SSR: Wonderful. And where was that? Which school were you at?

TD: I was at a school called Holland Park Comprehensive, which was a bit of an experiment in education.

SSR: Amazing. And then did you choose to go on to college and study this or what was your next kind of study?

TD: So college, well, yes. So when I finished school I tried art school, or art college, and that lasted maybe six months. So I did what was called the foundation course, where in principle you’re supposed to try all the disciplines and then decide what you’re going to major in. But I just didn’t like… I just didn’t want to be at school anymore and I wanted to get into real life. So I had a motorcycle accident. I broke my leg and I never went back. And so that six months at art school. Really didn’t tell me what I wanted to do. And then I got a variety of very odd jobs. My first one as a technician in another art school, in the workshop. I then colored in cartoons, cartoon films when they were still being drawn by hand.

SSR: That’s cool.

TD: And I worked as a printer as well. So I had a variety of odd jobs.

SSR: And then you also were in a band, right?

TD: Well, everybody was in a band. I think now more like everybody as a DJ, but in London you were in a band. That’s just what you did. I was lucky as much as the band took off and we signed record deal and went off on tour around the world, to Spain, to Finland, even to New York. My first encounter with New York city was as a backup band for The Clash on Broadway.

SSR: That’s amazing. You also toured with Ziggy Marley, right?

TD: Yeah. In a whole series of French or rather Roman amphitheaters and the outdoors in the south of France. So that was another moment where people didn’t really appreciate our music, but it was fun past whilst it lasted.

SSR: What was your music like?

TD: Well, it was kind of punky disco, really. I guess you could describe it as the homemade disco, quite rough. But it didn’t find favor with either Clash fans or with reggae fans actually.

SSR: Got it. But that must have been fun touring around, and seeing New York and other places.

TD: Well, yeah. New York early ’80s was the most amazing kind of creative force in music for sure. And was very influential. I think on many levels, club business as well. And it made me into a man. It’s pretty rough touring in bands. Its sharing rooms and vans with lots of stinky boys. Although I was very sad when all finished, which finished with another motorcycle accident in reality, it was probably the best thing I could have done. I was replaced by a much better bass player.

SSR: All right. Well, okay. So you’re doing the band at night, what are you doing during the day and how did you start creating what is now your brand and your practice?

TD: Okay. Well, it’s quite an elaborate story, but…

SSR: Oh, tell it.

TD: Broadly speaking, I’d learned how to weld with… Mainly my intent had been to repair the vintage cars and bikes I was messing around with. And also in the visits in New York, we’d also encountered a lot of kind of really interesting clubs, the beginnings of rap scene and we’d decided to start that in London. So we’d evolved with some of the kids in the band to do some clubs, and I’d learn to weld. And the first things we were using welding for was kind of almost performance art. The club that we’d taken Monday nights off was a strip club, and when strippers finished at 11 we’d go up there with our sound equipment and there was a stage. So we filled the stage with all kinds of stuff, body building, poetry readings, and then live welding on stage for some odd reason.

And so we were doing kind of welding as performance arts, building stage sets. But advantage to being in the club business is that a lot of people albeit superficially and those people are hairdressers, and they are photographers, and they are people that all need metal work. It was partly making things for myself for fun and then partly doing metal work for friends and acquaintances. And then people started buying my stuff. So it was very organic shift from music and clubbing, which is definitely nocturnal activities, which left me a lot of time in the day, really to amuse myself. And I think if I look back on how I became in design, it was just through practice. And so making a lot of stuff.

And definitely, if you are a dancer, or a classical musician, or a sportsman practice is very much what you do to get good at something. And I think all too often at art school people aren’t encouraged to produce a lot. They’re encouraged from very early on to produce perfection and get the correct solution for something. Whereas for me I made a lot of really not very attractive stuff, quite dangerous, quite rusty, but I did a lot of it. So it gave me time to kind of evolve a style and get better at welding and start understanding design really from a constructivist perspective. How do you put things together?

