At home with Tom Dixon interview: ‘humour is essential for sanity’

Tom Dixon speaks to Wallpaper* ahead of his Euroluce debut: the green-fingered godfather of British design on everything from espressos and eelgrass to curiosity and collecting heads

Tom Dixon
Left, Tom Dixon unpacking his aluminium ‘Hydro’ chair in front of Coal Office. Right, Dixon's new collection of portable lamps include the ‘Melt’ series
(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

Tom Dixon makes his debut at Euroluce, the biennial lighting fair, at Salone del Mobile 2023, participating for the first time since starting his workshop-turned-international design brand two decades ago. 

At Euroluce, the British designer presents several new lighting designs, including his inaugural collection of portable lights. He will also, as he puts it, 'finally try and be business-like at Salone del Mobile’.

Ahead of the fair, we spoke to Dixon about everything from espressos and eelgrass to curiosity and collecting heads, as well as Euroluce.

Tom Dixon interview

Tom Dixon snapshot of the designer lying on a motorbike in Goa

Tom Dixon in Goa

(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

Wallpaper*: Where are you as we speak? What can you see from your window?

Tom Dixon: I’m flying over the Tasman Sea, which separates New Zealand and Australia. I can only see some scrappy cloud – there has been flooding and intemperate weather.

W*: Can you tell us about your greenhouse project and how you are using it?

TD: Some friends of mine bought possibly the oldest orchid business in the world, McBean’s Orchids, founded in 1879. It has many empty industrial greenhouses. At the beginning of Covid, I was going mad in lockdown, but you could still work in horticulture and agriculture, so I invited myself in and planted some tomatoes, made some sculptures and products from discarded bamboo sticks and broken glass, bought a kiln and dug up some clay and, as the lockdowns eased, started a restaurant and flower shop.

Tom DIxon snapshot from aeroplane flying over New Zealand

Dixon’s view, flying over New Zealand

(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

Tom Dixon snapshots

Artworks by Dixon at McBean’s

(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

W*: Coal Office, in London’s King’s Cross, has become such an important location for your brand and studio, and a central hub of design in itself. How has it evolved since you opened it in 2018?

TD: We are slowly trying to evolve it from being a monobrand store with a separate office and restaurant into a more fluid and overlapping space to work, entertain, eat, shop and design. It’s been a bit more difficult to do than I had envisaged, mainly to do with the awkward (but beautiful) shape of the building, as well as all the health and safety, and accessibility, and fire protection that modern standards require but which are difficult to navigate in a Victorian building.

W*: How do you start your day?

TD: Having a restaurant in the building is dangerous as there are multiple espresso machines. I spend far too much time on self-barista training early in the morning.

W*: Where do you find inspiration these days?

TD: Weirdly similar to where it came from in the beginning – from sculpture, from manufacturing methods, from engineering and architecture, from being generally curious about everything apart from design.

Tom Dixon snapshot of painty fingers

Getting creative

(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

W*: What do you do to relax?

TD: I’m generally relaxed anyhow, so I don’t need to do that separately, but I am trying to learn the double bass.

W*: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or listened to in the last few weeks?

TD: I listen to the BBC World Service in the car and in the greenhouse. It streams a more global view of the world from correspondents on multiple continents 24 hours a day.

W* What do you collect?

TD: I like to collect busts, full-size heads, from everywhere I go in the world: Tanzania, Varanasi, Geneva, Brighton, Senegal, France.

Busts on side table, collected by Tom Dixon

A selection from Dixon’s personal bust collection

(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

W* Throughout your career, what has been your motivation to keep designing?

TD: Design is a great profession for the curious and the easily bored – you are always able to poke your nose into other businesses or take deep dives into alternative worlds.

W*: What are your ideal creating conditions?

TD: In the workshop with a glue-gun; in the factory talking to engineers.

Tom Dixon working on wooden sculpture, with axe

Sculpture in progress

(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

W*: What role does humour play in your work?

TD: It is essential for sanity.

W*: Your exhibition at Milan Design Week 2022 showed the breadth of your material exploration. Where will the next step of your research take you?

We, like everybody I hope, are seeking lower environmental impact materials and processes – our exploration of mushrooms, hemp, cork, eelgrass and recycled aluminium should provide us with more progressive products. From a manufacturing point of view, the miniaturisation and digitalisation of machinery allow us to be more flexible and more local in our production and more experimental in our approach.

W* What advice would you give to the next generation of creatives?

TD: Don’t let a digital screen be your only tool.

Flower displays in McBean's greenhouse

A flower pop-up at McBean’s

(Image credit: Tom Dixon)

W*: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have been?

TD: I still don’t see myself entirely as a designer! I lead multiple lives when possible – but I would have been happy in any creative environment, and might still have been a musician if it hadn’t been for a bad motorcycle accident when I was 22 [Dixon played bass guitar in a band called Funkapolitan until broken limbs forced him to abandon his music career].

W*: You are making your debut this year at Milan lighting fair Euroluce. What can we expect to see?

TD: You can expect us to finally try and be business-like at Salone del Mobile rather than clowns and entertainers! And, of course, some new ideas in luminosity.

Tom Dixon will be at Euroluce 2023, from 18 to 23 April, Hall 13, Stand 102

This interview also appears in the May 2023 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.