Inside: Tom Dixon and his new furniture and lighting collections for 2019.
I recently spent half an hour sitting on a chair that’s destined to become a classic.
Tom Dixon has a reputation for being “rebellious and unpredictable”. Last year, the British designer ruffled some feathers by not showing up at Salone del Mobile. This year he previewed his 2019 collections in North America—before launching in Milan.
Dixon’s “FAT America Tour” wound up at the end of February. Eight cities got to peek at pieces from his new OPAL lighting and FAT seating collections. Vancouver was one of them.
That’s how I came to be sitting on the new FAT dining chair, chatting with Dixon about his studio’s new lines. When I expressed my excitement about North America seeing them first, he responded:
It’s rewarding to kind of go a bit beyond, and not just do the normal circuit of London – New York – London – New York – Milan – Paris – where people are actually quite blasé.
Tom Dixon has gone monochromatic and “dull” for 2019
Last year, Dixon’s collections made a strong colour statement: electric blue, glossy black, and silver. The 2019 collections represent a significant change in direction:
We’ve actually gone monochromatic. We’ve stripped out colour completely and just concentrate on shape and comfort and luminosity. We just decided to clean up. This year is about being a bit more dull.
Dixon also commented on the collections coinciding with Bauhaus’ 100th anniversary:
You think of Bauhaus red, blue, and yellow. It’s also black and white, and subtle. So I think we’re on trend.
The Memphis design movement of the 1980s also comes to mind. In vogue again, the group’s furniture was once described as “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price”. The globes, cones, cylinders, and curves of Dixon’s new collections seem to reference that movement, but in grayscale.
On trend, certainly, but the neutral colours of OPAL and FAT will give these pieces some longevity.
They will be on view at The Manzoni, a new restaurant by Dixon’s Design Research Studio. It will open in Milan during Design Week in April. Dixon envisions The Manzoni as:
a place where people slow down and experience our products in a live setting. There is nothing dustier than a conventional lighting and furniture showroom. But with The Manzoni, people are able to experience our new collections in an active context.
FAT dining chair, lounge chair, and barstool
The chairs and stools have a cartoon-like appearance. They are sturdy and compact, yet astonishingly comfortable. As Dixon commented: “you can flop about in them”. The foam is the perfect density for a leisurely, but lively, dinner.
Tom Dixon Studio on the new upholstery line:
FAT our new upholstery range is designed to hug the body and allows for multiple sitting positions. Available as a dining chair, barstool and lounge chair, the extreme simplicity of the components is a testament to reductionism, whilst maintaining an instantly recognizable and faintly humorous silhouette. Quite a balancing act…FAT is made from moulded foam with metal legs, launching in high gloss lacquer and made to order upholstery.
I was particularly taken with the barstool. Dixon and I chatted about the challenges of picking counter and barstools. He noted that there’s a lack of selection, and most are expensive and “nostalgic”. He’s expecting the FAT barstools to be popular.
I hesitate to call this collection “statement” lighting. OPAL is more like understatement lighting.
OPAL lights are hard to photograph and describe. Don’t mistake them for the simple glass globe lights that were once ubiquitous.
Deceptively simple, the subtle beauty of OPAL is best seen in person. Light emanates from a glowing lens within an opalescent globe. The collection includes pendants, floor lamps, and wall lights. Black cones, balls, and cylinders ground the ethereal bubbles.
The Studio’s description:
OPAL is a family of translucent globes using our own custom recipe of tinted white Opalescent polycarbonate. Semi translucent, they maintain an ethereal ghostliness in the daylight and at night, form a perfectly illuminated sphere. Coupled with our new dimmable Tom Dixon LED, the OPAL range emits a soft, diffused and flattering light.
I’d love to see these in a home setting.
Tom Dixon’s rock and roll tour
With the Fat America Tour, Dixon disrupted the standard formula. He has admitted to becoming bored easily. This is a pitfall for most, but for Dixon it’s a strength. As a relatively small company, Dixon feels his studio has to do things differently:
It gives you that need to constantly reinvent your narrative or your products or the means of distributing. Coming here before Milan, launching things that normally we’d save up til April, doing it in America first, and doing it with music rather than just doing dumb lectures, it’s all partly to do with me not being bored, but also, it’s sort of necessary for us to survive.
Along with Dixon’s talks, tour events featured performances by Teenage Engineering. They make retro-styled synthesizers that are reminiscent of pocket calculators. The little gadgets act as drum machines, synthesizers, and controls for light shows. This is the geeky passion project of one the founders of Swedish Acne Studios.
To Dixon, design is design. He sees a lot of overlap and blending between different fields:
Although it’s a completely separate field that has not a lot to do with what we do, it’s all part of the same interest. Which is, creativity and “what’s next”? So [Teenage Engineering is] very interesting and I’ve learned good lessons from them as well. I think they’re fascinated by the fact that they can come into an environment which is completely not the music scene…and actually thrive.
This collaboration with Teenage Engineering is an example of how Dixon avoids stagnation:
I have been pigeonholed a few times in my career. And it’s quite hard to break away from what people expect you to be and do. So it’s kind of nice to just experiment a bit. I mean, we’ll make a hideous noise tonight. Something will come out of it eventually that will be interesting and unexpected. And I think you need to constantly put yourself in unexpected scenarios to just push forward.
In Vancouver, Inform Contract hosted the event in their cool new Railtown space. Throngs of interior designers and design aficionados squeezed in to see Dixon’s talk and slideshow.
Once Teenage Engineering started their music and light show, the party was on. Far from a “hideous noise”, the rhythms and energy were lots of fun. Curious about the gizmos, onlookers crowded in, taking turns watching close up. Performers were a mix of Teenage Engineering regulars and local recruits.
Dixon was excited about the vintage bass guitar that he had picked up in Portland. He strummed along with the music several times that night. You can get a sense of the vibe from my saved Insta Stories.
The FAT pieces were on hand during the party. We took turns sitting on the dining chair, lounge chair, and barstool. My husband didn’t need to spend half an hour in a FAT barstool. He quickly figured out that he wants a pair for our kitchen island.
What do you think?
What’s your take on Tom Dixon’s new collections? Let me know in the comments.
- Tom Dixon Studio
- Teenage Engineering
- Tom Dixon’s collections in Canada at Inform Contract
- if you’re in Vancouver, don’t miss Inform Interior’s Events
- Teenage Engineering synthesizers in Canada at Tom Lee Music
Note: interview quotations have been condensed for brevity.