British designer Lee Broom talks about his love for connecting craft, contemporary design, and tech, how his business is coping with the pandemic, and the advice Vivienne Westwood gave that he still lives by.
In 2017, Lee Broom celebrated his studio's 10th anniversary. For someone whose foray into the world of interiors was almost by accident – during his time at Central St. Martins studying women’s fashion design he moonlighted by designing cool London bars – it was the perfect time stand back and reflect. The anniversary collection – a monochrome expression of his most beloved pieces so far underscored, without the usual smokes and mirrors, his nuanced understanding of proportion, engineering, and indeed that one quality that set him apart – an almost intuitive way of reimagining traditional crafts in a contemporary milieu.
Being in complete control – each of his products is designed, manufactured, and retailed under the Lee Broom brand – has allowed Broom to stay one step ahead. Now, a fresh direction that explores the intersection of design and tech opens up endless possibilities for one of the most important British contemporary designers to do what loves most – storytelling through design.
When you were starting out, what was the most valuable advice you received?
Do your own thing. Vivienne Westwood said it to me when I was 18 and was working for her in the 90s. I was about to leave my apprenticeship with her to study fashion at Central Saint Martins. It has always stuck with me since.
Your work focuses a lot on traditional crafts. Why is contemporising craft so important to you?
This also really stems from having worked for Vivienne Westwood. She taught me how to look to the past for inspiration and technical ability. This is something I certainly adopted in my own work in furniture and lighting design in the earlier years. Initially I became interested in a traditional craft here in Britain and how I could interpret that into contemporary design. I ended up becoming hugely inspired by the talented craftspeople I met, and whilst I was learning from them, I was also pushing them to work outside of the box, to push their craft into unknown territory. Although my more recent work has been focused on incorporating innovative tech, there is still always an element of craft.
You’ve created over 100 furniture, accessory, and lighting pieces. Which collection and which specific object is closest to your heart?
It would definitely be my Observatory Collection, which launched in Milan in 2018. I hadn’t created a collection that was exclusively lighting before and I was curious to know how the collection would be received. I wanted to keep my design ethos of producing classic and contemporary pieces, but I also wanted to push the boundaries of LED technology without losing the character. I was very happy with how successful the products became, especially the Orion light, which I thought would perhaps turn out to be more of a showpiece light for the collection but it has turned out to be our biggest selling product ever.
How has COVID-19 impacted you as a designer and creative agent?
We first of all faced a number of hurdles to get through as a business. A lot of my contemporaries purely design for other brands; however, we design, manufacture and distribute all our products all over the world so there was a lot of plate spinning in the initial few weeks to get things settled. We’ve now adapted to new ways of working and business is going fine. The upside of this is I have been at home a lot more so have been designing and sketching much more than usual which has been the silver lining.
Do you think this pandemic will have any impact on how we design and how it is consumed?
There will most certainly be a shift yes, perhaps not so much in how we design but how we present and market our work. I do believe that people will always want to physically interact with pieces, however, there will be more emphasis on virtual. For example, before the real product goes to market, we may test the potential viability and response virtually.
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