Tom Dixon store soho new york

The Tom Dixon store in New York’s Soho neighborhood

SSR: Right. Did you learn welding in art school or is that just something you started playing around on your own?

TD: No. I had a friend who had a garage repairing vintage cars, and I was just mildly interested and he said, “Come along and I’ll teach you how to do it.” And suddenly through the goggles was this whole other world of molten metal and an ability to put together quite strong structures very quickly, which kind of suited my impatience. I get bored quite easily. And the other advantage of metal work is that if you get it wrong, you can cut it up and start again, that’s why I’d never be a very good woodworker. Because with wood you cut it once, you kind of cut it. You could potentially glue it back together, but that’d be quite an ugly solution. Metal doesn’t have that problem. You don’t need to plan it so much.

TD: And then we were using scrap metal in the main, which was free. And the metal itself was suggesting all kinds of form and texture and surface finish, mainly rusty at the time. But it was a kind of another shortcut to make some shapes so that evolved very quickly into a business and I’m still amazed to this day that I can think of an idea and make it and then sell it.

SSR: Right. When did you realize that you had something. That enough people were loving what you were creating and this could become a real thing? Or was it more just kind of a evolution that just happened?

TD: No, but from very early on, I was astonished that I was making things that were really quite ugly and they were unusual and they were personal, but they weren’t formally classically attractive. And people were prepared to pay money for this stuff. And for me, this was kind of amazing to think that you could have an idea and almost next day. So that felt more like baking or something rather than designing. So I think that kind of encounter with commerce is also what makes me slightly different to a lot other designers that might have studied design and done it from a kind of conceptual point of view and think of design as something separate from commerce.

TD: For me, the fact that people were prepared to pay money was the reason why I thought it was a good idea. So it kind of endorsed the creativity. It gave it a kind of outside seat of approval. I wasn’t setting things for large amounts of money. It might have been 30 bucks, 40 bucks for a thing. But I was so pleased to get rid of it and then move on to make another one that naturally kind of encouraged me to not take it too preciously.

SSR: Right. And so when did you decide… You started Tom Dixon Studio 20 years ago, right?

TD: Right. Well, okay. So that’s not Tom Dixon Studio though. Tom Dixon as a label is 20 years old. So I’d gone from welding on my own, was sharing studio with like-minded friends to having my own studio and then metal shop with maybe 15 or 20 to people working for me, making metal work for all kinds of things. My own work and then architectural metal work and the rest of it. And that was kind of great. I’d opened a retail store as well in Notting Hill. And I was also working for the Italian. The Italian luxury brands had kind of discovered what was happening in London. So Cappellini, Moroso, they were coming and knocking on our door and wanting designs. So that exposed me so much more global international distribution and luxury furniture, if you like.

TD: And then subsequently, I got asked to work at Habitat, which was owned by Ikea. So Habitat’s much closer to, say, your Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel, actually had quite a lot ex habitat employees in it. So I spent 10 years as creative director at Habitat. And so I jumped from self-made and self-producing craftsmen if you like, to working for the biggest furniture company in the world. And that really was a university for all kinds of stuff, which included international sourcing, branding, catalogs, retail and a lot of information on where everything is made. And a lot of design or rather managing other designers in all kinds of categories. Textiles, plush toys, arts prints.

TD: Lots of stuff that you wouldn’t normally design. So I got this kind of overview of what people really buy. There were 70 stores at the time, so it was a reasonably big organization. We were using the Ikea sourcing offices as well. They gave a complete insight into another world. But 10 years of corporate life was enough for me. And I felt that it was time to do my own thing again. And I tried to do it in a different way to how I’d been doing it before. Specifically, in terms of how the company was set up. Most people have a studio. I didn’t want to go into manufacturing again, but I always thought that fashion designers had a much more kind of destiny over their own output.

