A decade ago, Lee Broom wowed the design world with his daring yet understated works. His design language then was full of character and contradictions. A decade later, the designer’s work is as fresh and enticing as ever; he will soon hold his 10th anniversary exhibition entitled Time Machine launching at Salone del Mobile in Milan this April. We speak to him about past challenges, current collaborations, and his penchant for theatricality.
Tell us more about your collection for Wedgwood.
Lee Broom I don’t collaborate very often, but Wedgwood has a heritage and vision that resonates with what we do at Lee Broom. Jasperware isn’t something that has been touched by many other designers over the years since it was originally created, so I was very excited to be one of the few to create new pieces for them. Wedgwood is a brand most people know across the world and I loved the idea of creating a limited-edition collector’s item.
How do you decide on who to collaborate with?
It has to be with a brand or a product that is different from what I do day-to-day. Clarks shoes was a great example of that. For them, I redesigned their iconic desert boot, which was a great opportunity for me to work in fashion again (something I studied at Central Saint Martins).
What’s the most surprising thing for you about the design scene today?
I think different disciplines in design are more integrated now than they were when I started. Art, fashion, design and architecture all seem to cross over a little more than 10 years ago, which I feel is a positive step.
Manufacturing in the United Kingdom is one of the major tenets of your brand. To date, which piece was the hardest to produce?
As I work with so many different materials, every product has its challenges. I would say that the simplest pieces in my collection tend to be the most difficult to produce because we are making an effort to hide the seams and construction. This is very true of my Crescent light; there are some very complicated but hidden mechanics that make the two half-spheres separate so delicately.
If you could choose one material to work with forever, which would it be and why?
I really enjoy working with marble and I guess it’s one of the materials we are best known for. I like to challenge myself and my team, so when we created the Marble Tube light, for example, it requires the marble to be milled down to a 5mm thickness. We were told it couldn’t be done, but persistence paid off. It’s wonderful to collaborate with craftspeople who have been working with their materials, and we try to push their capabilities and their machinery as much as we can while learning all about their intricate work. In return, the craftspeople also end up learning from us. It’s a great relationship.
You are known for mounting clever exhibitions, such as Salone del Automobile. How do you come up with these concepts?
I suppose that given I grew up in theatre as a child actor for many years, theatricality is ingrained in me. I like the idea of taking people on a journey and presenting things in unusual or innovative ways. I’m thinking about this even at the point of creating the actual furniture or lighting pieces. Of course, I also look at how these will sit in someone’s home—but I’m also considering the show.