A decade after his debut collection, Lee Broom is marking the anniversary with a limited edition Wedgwood ceramics collaboration and a ten-piece anniversary showcase. The product designer reflects on the pivotal year
You may not necessarily know you’re a Lee Broom fan. But if you’ve been sprucing up your living room, or even just perusing Pinterest, chances are you will have fallen for one of his designs – be it a crescent chandelier or hanging hoop chair – without even knowing it. With his conceptual creations ingrained in the last decade’s interior design psyche, many will be surprised to learn that the company is only ten years young.
“I wanted to create a design brand first and foremost,” says 41-year-old Broom, who is in the middle of putting the final touches to his ten-piece anniversary collection when we speak. “When I launched it, most of my peers were designing for other brands, but for me it was about opening up, creating and owning the whole experience from start to finish: from the inception of the design to it landing on someone’s doorstep. I think we have achieved it and more.”
Broom is one of the country’s most high-profile product designers. Over the past decade he has released more than 100 pieces manufactured under his own label, as well as numerous products for other brands and more than 45 commercial retail, restaurant, bar and residential interiors. His smattering of accolades spans the British Designer of the Year Award in 2011, as well as four nods in three years at the same awards, including one for his renowned lighting product, the Crystal Bulb. His trophy cabinet also features a Queen’s Award for Enterprise – the UK’s highest accolade for business success – in the category of International Trade. “Receiving that award at Buckingham Palace was a very special moment,” he says.
With a background in theatre and fashion, Broom previously worked under Vivienne Westwood (after winning Young Fashion Designer of the Year) and went on to study for a degree in fashion design at Central Saint Martins. He still takes inspiration from the sartorial world (The Guardian commented that “Lee Broom is to furniture what Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford are to fashion”) and has collaborated with a number of brands including Christian Louboutin, Mulberry and Matthew Williamson.
“Growing up I was a huge fan of Vivienne Westwood, but also John Galliano and Jean-Paul Gaultier,” he says. “I was incredibly passionate about theatrical fashion designers and the visuals and techniques they created.”
The move to products was an organic one. His first collection, Neo Neon in 2007, stemmed from advising a number of bars on interior design. Since then, including two collections in 2008, Broom is not so much pausing to take stock, but jumping back on the merry-go-round.
He’s currently presiding over his anniversary collection, Time Machine: a ten-piece range of Lee Broom hero products re-imagined in an all-white palette, which he presented at Salone del Mobile in Milan. “I wanted to look back to pieces we had created over the past decade, but also to do something different,” he says. “I’m not always a fan of looking back; when I release new collections, I usually move forward. I thought if I was going to do that, then I wanted to reinvent the pieces, and to create new versions of them.”
The show was staged in a derelict vault inside the Milano Centrale station, a vast concourse that hadn’t been used by the public in more than 30 years. “That really appealed to me. After seeing the space I decided to present the collection on an all-white rotating fairground carousel. It’s quite a modernist, theatrical presentation,” he adds.
Broom’s favourite pieces are always his latest, but he names the solid Carrara marble grandfather clock with polished brass detailing as his most impressive, which is the only totally new product among the reimagined versions of Bright On Bistro, Carpetry Console, Crystal Bulb and Drunken Side Table.
“I chose a grandfather clock because as well as marking the passing of time, people often give clocks or watches to signify a special occasion. It felt like an appropriate product to present, but it’s a totally contemporary version.”
It’s been a busy year for Broom, not least because his company has expanded stateside to New York. Then there’s the small matter of his collaboration with the 250-year-old English heritage brand Wedgwood to reimagine its iconic Jasperware. He tells me he was attracted to the timeless black and white stripes of the Panther Vase for its sense of modernity, and used this as a starting point for the collection. He combined the graphic stripe with postmodern elements and introduced vibrant colours and glossy lacquered textures, which juxtapose the matte finish of the traditional Jasperware.
“I think a lot of people are familiar with that product; they’ve seen it in their parents’ or grandparents’ homes, especially the blue and white pieces with ornamentation that were invented in the 1700s. The idea was to focus on reinterpretations for a more modern audience,” he explains. “With my own experience of working with craftspeople in crystal and marble, going back to traditional techniques was a really good fit. I think the designs strike a good balance between the Wedgwood archive and my own aesthetic.”
It’s clear from the way he speaks that Broom lives and breathes design. His home, a south London apartment in which he’s lived for more than 12 years, is a converted fire station that dates back to the 1800s.
“It still has the tower on the top of the building where you could look out across London for fires and then ring the bell for the horse-drawn carriages below. It’s a very old industrial building, but my apartment is quite open plan with a few architectural details to it.”
“With my own experience of working with craftspeople in crystal and marble, going back to traditional techniques was a really good fit. I think the designs strike a good balance between the Wedgwood archive and my own aesthetic"
It’s also home to much of his work. “It almost acts as an extension of our showroom. It’s constantly evolving. When we’ve created a new product, I take it to my apartment in the prototype stage and put it in the space and live with it for a period of time to see how it reacts. It’s important that things don’t just look good in the showroom but that they work in people’s homes.”
Broom and his partner also love to collect art. He’s a big fan of Pop, Surrealist and Cubist art as well as photography and anything Art Deco. He describes his favourite piece by the artist Keith Haring, who painted the back of three leather jackets (for himself, his partner and Madonna). He found Madonna’s in the I. Brewster gallery in Philadelphia many years ago and brought it back home where it hangs on the wall “very casually”, even though it’s actually very rare. “It’s important to surround yourself with things that make you feel happy and comfortable,” he says. “Your home should reflect your personality.”
I ask if he could have designed one famous piece of furniture, which would it be? He names the Bentwood chair by Thonet, although he did include a reinterpretation of it in one of his first furniture collections, where he adorned the silhouette in neon lighting to accentuate the flowing lines.
“I think people often take that chair for granted because they see it so often in cafés. But if you actually look at it as a piece of furniture, it’s an incredible design and the basis for a lot of modern chairs.”
Pausing to celebrate the past ten years, I wonder what the next decade holds for him – a return to fashion, perhaps? He says no, although he wouldn’t be averse to a jewellery collaboration (if you were to look inside his sketchbook, you’d find jewellery designs doodled in every margin).
“The boundaries between the different types of design – art, fashion, industrial and decorative – has tended to blur a little more over the past decade, which is healthy. But who knows, things have a habit of developing quite organically and I have a habit of seizing opportunities as they come.”