The product designers tend to work in studios. They work for other brands that are the manufacturing brands. But fashion designers often have their name above the door and they do their own communication. They often have their own retail stores and they put together collections and you know what that looks like. Whereas a lot of industrial designers and product designers work in many different fields and different places and never really get to show everything together. So I kind of decided that was how to do it. And that’s why I set up my own label under my own name. And basically what we do is we do the design and we do the product development. We do the distribution, selling of it, mainly wholesale and a bit retail ourselves. And we do the communication, we do all of the marketing and rest of it. So it’s pretty much what I’d intended to do. So that’s the bit that’s 20 years old.

SSR: Got it. Going back real quick when you’re welding, what were some, some of your first pieces that people started to buy? Were they more light fixtures, were they sculpture? What were you creating before?

TD: Well so it is a bit hard to tell, mainly because I’ve forgotten, I came here to forget. And also because each piece was kind of individual and I never documented it really. So one day I’d be interested in making chairs, the next day it would be a candlestick, or it might be a mirror. Another day somebody would come to me and say, oh, well I need a big dining table. And so it would’ve been also fashion people like say Comme de Garcons coming and saying they want big installation in their shop, or Vivian Westwood wanting a rack for her clothes, Paul Smith wanting a chair for his changing room. There was a lot of that. I had a lot of friends and acquaintances in the fashion world and so there was that element of making things, unique pieces for people’s homes or business.

And then increasingly then it became much more me doing exhibitions in galleries in Japan or in Germany of my own ideas. And a lot of that was lighting. I keep on gravitating towards lamps. Seems to be something that people are prepared to be more experimental in I think, in terms of interior decor. They like having something which stands out in lighting, whereas with tables or couches it’s kind of people want things that are slightly more neutral. But light can be a fantastical object and people respond quite well to that.

SSR: Right. And then Habitat, I know you said you learned a lot, but was there one thing that you really took away from there, one lesson learned that you have kept with you?

TD: Well, I think what you learn is that what people really buy is very different from what you see in the magazines. So the more something is on the cover of a magazine, the more extraordinary it is, the less likely it is to sell. So it teaches you some lessons which are quite dangerous. It’s like the more [inaudible 00:20:13] things that really sell in quantity as a rule. But it was just an in insight into how people buy things and the decisions they make. The biggest arguments happen over, we call them sofas you call them couches. So that’s the next biggest purchase after your car. So it goes, your house is the most expensive, your car is the next most expensive, then you couch. And then the couch is something that you argue about. And it’s also the most difficult to deliver in the furniture business. And they might order it online, or from a catalog, or see it in the shop, but then they forget that they can’t get it into the elevator, or the size of the door, or they can’t get around the corner. So it’s the thing that gets sent back the most stuff as well. So if I was giving advice to anyone in the furniture business, I’d be very careful about couches.

SSR: That’s amazing. Okay. And it’s so true. I feel everyone is ordering couches right now, and they’re saying I can’t get it for six months. It’s insane, especially in today’s world. So you start up Tom Dixon Studio, what did you want to create out of it? I know you talked a bit about how you set it up with fashion, but did you have an idea of what you wanted to create or were you open to creating whatever? And what was your first kind of launch under your new company?

TD: Well I think I’d been playing… I was often kind of materials and manufacturing techniques led, so it’d been welding and metal. But for this company I’d kind of decided, I’d been playing with extrusion of plastics and that was something that was fascinating me. And I thought I’d start off really doing a range of extruded objects. So that’s where we started off. Of course, that didn’t work at all so it was completely… And I made a series of assumptions about what people would buy, even though I’d had all of this experience and it was completely wrong. But we were hyperactive at the time. We had several things going on and again, one more time, it was the lighting that took off. And really I’d found an amazing factory that was making street lighting. And I adapted one of their molds and one of their products to make a lab which really took off really quite quickly, and form the basis for the company, really. So we started off making streeted plastic furniture, ended up making pendant lighting.

