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British Designer Tom Dixon Talks Chic Lighting, SF Techies, and His New Book

British designer Tom Dixon swept into town last week, landing at Arkitektura Assembly (a design series presented by modern furniture emporium Arkitektura) to promote his book, Tom Dixon: Dixonary. In it, the creator of super-popular light fixtures such as the Beat Light, the Mirror Ball, the Void Light, and the mega-hit Copper Shade, details his creative process. We chatted with Dixon about design, the lives of techies, and the future.

MJ: I see your work everywhere in the Bay Area.

TD: That implies that I’ve become a bit irrelevant, I’d better get busy.

MJ: How did you start designing furniture?

TD: I was playing the bass guitar in a disco band called Funkapolitan. I had a motorbike that I road around and I had an accident, broke my arm, and ruined the bike. With a broken arm, I couldn’t play the guitar, but a friend who had a garage taught me how to weld so I could fix the bike. Learning to weld opened up a whole new world for me, and I started making furniture. Welding felt almost like a super power.

MJ: How did you make the jump from designing welded salvage metal chairs to having your own company?

TD: I worked for Habitat [the British furniture and accessories store founded by Terrance Conran] for 10 years. I put a lot of energy into it, and after a while I decided I wanted to open my own label.

MJ: Your work, especially your lighting, has been hugely popular. Why is it such a hit?

TD: I do make things other than lighting—but that was first, so it’s the most popular. My work is different, and people responded to it. I also think that my work warms up modern interiors, and that helped. In America, I think they were looking for a different point of view, a different look than the Shabby Chic aesthetic.

MJ: When you were playing in a disco band, did you ever dream you would be awarded an OBE [Order of the British Empire, an award bestowed by the Queen]?

TD: Oh my god, no. Such a thing never occurred to me. No one really knows how those things are decided—it’s all very secret.

MJ: Have you ever been to San Francisco before this?

TD: Yes. I was at Google Labs recently—we were exploring collaborating on a design project. Today I was at Airbnb. They discovered my place on their site and wanted to talk to me about it.

MJ: You rent your place on Airbnb? How did they know it was yours?

TD: They didn’t until they asked. Someone from there thought it was well designed, so they called me about it.

MJ: What did you think of SF’s tech companies?

TD: They are very interesting. They seem very rich and like they are having a lot of fun, but I wonder if it’s a good quality of life? The lobbies are fantastic!

MJ: What is next?

TD: Well, that should be a secret, shouldn’t it? I’m interested in creating more home accessories. I’m interested in small things you can touch. I’m also interested in creating a whole experience. I don’t want to just make a teapot, I’m interested in making the tea as well.