Lee Broom of Lee Broom Lighting

"I like the idea of creating emotion when somebody walks into one of my presentations, rather than just looking at an object on a plinth. If art can, I don't see why furniture and lighting shouldn't do that."

"I like the idea of creating emotion when somebody walks into one of my presentations, rather than just looking at an object on a plinth. If art can, I don't see why furniture and lighting shouldn't do that."

Here at The List, we’re ever-curious about the culture of design, so who better to survey about the field’s current state than those currently working at the top of it? In Need to Know, we pick the brains of best-in-class creatives to find out how they got to where they are today—and to share an insider’s perspective on the challenges and highlights of their particular perches in the design world. 

Lee Broom says he was never “supposed” to become a designer. In truth, though, his atypical path—through stints in theatre and fashion—has only made his designs more profound.

The British luminary, who founded his namesake brand in 2007, produces wares that strike a balance between craftsmanship and utilitarianism, setting Broom apart from his contemporaries. But another key to his success was his early adaptation of technologies—such as LED—that have since found a warm embrace from the design community at large.

Broom spoke with Surface about his foundation in design, how he channels emotion into his offerings, and why he would never show at a trade fair.

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You founded your namesake company in 2007. What was that process was like?

I had an unusual route into design. I was actually never supposed to be a designer; I was supposed to be actor. I went to theater school when I was a child and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company—it was just going to be a profession. But when I was 17, I won a fashion design competition called the Young Designer of the Year Award, which was judged by Vivienne Westwood and she offered me an internship at her studio.

I interned with her for about a year, and then I went to study fashion at Central Saint Martins in London. At that point, I was going to be a fashion designer. But when I was in my final year, I was very much into interiors. I used make drapes and do upholstery for a bar and that started to turn into a small business. I was then offered to design an interior for a bar and restaurant in London. I did it with a friend of mine, and we ended up setting up an interior design business for about four years together. When she moved back to Japan, I set up Lee Broom in 2007—the focus was on lighting more than interiors.

Did your upbringing influence the way you design, experience design, or think about design?  

Growing up in a theatrical background certainly influences the way I do my presentations. I like to bring a sense of drama to those presentations and make them more of an experience.

Take me through your traveling exhibition “Park Life”: What was the inspiration behind it, how did it come together?

I wanted to have a different focus for our exhibitions for 2019. Last year, we did a tour of our new collection “Observatory” after we launched in Milan. It was the first time I would be taking a show on the road and presenting it in about eight different cities. It got me to thinking about this idea of presenting my work in countries that have supported me but where I haven’t presented rather than sticking to the same roster of shows. I tried to think of the furthest place to go, and that was Australia.

We have a dealer that sells our furniture and lighting in there called Space. They’re the biggest furniture and contemporary lighting store in Australia. It started off with me doing presentations in their stores in different cities. Then they presented me with the idea of doing a larger presentation in an underground carpark below their store in Sydney. Because of the sheer amount of space, I’d wanted to do this idea of a garden maze with all of my product that would take you on a journey through a kind of contemporary version of an 18th century maze. It was the perfect location to do it because it had the size and no ceilings. So just the idea of an industrial carpark and creating something that was completely opposite in it really appealed to me.

It turned into a 4,000-square-foot presentation of all of my lighting collections—over 100 pieces—and it was a very poetic, atmospheric journey through a very modernist maze, with graveled floor, a giant chess board, and 18-century music playing. It was a real experience.

You describe your designs as originating from an emotional place, which is interesting in light of how tactile and utilitarian a lot of your products are. How did you arrive at that way of designing?

I guess because I’ve always designed since I was a child. It’s a very natural thing for me to do. It isn’t forced. I don’t have to think very hard when I’m designing—it really comes from within. I don’t have any restraints when I design, I don’t have any restrictions. I become immersed in the same ways that, I guess, an artist would when they’re creating a sculpture or a painting. At the same time, though, I am creating functional products, so I like that differentiation between being incredibly artistic and being very commercial, and bringing the two together.

And I think that’s visible with my products: they are commercial, and they do fit well in people’s homes or hotels or restaurants because they look very classic to a certain point. But they are also edgy and artistic and have a point of difference. And then the way I present them is also very different. I like that the idea of creating emotion when somebody walks into one of my presentations, rather than just looking at an object on a plinth. Having a visual connection, and then leaving. I don’t see why furniture and lighting shouldn’t do that, if art can, you know?

What was your first product and how is it indicative of your brand’s ethos?

I think my first commercial product was our Crystal Bulb. It wasn’t the first product I designed, but it was definitely our first product that we sold on a mass-produced level but still handcrafted. It’s a light bulb made out of cut crystal with an LED inside. It became incredibly popular because it has the sort of sensibilities of an industrial light bulb with hand-cut crystal. It’s very familiar to people, but they haven’t seen them put together in this way before. And then also it combined new technology in terms of the LED that we have inside, which was incredibly new at that point. I think it took my popularity out of the design consciousness and into the public consciousness. The design ethos there is the same as a lot of products that we release now—taking something that you have seen before and presenting it in a very different way.

What advice do you have for young professionals in the field?

I think any young professional who wants to be a designer and an entrepreneur and not just design for other brands needs to be multi-disciplinary. You have to be able to do a number of different things. You have to be able to finance yourself and finance the collections, which is very difficult in the first few years. We were designing interior projects during that period and doing consultations. Those interiors influenced the products that I wanted to create and sometimes we would put our products into the interiors. That allowed us to build up capital so we could release collections every year in Milan, in London, in New York.

“Fairtigue,” or fair fatigue, is a portmanteau that’s popping up a lot lately. How do you feel about the state of fairs right now?

I don’t dig them. I’ve never ever showed in a trade fair. I would never, to be honest. I don’t actually go to them because you are seeing too much of what other people are doing, and that’s not good.

Is there a dream project that you haven’t done yet?

I would like to design a theatrical presentation, like a pop concert maybe. I’d like to design a hotel. I would like to create the interior of an airplane.



(Photos: Craig Wall Courtesy Lee Broom)

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