Interview: Tom Dixon at his New NYC Store

We speak with the British designer about his four-story "Aladdin's Cave"

Following the success of

Tom Dixon’s first NYC showroom last year, the brand has moved to a bigger and better space right next to the newly opened boutique hotel 11 Howard St. In classic Dixon style it features both grand and simple gestures, and takes advantage of its townhouse setting. It’s a space for constant experimentation and presentation of the brand’s increasing product assortment for consumers and trade alike. We met with the designer in the four-story SoHo building (which he referred to as a kind of “Aladdin’s Cave”) where he took us from the basement to the top-floor office, explaining his approach to combining commerce and creativity.

Tom Dixon seems to work via trial and error in much of his professional life, but the motivation behind each effort is thoughtful and carefully considered. In the basement of the new store, Dixon cleaned it out and is using it to hang many of their light fixtures, allowing people to easily see and touch the selection. “There’s nothing like feeling and seeing something for real, rather than dragging and dropping on a screen. So this becomes something really useful.” One of the rooms in the store is painted black and features black Icelandic sheepskin on most of the walls, creating a sexy, moody, and ideal backdrop to his many shiny objects.

While walking upstairs, he tells us this approach to retail hasn’t been forced, but rather it’s just who he is as a designer. “I’m atypical in terms of designers. Most designers divorce commerce and creativity, but I’ve never really done that.” He continues, “The direct contact with the customer is something that we’ve experimented with a lot—in London we have sort of an open studio which seems to have worked for us. It’s increasingly difficult for people to justify stores in a pure retail sense, especially with furnishings, which take up a lot of space. It’s a much tougher environment. We always say, people have extra room in their closet, but once you’ve bought a chair, that’s it for maybe 15 years. So it’s a different landscape.”

As for how he designs with commerce and customers in mind, it’s not a process that takes away any of the creative side of his job. “You have to push through commerce to be creative as well. You have to be conscious of it because as you get bigger, more dangers and opportunities arise. So you’ve got to be interested. But any designer should be interested in what sells, what people are really buying, how much they’ll pay for it, what other people are doing. I’ve just been a lot closer to that, because that’s the way I started—by selling stuff. So I’ve never separated it, but I know I’m not a number-cruncher.”

I’d much rather do something interesting rather than advertise

While he’s undoubtedly business-minded and savvy, Dixon is still ultimately excited to make new things and takes pleasure in testing himself. His installations at Milan’s annual Design Week are a great example of that. “I’d much rather do something interesting rather than advertise… You have to be creative just to gain people’s attention, so there’s a motivation to then try to keep people engaged. And I like representing stuff in an unexpected way and testing out theories: Can I do a restaurant? Can I do a shop? Can I make a factory?” This constant curiosity and experimentation means that each creation and endeavor works as a stepping stone, leading to the next adventure for Tom Dixon as a designer and as a brand.

The brand (which is relatively young in the market) also just opened a store in Los Angeles. Dixon says, “America’s fascinating right now, as it’s embracing contemporary design even more.” As for the future, however, Dixon says the plan isn’t to have a chain of stores across the US, but rather have spaces big enough to host the brand’s partners and show his collections in their entirety. He tells us, “It’s a big investment, but it’s also fun and it’s exciting.”

Tom Dixon’s SoHo store is now open at 19 Howard Street, New York City.

Images by Evan Orensten