Interview: British Designer Lee Broom

U.K.-based product and interior designer Lee Broom’s first brush with design greatness came at 17, when he won a fashion design competition judged by modern punk icon Vivienne Westwood. But that was just the beginning. Now in his late 30s, he’s racked up an impressive list of accomplishments: 20 design awards, including 2011/2012 Designer of the Year at the British Design Awards, a star-studded list of fans (like Kanye West, who blogged about Broom’s Electric Louis chair back in 2008) and a new flagship store in London’s design-friendly Shoreditch district. The Guardian even compared his influence on furniture to that of Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford in the fashion world. With his latest collection, Nouveau Rebel, a line of marble homewares that just debuted at the London Design Festival, Broom approached a classic material with his signature wit and irreverence. We caught up with him to chat about his fashionable start, design influences and favourite pieces in his extensive portfolio.

1. When did you first realize you love design?

I always had a flair for design; my dad was an artist and taught me how to draw. Then when I was 17, I entered a fashion design competition, which was judged by Vivienne Westwood. I won the competition and asked Vivienne for her autograph. Instead, she wrote her phone number down and asked me if I wanted to spend a couple of days at her studio to see how things worked. Those two days were an incredible experience and Vivienne was extremely generous with her time, talking me through her designs and patterns. Once the two days were up, I showed her a portfolio of around 100 outfits I had designed and she said I could stay for longer, so I worked as an intern in the studio for nine months and then in Paris to dress the models for her show. It was an incredible learning experience and that was very much the moment I decided I wanted a career in design.

2. How did you go from fashion design to decor?

I went to theatre school, and then studied fashion at Central Saint Martin’s and then moved into interiors. Whilst I was studying I used to take on small interiors projects to make some extra cash; soon that grew into a new career. Although my formal training was in fashion, the disciplines are pretty similar, particularly when it comes to product design.

3. How has your aesthetic evolved over the course of your career?

It is constantly evolving. I think that is also something that stems from my training in fashion; you are encouraged to experiment and develop your aesthetic season to season in fashion, even while keep an overarching house style. I’ve taken the same approach with product design.

4. Where do you find inspiration?

I’m most inspired when I’m busy, running around the city or travelling abroad for work. There is never one particular thing or place; it’s more organic than that. I’m really inspired by cities — the people, the architecture, the vibe. That’s why I love living in London; it’s a very easy place to be inspired in.

5. What are your favourite pieces of work, and why?

Marble Globe Light (2014)

The latest project is always the favourite for me! I rarely look back on older pieces as we are so focused on what’s next. I love this piece as it encompasses all the things I like in a product — it is a contemporary and simple form made from a traditional material that has a sculptural quality yet is a functional object. It’s very heavy and brutal yet calming and delicate at the same time. It is also completely handcrafted so a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into each piece.

On The Rock (2014)

I like this collection because of its mix of unexpected materials, the crystal against the marble, the idea of pairing something very heavy with something so light for a piece that also needs to be very practical. It seemed impossible to do at the time but my studio has a certain tenacity that runs throughout our entire team so no one would give up on the original concept. We worked tirelessly and jumped through many hoops to get this range off the ground, and what’s so ironic is that the final product is so simple. The simplest things are always the most difficult.

Christian Louboutin, Harrods (2013)

I was a big fan of Christian’s work before we embarked on the design for the store so it is wonderful to have the opportunity to work with people you admire and are inspired by. I like the interior we created for this project because I feel we captured the essence of Louboutin and the heritage of Harrods whilst still maintaining our own classic house style. Christian liked certain products from my collections such as the Tile Lamps, the studded Salon collection and the Crystal Bulbs so we wanted to create interiors that were extensions of those products whilst making the entire space very Louboutin. It is also homage to London, so the space has a very theatrical presence.

Mark’s Bar, Selfridges (2013)

This was a really unique brief. Selfridges department store wanted us to create a mobile bar which could be moved from floor to floor, which could seat up to 16 people and also did not look like a regular bar set up but more like domestic furniture. It was a huge challenge from a design point of view but also an operationally. So we created a bar inspired by the classic home entertaining of the 1960s and developed pieces which literally transformed from furniture into working bar elements. We used lots of walnut wood and brass accents and installed hydraulics with hidden fridges, water tanks and glass storage. The final pieces look stunning and now sit as one of the smallest cocktail bars in the world.

Crystal Bulb (2012)

This is probably my most famous piece and also the best selling. I released the product in 2012 and since then we have sold over 15,000 bulbs. It’s a very simple design in that it is a combination of two things, a plain light bulb and a cut crystal whisky glass. I think people like it because of its industrial influence mixed with something very decorative. It works well in both modern environments and very ornate spaces. I am very proud of this piece and as a designer it’s nice to see your products being used all over the world.

Carpentry Sideboard (2009)

We created the carpet from scratch, which looks Persian from a distance but is full of British references when you look up close, such as the crown jewels. It was then a challenge to fuse the carpet to a vertical surface, and incorporate the drawers and cupboards into the application. The result looks quite effortless though and that’s what I like.

Bright on Bistro (2008)

This piece was from my second collection in 2008 called Rough Diamond. The idea was to take original pieces of iconic furniture and adorn them in neon lighting. It’s a simple concept but painstakingly difficult to produce. They are works of art as well as furniture pieces. I have a fondness for all my neon pieces because they take me back to when I first started, but I love this one in particular.

Stacy Lee Kong
All photos courtesy of Lee Broom
Lee Broom