SSR: Got it. What do you consider your big break?

TD: My big break?

SSR: Was there a moment that kind of-

TD: Yeah, the motor bike accident is my big break, breaking my arm and being liberated from the music business, where I wasn’t that talented, to explore other things. So that was my biggest break, for sure. Then another big break was meeting Cappellini and getting exposed to that whole other world of international luxury goods. Another big break was getting a job at a Habitat because I had no experience in corporate life. I had no degree in designer, had no training in retail. So it was every reason for me not to get that job. And then another break was probably getting funding from a Swedish investor quite early on in the business. So I could go on, I’ve had a few lucky breaks.

SSR: That’s great.

TD: I’m quite lucky but you do make your own luck, but I think I’ve been fortunate.

SSR: Yeah. And looking back did you ever think your company would get to where it is today and have the clout and success that it has?

TD: Well, yes and no. I’ve started all kinds of things and they kind of mutate into something completely different. In America it’s called flipping, isn’t it? When you start off on one part, it’s very much what happens in the internet business. So I believe it would be exactly like it is. I didn’t think of the consequences of taking investments from private equity for instance. But I think broadly speaking, it is done what I set out to do, which was to try and make a platform for me to have slightly more autonomy in deciding how my ideas are put out into the world. It has come with all kinds of complications and I kind of know now why most product designers don’t do it. Because it’s really difficult. It’s really difficult because unlike fashion, everything is a different size and a different manufacturing technique, different material, different way of distributing.

Unless you own a hundred shops and you can put everything into those stores and kind of make your own, which we don’t have. We sell wholesale. The way that you sell a coffee pot is very distinct to the way that you sell a dining table. And so because we’ve decided to do quite a lot of the whole home. And also because we do quite a lot into hotels, and bars, and restaurants, the more professional side of things, we’ve ended up managing what seems to be like five or six different business. We do candles for instance, which comes under fragrance. It’s really a different department in a store, different mentality of buying that object and very different business altogether from doing couches. Where couches you might buy one every 40 years, a candle, if it’s successful, is something that you might want to buy every month.

So there’s lots of different rhythms in it. But it stops me getting bored, which is the main objective to business, I think.

SSR: Is there one part of the process you love the most? You’re doing so much, so is there one thing that still gets you up every morning? Is it the creative process? Is it trying to think what’s new so you don’t get bored?

TD: No, I think it’s the opposite. It’s the fact that because you are doing all of the elements of the business that it never gets boring. So yes, if I get bored of a category I’ll move into another material, or another typology, or another function, and these things evolve as well. So it’s not completely static, how people live. But also manufacturing technology moves forward. That’s certainly the case in lighting with the LED revolution, which is such a kind of amazing shift in technology, has all kinds of opportunities for designers. So I can stop myself getting bored in lots of different ways but mainly going to work in the morning it’s a different job today when I’m doing a podcast to going down to the workshop and seeing if we can get some shapes that really work or getting the team to work on interior design.

We’ve even got a restaurant here where also if I get bored of everything else I can go and practice my barista skills. And so I’ve made or we’ve built a kind of platform for being able to keep constantly interested. There’s always a crisis as well. It’s Brexit was is one of the latest, and know it’s the Third World War, so that’s tricky. And so you don’t get bored when you’re running your own business, and we’re lucky to have lots of different streams of output and of income as well to keep us from becoming boring, which is really bad for every brand.

SSR: All right. So many things off of that. So let’s talk first your shops, because you have London, Milan, New York, China, Tokyo, and they’re very immersive and experiential, which I love. Tell me how do you see those? How do you like them as a brand extension? Because I know brick and mortar is tricky. So how do you use them to continue your brand story?

