Born in Sfax, Tunisia in 1959, to a French/Latvian mother and an English father, Dixon moved to England aged four and spent his school years in London. Attending Chelsea Art School for a brief six-month period, a motorbike accident curtailed any artistic ambition and left him in hospital for three months.
Having dropped out of Art school, Dixon spent two years as a musician, playing bass guitar in a disco band until another motorcycle accident left him unable to play for a period.
He spent two more years in the burgeoning London night club and warehouse party scene. This nocturnal lifestyle left plenty of time in the day to start experimenting with welded structures. Necessary bike maintenance had required welding skills, which a friend supplied in one quick lesson.
He is a self-educated maverick whose only qualification is a one-day course in plastic bumper repair.
The new found welding skills were soon put to work as Dixon explored the decorative and structural potential of recycled materials and industrial scrap. It was a very hands-on period, working from his own workshop. Each piece evolved in a built form with no need for design sketches. Some of Dixon's favoured materials at this time included railings, concrete reinforcement bars, car inner tubing and saucepans.
"I was immediately hooked on welding...mesmerised by the tiny pool of molten metal, viewed from the safety of darkened goggles. Allowing an instant fusion of one piece of steel to another. It had none of the seriousness of craft and none of the pomposity of design: it was industry.
It suited my impatience perfectly...giving me the opportunity to build, destroy, adjust and remake structures instantly.
London at the time was still full of scrap metal yards and the skips were piled full of promising bits & pieces due to the eighties boom....all of which presented themselves to me as potential chair backs or table legs. Unhindered by commercial concerns (I had my night job,) or formal training I made things just for the pleasure of making them. It was only when people started to buy that I realised I had hit on a form of alchemy...I could turn a pile of scrap metal into gold."
It wasn't long before Dixon's sculptural objects began to get recognition and commissions and exhibitions followed. This rapid increase in demand required a more plentiful and reliable source of materials. He turned his attention to ready-made forms and technology to feed his increased interest in industrial techniques and batch production. He designed in sheet metal creating a much more minimalist product that was determined by the industrial technique used for production.
"I was fascinated by all the tools and equipment of my new found trade- the heavy oxy-acetylene bottles, the delicate brass gauges, the guillotines and plasma cutters, arc welders, tig and mig welders, the folders and pipe benders..each and every one of them opening a whole world of new shapes and structure.
The designs were increasingly governed by the latest piece of equipment that had captivated me or the latest component supplier I had dreamt up...plumbers supplies, industrial cookware shops, ventilation engineers all became my haunts.
The shapes I found at these suppliers defined the form of the objects I made; the folding, cutting and riveting that gave them structure also acted as surface decoration."
As Dixon's international reputation grew, he was approached by Italian furniture design company, Cappellini. He began to be taken seriously on the international stage as Cappellini worked to put some of his designs into major production. The "S" chair made Tom Dixon's name, evolving from early prototypes in his Creative Salvage days. It was initially woven with recycled rubber inner tubes, and then covered in rush, a material traditionally used for drop in seats. Cappellini were attracted by its sculptural form and amazing legless structure of bent steel frame. Launched by Cappellini with a vibrant felt upholstered covering in 1989, the "S" chair quickly reached iconic like status and now has a permanent place in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Dixon has since collaborated with Cappellini on many other projects, including the Bird Rocking chair, the Pylon table and chair and the tub chair to name a few.
"Honestly, I can't remember ever holding an ambition to be a designer. It just slowly came over me as I rejected notions of being an artist or, a craftsman. Even today I prefer the idea of being an industrialist.
My defining moment was probably arriving at Milan Linate in January 1989 to be greeted by the Cappellini driver holding up his 'Mr Dixon' card. Up until then I was blind to the potential of design vis a vis industry.
It's no exaggeration to say that in the Thatcherite early eighties, England was a cultural desert. Industry was collapsing and didn't see fit to support emerging ideas. The support we got certainly wasn't from places such as the design council - not nearly serious enough-not proper design..the exploding youth and style press was very encouraging ...but this was not the kind of help that we needed.
Luckily it was the very anglophile figure of Giulio Cappellini that provided the manufacturing capability and vision that opened up a whole new universe for me and many others. Here were some people that really believed that new ideas added value to whatever they were producing.
Suffice to say that I am still waiting for my first telephone call from a British manufacturer (!)"
By 1994, Dixon had turned his mind to plastics and founded Eurolounge to produce his own designs. The company was formed to manufacture and wholesale an original plastic lighting line. They utilised a hitherto anonymous technique of rotary moulding, in a new application. The first product produced by Eurolounge was the "Jack light" which had international acclaim.
Made of pigmented polyethylene, it is a multipurpose artefact, described as a "sitting, stacking, lighting thing" at its inception. Its geometrically correct shape is universally appealing. The Jack light received the Millennium Mark Award in 1997 and became part of the Victoria and Albert Museum London and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collections shortly afterwards.
"Eurolounge was born of a conviction that it was still possible to manufacture industrially in the UK. This time we were going to play the Italians and Japanese at their own game! The Jack was initially conceived as a replacement for a successful geometric paper and wire lamp I was making in 'Space'. It was tedious to make and a fragile item that I was desperate to replace."
Tom Dixon's appointment as Head of the UK design studio at the furniture retailer Habitat in 1998 was considered controversial. He came from a self-employed background instead of a corporate culture and was never considered "establishment". Launched by Sir Terence Conran and arguably the greatest influence on the British perspective on modern design, Habitat had more recently lost its way. Dixon led the company through its biggest makeover and quickly won recognition by becoming Head of International Design in 1999 and Creative Director in 2001.
Dixon's furniture had always been elitist, even though this had never been his intention. Habitat, as a major international outlet, fulfilled a lifetime ambition to make good design available to everyone.
"My friends and acquaintances were horrified. I would have my creativity compromised ...I would be entering a stifling world of corporate politics. For me, however, it was as though I had a giant toy box....all the manufacturing techniques in the world from basket work to injection moulding. Everything for the home to design .. from cuddly toys to bunk beds, forty countries of origin, 85 shops. Everything at normal everyday prices! There was no other job like it in Europe! I went from maverick to high street overnight."
TOM DIXON the company was started by Tom Dixon and David Begg in 2002. Since its inception, the company has developed its own collection of contemporary lighting and furniture including the acclaimed Mirror Ball Collection of lights and more recently Copper Shade. TOM DIXON designs have entered the international major league through renowned shows at major venues like the Milan Furniture Fair and the London Design Museum, where Tom Dixon is currently nominated for Designer of the Year. Tom Dixon the designer is particularly well known for his earlier designs such as the S-chair, designed for Cappellini, and the rotationally moulded Jack Lamp which gained the Millennium Mark for Great British Design in 1998. He was awarded the OBE for services to British Design in 2000.
In 2004 a partnership was established between the TOM DIXON founders and the venture capital company Proventus, forming Design Research, which today owns and manages both TOM DIXON and Artek, the Finnish modernist furniture manufacturer which was established by Alvar Aalto in 1935. Additionally, Tom Dixon has also been the creative director for major furniture retailer Habitat since 1997.