Lately, Tom Dixon has felt like sharing. The famously unpredictable self-taught designer, a college dropout from Tunisia who sports a polished gold tooth, often recalls the fateful welding lesson a friend gave him in an auto repair shop—the moment that sparked a love of making things with his hands. Unlike most designers, who license their work to manufacturers and take a step back, Dixon has long relished the act of producing and selling his creations. Now, he’s underscoring that mentality in a more intentional way by creating experiences that expose his design and manufacturing process, and allow interested parties to take part in it.
At the brand’s new headquarters in London, housed within a throng of refurbished Victorian buildings near Thomas Heatherwick’s forthcoming Coal Drops Yard shopping center, its showroom, flagship store, and restaurant invite visitors to interact with Dixon’s elegant yet industrial objects by way of public workshops, tours, and provide comfy areas to hang out in. There’s also a space for onsite manufacturing, which Dixon plans to expand over time. February saw the European debut of his collaboration with Ikea, a “hackable” furniture line partially informed by workshops Dixon and the Swedish retailer held at design schools, at which students developed visions for the collection. This week, he’s bringing similar concepts to New York with his first permanent space in the city, which opens May 17 and will act as Dixon’s home base during NYCxDesign.
Located in a former chandelier factory on SoHo’s Greene Street, the 6,700-square-foot space is spread across two floors. (The brand has completely vacated its previous Manhattan store, a temporary space located on Howard Street.) Dixon designed its interiors to be open and cozy, with areas where people can linger if they like. From here, during New York Design week, Dixon’s Design Research studio will mount a pop-up workshop called Flash Factory, where people can drop in and build a limited-edition Etch light (a faceted, perforated metal pendant the designer introduced in 2010 through a similar DIY initiative in Milan); similar activations are being planned for the remainder of the year and beyond. Dixon will also introduce lighting and furniture in a new, Space Age–y color palette of glossy black, electric blue, and polished stainless steel—a pivot from the warm brass and copper hues he’s recently embraced.
“Because you have to sign ten-year-leases, opening a space is always difficult to do in New York. You have to have enough confidence to do it, and it feels like it’s time to commit,” Dixon says, noting that the U.S. is the brand’s largest market. While the store doesn’t yet have a restaurant or a factory, like his London HQ, Dixon is keen to add them if the Greene Street space proves successful. Physical shops, in spite of an increasingly digital culture, are imperative to his practice. “It’s a bit cliché to say that you need to be experiential, but our trade is in big, bulky things that will stick around your home for a long while. People want to see what they look like—and you can’t do that with virtual reality,” he says. “But I also don’t want to just have furniture shop. There’s nothing more boring than that.”
Asked why he’s focusing on inviting people into his design process, Dixon referenced his introduction to object-making. “It’s become sort of banal, because everybody is showing how things are made or making demonstrations. But that’s how I started, and sometimes I feel a bit like sharing that,” he says. “The power of creation is in everyone’s hands. And it’s something that’s sorely missing from people’s lives.”