Product designer Lee Broom celebrates 10 years of his eponymous brand this year. Since he set it up in 2007, he has created more than 75 of his own pieces, won more than 20 awards and opened two flagship stores — in London and New York — with a third to follow soon in LA.
Broom’s philosophy is to design things that are both unique and familiar. For his first collection, Neo Neon, he added neon lights to period furniture.
His most recent design is a Christmas tree made from 245 individual pendant lights that will stand in the three-floor atrium of the Aqua Shard restaurant in London from November 15. All proceeds from this project will go to the British Red Cross.
Why did you choose to go into lighting design?
My dad was an artist, so I was always sketching and drawing when I was younger. I worked for Vivienne Westwood, the British fashion designer, for around 10 months after school and then, to support myself through studying at Central Saint Martins, I set up a small business providing decor advice to bars and nightclubs. I quickly realised that product and interior design was something I really loved and I always seemed to be drawn to lighting. It is key to any interior, whether decorative or functional.
You originally trained as an actor. How has that influenced you?
Yes, I was a child actor until I was 17, so my career path wasn’t design at all. Theatre has definitely had a subconscious influence, especially when it comes to our exhibitions. I always want to create a memorable experience.
How would you characterise your style?
My designs tend to combine tradition and modernity. They are classic with an unexpected edge.
How would you describe your own home?
I live in a converted fire station in south London. It has a central atrium, which provides plenty of natural light and has lots of industrial architectural details from its days as a fire station. It’s very much the embodiment of me as a designer. I have a lot of my own designs there but also a number of mid-century pieces. I find it can be a good experiment to live with some of my newer prototypes to see how they work within a home, which means we are always moving things in and out.
Name your three top influences.
Post-modernism, art deco and brutalism. What I like about post-modernism is the humorous element that a lot of it has. Art Deco, for me, has both a modernist and classical aesthetic, which is rather timeless. I grew up in the Midlands of England, so brutalism was something I was surrounded by when I was a kid.
What has been your favourite project?
My recent collaboration with Wedgwood, the historic UK porcelain company, was a really interesting project. I was contacted by the company three years ago with the idea for me to create a prestige range of limited-edition vases using its iconic Jasperware, a style of pottery that features relief decorations, usually in white, on a colour background. Jasperware is something that hasn’t been touched by many designers over the years, so it was doubly exciting to create my own interpretation of something we all know so well.
I spent days in the Wedgwood archive and factory in Stoke-on-Trent. It was fascinating getting to know the meticulous processes involved in making Wedgwood pieces. And it’s wonderful to be part of their history.
Which of your projects would you pick out as most notable?
I’d say our 10-year anniversary show during Salone Del Mobile, an annual furniture trade fair in Milan, this year. We called it Time Machine. It was our largest exhibition to date. We had 30 of our products — furniture, lighting and accessories — from the past 10 years all reimagined completely in white. The installation was huge. We created a modernist interpretation of a fairground carousel to display the pieces within a 340 square metre derelict railway station vault.
Alongside it we showcased a limited-edition, handcrafted Carrara marble grandfather clock. Only 10 are being made — one for each year of the brand’s life.
Is there anyone in the interior design field that you particularly admire?
I have a lot of admiration for Sir Terence Conran, not just as a designer but as an entrepreneur and a pioneer for British design across the globe.
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
Crocs. They are just very ugly shoes.
To redesign a backstreet, East End [in London] pole-dancing club.
What do you look for in a client?
A great designer/client relationship is about having an appreciation for each other and a willingness to challenge — to a degree. The client needs to trust the designer and their vision and the designer needs to be challenged by the client and find a compromise if they disagree.
Do you believe in form over function or vice versa?
I think it is so important, and a responsibility as a designer, to make sure that we design for longevity and with originality. And to do that I think you have to find the balance between form and function.
What is the most important thing to remember when you are deciding how to light a space?
Light is so important to an interior. It can be a focal point or it can be a subtle part of the whole scheme. And it can change the ambience by being tonally warm or cool. You can use lights to bring a room together or separate it. When I’m designing a space, I often focus on lighting first rather than at the end. It shouldn’t be an afterthought.
What material do you most like working with?
I love marble. It’s something I’ve revisited in lots of designs. I like to push its versatility as a material.
What do you consider the top trend in your field?
I don’t know... I don’t pay attention to trends.
Photographs: Luke Hayes; Michael Bodiam; Paul Winch-Furness; Arthur Woodcroft