Interview with Liberty London
Time at home is one of life’s pleasures, so there’s no greater treat than creating a stylish and versatile environment where you can work or relax. Beautifully designed everyday products and accessories make mundane chores a delight, which is why celebrated British designer Tom Dixon has just launched his new WASH range, including washing up liquid, hand washes and balms. To mark the launch, as well as well as a new pop-up space in-store on 4, featuring a curated collection of furniture, lighting and accessories, we spoke with the self-taught industrial designer about life, work and escape.
FOR INSPIRATION OR ESCAPE IN LONDON, WHERE MIGHT YOU HEAD TO AND WHY?
The Thames. From Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier, it gives us all the opportunity to escape the landlocked urban landscape for a new watery vista- the history of London is defined by its river.
WHAT STRUCTURE OR PIECE OF HISTORIC ARCHITECTURE EXCITES YOU?
You probably want me to talk about a building, but actually the Grand Union Canal is so full of symbolism for me: as a conduit of trade and industry, an import and export thoroughfare. I can see it from my studio window in West London, but it stretches from Camden Lock all the way up to Birmingham. It’s an amazing structure, a Victorian backdrop that’s been rethought as a completely new pleasure. There are so many people living there too now that London has become so expensive. It’s interesting to watch how it evolves.
FROM YOUR RANGE AT LIBERTY, WHICH BEST REPRESENT YOU AND THE TOM DIXON BRAND AND WHY?
I think probably the oil candle, which has a very arts and crafts iridescent finish on a glass vessel, and could easily have existed around the time of Liberty’s inception.
CAN WE HAVE THE FOUNDER’S GUIDE TO YOUR NEW WASH RANGE?
I’ve been secretly trying to do a washing up liquid for a long time now, maybe 15 years, but I had to build a whole brand of homeware before anyone would listen to me. I reckon that washing up is a chore, but also at times a communal and social activity. And the kitchen is definitely one of the pleasure zones of the house. Washing up liquid hasn’t caught up with the transformation of cooking and kitchens in the last few years. The hand soap is just a reaction to the opportunity that we see when we design restaurants and hotels, and we wanted to affect every touch-point, including the humble ritual of washing your hands.
TELL US A LIBERTY STORY.
Paul Smith’s wife Pauline told Paul to get rid of his massive excess of clothes that were burdening his wardrobe at home. I was working on a 25 years of Paul Smith exhibition at the Design Museum at the time. I intercepted one of the full bin bags and luckily Paul is the same build as me. The only lasting piece of this haul is a really colourful Liberty print shirt (presumably a collaboration?). Now some 15 years later it’s still my favourite shirt, frayed collar and all.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST PIECE OF PROPER DESIGN YOU BOUGHT?
I’ve bought lots of vintage things, but mostly the 1970s pieces are the ones I really love. I bought the Joe Colombo Elda chair years ago, which has great leather panels set into the fiberglass shell. I still love it. It rotates and gives you that sense of a Bond villain, whilst being a cushy place to curl up in. It’s also a great mobile phone perch.
WHAT GETS YOU OUT OF BED IN THE MORNING?
The prospect of a day different from yesterday with new adventures, opportunities and new challenges. I’m fortunate to have engineered myself a job that allows me to be a perfumer, or a merchant, a designer or a manufacturer, a shopkeeper or a restaurateur, depending on the season.
DESCRIBE YOUR DAYTIME UNIFORM?
Something borrowed, something blue, something British and some good quality shoes.
AWAY FROM DESIGN AND TRAVEL FOR DESIGN WORK WHAT DO YOU LOVE TO DO?
I don’t really relax anymore because I would fall asleep. I prefer doing stuff, making stuff, fixing stuff, cooking things and eating. Actually, I sometimes cook at my restaurant, Dock Kitchen, which is next to my studio and shop in Ladbroke Grove. I work as a commis chef (mainly on cold starters and desserts) once in a while. It’s an open kitchen, but people in the restaurant normally don’t twig it’s me. It gives me a better idea of lots of things: being part of a team, instrumental to things happening seamlessly, because restaurant work is about pulling together, precision timing and so on. When you’re the boss you have a different perception, so it’s nice to be a part of a group activity; also it’s a reality check. This feels like I’m learning again. My mother was French so I’ve always loved cooking since I was a toddler.
The Tom Dixon pop-up space is open now, in-store on 4.