Lee Broom Interview : From Fashion to Furniture

Designer Lee Broom

The June 2011 issue of the World Interiors News newsletter sent featured the Lee Broom interview that I wrote. As I know you’ll be interested in what this amazingly impressive designer had to say, I am resharing the interview here in Q&A format.

How did you first become interested in design?

When I was 17 I entered a fashion design competition, which was judged by Vivienne Westwood. I won the competition and at the event asked Vivienne for her autograph. She wrote her phone number instead 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 seven 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. 

Training with Vivienne Westwood must have been a fascinating experience. How has working with such an iconic British designer affected your outlook and your approach to design?

I really admire her tendency to reference the past in her work whilst not getting stuck in the past. She taught me that we can learn a lot from the way in which clothes were made and patterns were created a long time ago. I was inspired by this outlook and interpreted it into some of my own furniture pieces, particularly the Heritage Boy collection which was very much inspired by traditional British manufacturing techniques and materials.

Carpetry Sideboard, part of the Heritage Boy Collection by Lee Broom

You actually studied fashion at Central St Martins. How did you end up moving into product design and interiors?

To support myself through college I set up a business with my friend Maki where we would provide interior styling on a very small scale for my local bar. We would do little bits of upholstery or make curtains or mirror frames. As they expanded, we provided the same service for their other venues and this basically grew and grew.

They eventually decided to open a venue called Nylon in Moorgate which was a huge project and required a lot of work. They took us on to design the interior and what started out as a small makeover project soon turned into a major refurbishment in which they invested a lot of money.

I was working with architects on the scheme but was designing and project managing the entire project. We were very much thrown in at the deep end and in retrospect, it was almost like a nine-month intensive training course on a live project. The venue opened and became a huge success and we decided to set up a formal interiors partnership called Makilee which we ran for five years.

What effect has your background in fashion had on your career and how has it influenced your approach to product design and interiors today?

With fashion, it’s very much about adapting your style each season and experimenting with new materials and this is something I have certainly taken forward, in particular with my products. I don’t like the idea of mastering a certain technique or style which works and then sticking with it. I manufacture my own products for my own brand so it’s important for me to experiment and keep things fresh and alive – not just for me but also for my team.

Top Man Personal Shopping Suite designed by Lee Broom

Throughout your career, you have designed many things from furniture to lighting and whole interior spaces. Which would you say is your favourite of these to design and why?

I love all aspects of my work and I am very lucky to be able to do what I do. However, I do find that it’s always the most recent project that is the most interesting. Product design is therefore very exciting to me as I have been doing it for less time than interiors. I absolutely love designing interiors though as it enables you to create the whole picture and not just an element of it.

You have currently designed over 40 bars and restaurants across the UK and won numerous awards for your work. What is it about your work that people love so much and find so appealing?

I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific but I have incorporated styles into my work that people may have seen before but not in that context. I may reference something which feels quite nostalgic and people relate to that. For instance, in the bar Lost Angel there’s a 10-foot image of Elizabeth II at her coronation and an old British telephone box in the room. These are things people instantly relate to but not necessarily in a bar context.

Tile Coffee Table, part of the Heritage Boy Collection by Lee Broom

You have managed to make a very big impact in the industry in a relatively short period of time. What would you say has enabled you to do this?

Anybody who has had seemingly overnight success will tell you they’ve been slogging away at it for years. I had my interior design partnership for five years before I launched my solo career so I had some experience, particularly in running my own business. I also work very long hours!

What or who are your main sources of inspiration?                                                                                

I work in East London, which is a very creative area. London has a really strong street culture so you only have to step outside of the studio to get inspired; the people in this city are very inspiring. I also tend to get very inspired by architecture and art galleries.

Decanter Lamp by Lee Broom

You have been quoted as saying you have always been a supporter of British industry and you have yourself been labelled by some as the pin-up of British manufacturing. How important is it for you to be recognized as playing your part in promoting British design?

I enjoy the process of manufacturing in this country. It allows me to pay visits to the factory and keep a fine eye on the detail – an important factor as my products can often be quite difficult to produce. Working as a young designer with established British companies can be a meeting of two different minds but it provides opportunities to work with and challenge traditional techniques to push boundaries.

We have a lot of talent, craftsmanship and industry at our disposal in this country and this is something that should be championed. I have found working with British-made products complements my design ethic and existing product portfolio.

Your latest collaboration is with Deadgood, for whom you created the Parq Life collection. How did this collaboration come about and where did you get the inspiration for the collection?

Deadgood approached me with the idea of designing a collection and we instantly hit it off. I felt confident to create a range with them as the quality of their manufacturing and finish is so strong, as well as their product design.

Regarding the inspiration for the collection, I designed a collection for Heal’s last year called Architrave, which was inspired by interior architecture, specifically decorative and period mouldings.  I wanted to go down a similar route with Parq Life so took the same approach and used an alternative period interior application, parquet flooring. Parquet is amazing and definitely has that feeling of nostalgia to it.

Parq Life by Lee Broom for Deadgood

What projects do you have lined up for the coming months?

I’m currently working on my new collection for The London Design Festival in September. I am planning an upholstery collection, which will be my first so it’s an exciting time. I am also redesigning all of the Coast retail stores globally so a big project for the next couple of years.

Are there any particular products or projects you would really like to work on in the future or any companies, brands or venues you would really like to work with?

There are so many things I want to design so it’s difficult to know where to start. I haven’t designed a hotel yet so this is something I am keen to do. A major ambition of mine would be to design and stage a pop concert. I think it would combine many of the disciplines I have learnt over the years such as theatre, fashion, lighting and interiors.

If you could give one tip to those trying to follow in your footsteps and break into the industry today, what would it be?

Do your own thing.

So there’s the Lee Broom interview that I did. I suspect we will be seeing a whole lot more of Lee Broom in years to come. In fact, I’d put money on him becoming one of Britain’s best-known designers.

You can find more interviews with designers here.

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  • Until 30 seconds ago, my breath had never been taken away by a sideboard. A sideboard! What incredible talent he has. Thank you for sharing.


    • Hi Indy, I agree, he has unbelievable talent. Lee’s designs are completely unique, but at the same time they feel so familiar due to the fact that he takes his inspiration from things that are familiar to most of us and then reinterprets it in an completely unexpected way. The Architrave, Heritage Boy and Parq Life collections are my favourite.