TD: Well particularly in furniture you can’t really justify having retail anymore. I don’t think because it’s such a slow moving category. It’s a very dusty business, the furniture shop. So you have keep the things slightly more interesting and also have different income streams as well. We’ve actually only got two stores, one in New York and one here where I’m sitting in King’s Cross in London. Partners have the other shops in Tokyo or in Beijing. And I think it’s the same thing is that I don’t think you can justify having lots of shops, but you can justify having a place where you do many different activities. Wholesale, marketing, a kind of a visual display for the people who want to buy online and some retail. And if possible have some F&B as well, have some kind of or drink so that people hang about for longer.

TD: So now here, we’ve got a very successful restaurant, which is called the Coal Office. And what happens here is that we have maybe 1500 or 2000 people every week that come and spend two hours with us, which would be completely impossible in a furniture store. So it keeps us awake and alive and interested. Extends the hours with which people are in contact with you as well, because restaurants open until midnight. And there’s people coming in also making bread at 6:00 AM. So the building is more used. And so I think there’s every reason to try. You have to try a bit harder and be multifaceted if you’re going to attempt retail at the moment and really have something which works as a kind of broadcast center as well.

A place where you can tell people about what you’re doing even if they can’t come here. So I think furniture industry finds it increasingly hard to justify the real estate of proper stores. But if you are interested in people and how they live, then you can try and make something which is just a bit more dense and a bit rich, rather than just a normal furniture store.

Tom Dixon’s 6,700-square-foot New York store spans two floors

SSR: Right. So tell us about the Coal Office. How did that come about? What did you want to create and why did you want to become a restaurateur?

TD: Well, I think we’re in a business which is to do with physical objects. So it’s not having a mobile phone business or something which… People want to touch the stuff and really sense how something works in the space. And of course, if you can then get them to sit down in a chair for two hours, then you are also testing out the real comfort of a chair. I’m sure when you’ve been shopping for furnishings, you might sit in a couch or try out a lamp, switch it on and off, and rest of it. You can’t really get a sense of how that affects you in a kind of domestic situation or a hotel room, unless you kind of you are living with it.

So I think the idea that you’ve got a place where people can try and experience the stuff from everything beyond what you can do on a computer, which is the weight of an object, the tactility, sometimes even the smell. Obviously we’ve got a range of fragrances here, but we’ve also got some furniture which is smelly. Like cork for instance, which has got an amazing odor or rush matting or something like that. So smell, the tactility. And then with lighting, I think it’s very hard to imagine the luminosity. So something for the intangibles, but something also for the very super tangibles, like the weight of an object or how it sits in the room is very hard to kind of broadcast from a 3D model on screen or even a video visit.

So I think it’s essential still to have some touchpoint with your clientele in our business. And then what I wanted to right here was ready to try and make what we do, which is designing, a bit more overt and part of the experience. Try and have something with the food, which was also about taste and smell, so again, trying to use all of your senses. And trying to find somewhere which was kind of pleasant for people to visit a bit more frequently than they might normally visit a furniture store. So something a bit more rich and alive, constantly changing. The difficulty as well with furniture is that unlike fashion, it’s not like you drop a new collection every six months or every three months. So keeping something like this, this organism awake and interesting and communicating newness enough without trying to be hyperfashionable and changing your mind all the time is quite a difficult juggling act actually.

SSR: Yeah. Do you use it as a testing ground at all? For products or?

TD: Yeah. The restaurant’s been particularly good for that because you’re testing things, really get to see what happens to something, which is in proper use for a really long time. Certainly things like luminosity. We test out all the time here and I just set up three rapid printing machines. So we can get, in the store itself, a faster reaction back. Sometimes we try manufacturing down there when there’s a small batch production so that people can see us making stuff as well. And then of course, whenever there’s a festival, we will show prototypes and get a reaction back from the public.

SSR: Amazing. What have you learned being a restaurateur that you didn’t realize?

