Art & Photography / In Pictures

Tom Dixon's Dixonary

We consider Dixonary, the new publication from lauded industrial designer Tom Dixon, presenting a selection of the book's illustrative image couplets, alongside Dixon's accompanying 'micro-stories'...

(L) Cat Skeleton, (R) Tom Dixon, Bolide Chaise, 1988
(L) Cat Skeleton, (R) Tom Dixon, Bolide Chaise, 1988 (L) Illustration from The Cat: A Guide to the Classification and Varieties of Cats..., 1895, by Rush Shippen Huidekoper, (R) Photograph courtesy of Bonhams

“I suffer from the delusion that I am still at the beginning of my career and that all my best work lies ahead of me,” says lauded industrial designer Tom Dixon, in the preface to his newly released publication, Dixonary. In this vein, he goes on to refute descriptions of the work as a biography, catalogue raisonné or monograph, instead referring to it as “a simple picture book with ‘micro-stories’ attached.” And so it is, although this somewhat understates the tome's beautiful binding and picture choices, as well as the captivatingly personal nature of the accompanying text.

In order to guide readers through the last three decades of his career, Dixon presents pairs of images – the first an inspiration image, the second a complementary photograph of one of his designs – and explains how such "inspirations, obsessions and techniques" informed the resulting "artefacts, objects and constructions". The story begins with how the DIY nature of punk taught the self-trained designer valuable lessons in independence, and spans his iconic role as head of design for Habitat, through the creation of his own eponymous company in 2002, right up until the present day, reaffirming the fact that he has no plans to stop absorbing, learning and creating any time soon. Here, to celebrate Dixonary's launch, we present a selection of our favourite image couplets alongside Dixon's musings...

(Above) "Furniture is usually such a static expression of form, yet objects definitely have personality and character. So my train of thought on this piece was, why should they always be so immobile? That’s why rocking chairs are such a fantastic typology. The Bolide was an attempt to rethink the motion – rather than back-and-forth it’s an up-and-down action with an occasional slight wobble sideways, just like sitting on the springy branch of a tree."

"There was a rapid evolution of different styles in the first couple of years of joyful creativity that came with my discovery of welding. My first lesson in oxy-acetylene welding came from a friend with a car-body repair shop in Clapham, south London. A whole new world opened up to me – this was a quick and effective way for me to make things! The great thing about it was the speed at which I could produce. I probably made over 100 chairs in my first year just because I could. There was nobody stopping me and hardly any costs, as all the material was salvaged. And I had no client pressure. Anything that didn’t look right could be cut and re-pasted. A few brave, reckless individuals bought or commissioned bits and pieces, and my work was cheap – really cheap – as most of my income came from the nightclub business. A good Friday and Saturday night meant that the rest of the week was clear to weld, weld, weld."


"It wasn’t long before the best scrapyards in west London fell victim to the property-development bonanza and boom that swept England in the 1980s. Luxury housing replaced the derelict industrial wastelands that provided so much inspiration and raw materials for my first 100 chairs. I had already started looking elsewhere for components, as there was already a small demand for objects in multiples. Hardware stores and plumbers’ merchants, garden centres, or in this case again the professional cookware supplier, provided material for the next generation of objects. This chair uses a large frying pan for the seat and four Chinese wok ladles as legs."


"The bits and pieces and readymade junctions you can get in plumbing – the bits that fill the parts bins in builders’ merchants – look like hidden treasure to me. So many configurations from a predetermined kit of pure copper components. The lead solder that holds the junctions together is great for waterproofing and allowing for flexibility as the pipes expand and contract in use, but unfortunately it really isn’t good enough for chair making. If you rock back and forth, the solder joints break: something that I only found out when I made a set of six dining chairs and sold them to Patrick Cox, the upmarket cobbler – they all broke and he was covered in flux. He wasn’t happy."


"A collision of rocking chair and chaise longue sounds improbable but just about works – and is an opportunity to create a brand-new typology of furniture: the rocking chaise. It has an unusually elegant line, which comes naturally from the gentle curve that touches the ground as a fulcrum in one spot only; a fat piece of upholstery where the most weight is distributed; and pointed ends. They all add up to give it a bird-like silhouette – like a decoy duck or, better still, an exotic songbird."


"I’m not a particularly big proponent of the modernist maxim and cliché ‘form follows function’, but strangely, in this case, where the form seems so exaggerated and out of proportion, there is very little in the shape that is superfluous to its intended use. The motion is made possible by the extravagant cantilever. Despite this, the result is peculiarly one of the more decorative and extravagant pieces I have ever produced."


"There’s something about ungainliness that has its own special appeal. I really don’t believe everything has to be super-elegant. There is a new trend in here somewhere, which has a kinship with the French concept of jolie-laide, and is probably going to be something to explore in more depth as the world becomes excessively designed, rationalized and slicked-up. This basic spindly tripod with its dumpy felt shade reminds me a lot of how clumsy a flamingo looks on its legs – there’s something wrong, yet somehow it has its own charm and logic – one that doesn’t come from any school of traditional beauty."

Dixonary by Tom Dixon is published by Violette Editions and is available now.

Text by Daisy Woodward