TD: Well it’s got me back to, like I said, the very beginning of when I was making something and selling it the same day. It’s got back to that kind of the energy of production. We make things all over the world, not so much in the UK although we have some factories, but even then not in the middle of London. But here it’s a factory for production of bread, of sauces, of desserts, of cakes. Every day they’re making stuff that’s really nice to get back to making. But what we learn from the restaurants is how to host people. I think we’re always being shown by the restaurant people, what hospitality means. And I think there’s a lot of transfer of knowledge there into how you look after your customers in hospitality which could go to retail, and in a way that you train your staff to talk and look after your guests. So we learned that and we learn a lot about things like the effects our lighting on spaces from having a proper laboratory here.

SSR: Yeah. And let’s talk a bit too about your other interior spaces, the Mondrian, the Pullman, some other restaurants. How did you evolve into interiors? Was that something you were always interested in or was that just a natural progression from products into interiors?

TD: Well, for this brand it was the other way around. We had to do something to make money to invest in the product, actually. So actually the interior design was there from the outset as a means of generating fees, which would then fund the products really. So I was lucky to get a couple of jobs when I left Habitat. They wanted me to stick around and design a couple of retail stores. So that provided some income. And very quickly, we were doing interior design for a couple of other projects. And so it’s what sustained the label at the very beginning. And it’s become also a very good way of understanding much better what is needed in a contemporary interior, because it’s real life customers.

And real life situations, rather than sitting in your design room inventing stuff with no output. So the interior design section’s been kind of fundamental to how also we’re different from other companies. Again most brands in furnishings don’t have interior design as a kind of component of what they do. Happens quite a lot the other way around, interior decorates might have a range of products. But there’s no brand on our scale that seems to really do that business, which tells exactly how your things work or don’t work in different spaces.

SSR: Yeah. Has there been one project, I know it’s like picking a child, but is there one interior project that you really loved for one particular reason or an upcoming one that you’re really excited about?

TD: Well, there’s different reasons to like different things. We did a very nice a project in Atlanta which people can visit, which is called Himitsu, which it’s a tiny private cocktail bar in Atlanta. Which by having a client that is really interested in design and very good at operation talks a lot about small spaces, private spaces. I also like the bigger projects, the Mondrian although I’d… differently now is amazing because a hotel is optimum. Because we did a lot cinema. We did a rooftop bar, we did domestic spaces, which are the hotel rooms. We did lobbies and we did coworking spaces and corridors. So it’s almost an entire village, it’s big hotel. And so it gives you all of these opportunities to design into lots of different functionalities.

SSR: Right.

TD: Spa, what else did we do? We did gym. I could go on.

SSR: Is there something or is there a reason why or something about hospitality that you love or intrigues you, or what is it about hospitality that you like?

TD: Well, I think it is the amount of people that you touch probably. And you’re renewing the thing, you’re setting the scene every night for new guests. And I like the idea that you are affecting people also. I think it’s getting away from home and it’s fantasy, it’s entertainment. And I guess although I’m not in the entertainment business anymore, I went through that, in bands and the rest of it and clubs, and I got a taste for it. I’d never do a club again, because it’s just such hard work and so late, and so smelly. And you don’t want to be the last person leaving and locking up the door in a club basically. But I think you get addicted to that thing of hosting stuff. And that’s what we do now in the restaurant that’s a more attractive rhythm, and it’s a difficult business, my God. And it’s been particularly difficult in COVID. With all the restrictions, the closings, reopenings and people leaving and never coming back, which is happening in the States as well. It’s still thrilling, it’s still an adventure.

SSR: How do you see hospitality evolving post COVID and moving forward as we hopefully knock on would get further away from the pandemic or just learn to deal with it better?

TD: Well, I think it becomes more and more important in terms of when people are really spending more and more time at home, which seems to be irreversible now. They’re more flexible working and they’re kind of nesting in their own small spaces, then hospitality becomes more and more important in terms of getting people out and communicating for real, rather than digitally. But people’s anticipation and expectations are much higher now. So you have to really make outstanding experiences to get people to come out. And I think the outdoors particularly in the UK, which was never really such an outdoor nation, has become much more interesting. And also learning things has become more important. Things like providence have become more important as well. Locals become more important. There are lots of things that have changed, but I’m slightly more cynical and a lot about people. I just think that some changes have accelerated, the kind of online thing has accelerated, but people are going very quickly back to their old habits. So I can tell you that.

SSR: Yep. How has the last two years changed you as a business man and as a leader, or has it?

TD: Well, I think designers thrive on change. It’s been a really tough time for a huge amount of people. I like it when things change and have some amazing moments. When the city was completely empty and belongs to just me and so I was interested in observing how people panic and how people respond. And it’s been really difficult for so many people. And I saw it particularly in the restaurant trade where people lost their businesses, and people had a lot of mental stress from never knowing when they were going to be working again. And the rest of it’s been kind of tough.

But I like change and I like things to change. And it threw up a lot of… which forced you to look again at how you do business. We’re not out of it yet though and it’s still going on, particularly obviously at the moment in China where we do get some electrical components made where really we opened our two shops in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hangzhou, actually three shops in the pandemic, I’ve still not seen them. So it’s something we’re still learning how to cope with. I don’t think it’s going away.

SSR: I would agree. Moving forward, what do you see for the next 20 years? Or what’s next for Tom Dixon and what do you hope-

TD: 20 years hence, my God I’d be a genius then.

SSR: Or where do you see the brand headed or want it to head?

TD: Well what I’ve always preferred is surprises. So I’m hoping that there’ll be some new unexpected surprises. But I’m hoping that we’ll get to a scale where we can do a lot of new adventures and new categories. At the moment we’re kind of almost limited by our scale to do too much more of peripheral things that are in our distribution. I think we’ll do more partnerships with people to do more design in other sectors. I’ve never done electronics, I’ve never done transport, I’ve never done flat pack housing, but all of these things interest me. And so I think more partnerships with people that are expert in other fields where we can lend a distinct and different point of view.

TD: For sure. I think for me, I’d hope that we’d be able to do some things which are of genuine use to the world, rather than just decorative accessories kind of thing. So I’d be looking for things, particularly the big conversation at the moment is all about sustainability, which is obviously something which is just interesting. It’s something that’s kind of critical to get right at moment. So we’re doing a serious experiment and trying to see how we can reduce our impacts on the damage that we’re inflicting on the world. And then a few more surprises please.

SSR: Yeah. Is there one type of interior you would like to do?

TD: Yeah. Obviously I would love to do more hotels, but probably more rural. I’ve always been a city boy, I’ve started being much better at the country side recently. So now I’d like to do some more hospitality in the countryside is, I think, something else which I thought a lot about during pandemic.

SSR: Yeah. Is there one thing that a lot of people might not know about you?

TD: I’m French.

SSR: Okay.

TD: I’ve got two passports. So I’m only a quarter French, but I could easily, at any point, I could easily rethink myself as a French designer with completely different aesthetic.

SSR: Maybe that’s the surprise moving forward. We always end this podcast with the title of the podcast. So what has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned along the way?

TD: Oh, I’m not very good at the best lesson or the my favorite this or that. I think the lesson that I try and… When college students ask me for advice, I just say try and retain your unique nets. Try and be different. Everybody’s trying to be the same. And so for me that’s the lesson is, the more different, and the more unexpected, and the less like other designers you are the better it is. I don’t know if that’s a lesson.

SSR: But it is. I think a lot of your career or your success has been based on your distinct look and feel and vision. So I think it is a lesson.

TD: Oh, good. So that’ll do then.

SSR: Yes. That will do well. Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure to talk with you. I hope next time I’m in London or you’re in New York. I can see you face to face.

TD: Yeah. I’ll be along probably in September. So I’ll see you then.

SSR: Okay. Let me know.

TD: Okay.

SSR: Awesome. Thank you. Thanks everyone. Talk to you soon.