You may recall that, earlier this year, we asked a number of Stockholm-bound interior designers to pick out their most interesting new products on show at the Furniture Fair. The Stockholm Furniture Fair is not all about furniture however, and a number of our friends excitedly reported back about a new carpet collection by renowned British designer Tom Dixon for ege.
Now the collection, Industrial Landscape, has returned to its spiritual home, as it were (more about that a little later), with ege and Tom once again coming together for Clerkenwell Design Week.
We were lucky enough to visit ege’s Britton Street showroom to see Tom formally introduce the collection to the UK – and were even more fortunate to be able to sit and chat with the man himself about this exciting collaboration.
The starting point, it turns out, is London – the city being a world of inspiration for Tom, who muses that it’s ‘perhaps not the prettiest, nor the most glamorous, but certainly one of the most characterful cities in the world’.
The collection interprets the gritty backdrops of railways, tunnels, factories, workshops and warehouses, with Tom focusing on the surfaces and materials prevalent throughout the city – from concrete paving through to the water of the mighty Thames. ‘ege has collaborated with a number of people before,’ Tom says. ‘When we started to think about designing a carpet collection we realised it was quite difficult because with digital printing you can do anything in principle.
We really felt we had to have a subject, and that subject became London – my grimy old London to be more precise.
‘You can see the influences – the smoggy, smoky sky, the railway tracks, the bricks and all the slightly distressed surfaces, which I find very inspirational.
‘Whereas a lot of cities, such as Paris, Stockholm or Copenhagen, are quite beautiful, London has a real grittiness about it – which I find really appealing. It’s a different kind of beauty.
‘We looked at lots of different types of finishes and textures and surfaces that exist within the city – particularly the kind of mismatched surfaces and the cracked surfaces that you find in the pavements.
‘What you need to know about contract carpet is that, although you can get it in broadloom, where you have one pattern, they also cut the pattern into tiles and shuffle the pack – therefore, each pattern has to not only exist as a single design, but also exist as a random shuffle of the pack. That does make it difficult as a designer to get consistency in the design – but these mismatched surfaces suited the way the carpets are produced perfectly and also provided us with a lot of departure points. We liked being able to show not just the paving stones, for example, but also the broken ones, which show the history of the traffic and the different layers of London.
‘We have created a deconstructed brick pattern, a pattern inspired by the railway lines of London and one that refers to the Thames and the grey muddy water of the river. So, the collection is a series of patterns and textures that come naturally from the building process or the erosion process.
‘Smoke was quite a big inspiration as well. We felt that, given the heavy traffic that contract carpets often get, we could produce something more random and smoky. We quite liked the idea that these designs might be able to work not just on the floor, but also on the walls – something that could provide a great backdrop for living. So not just a flooring surface but a whole environment, where we’re getting quite textural but, from a difference, it really does look like the original inspiration.
‘The inspiration for one of the other designs – Track – came from one of my favourite things about London, which is coming home from abroad and as you fly over the city you see all the marks of the canals and the railway tracks and the roads that crisscross London.’
This wasn’t Tom’s first collaboration with a Scandinavian brand, having worked as Creative Director for Habitat – which is owned by Ikea. ‘That was a process where I learned a lot more about communication, about managing design, about creative direction, rather than design itself. It was a very exciting adventure. I leapt from being a producer of my own goods to working for the biggest furniture company in the world.’
Tom worked with Habitat for 12 years before starting his own eponymous brand in 2002 – which has of course been incredibly successful right around the world and has helped elevate the man himself to design superstar status. Today his works are included in permanent collections of the world’s most prestigious museums, including the V&A and the MoMA, while high profile projects include the Restaurant at The Royal Academy in London, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, Barbecoa and Shoreditch House. Recently Tom’s Design Research Studio completed their first ever hotel project, redesigning the iconic Thames-side Mondrian Sea Containers here in London. Infamously self-taught, Tom also received an OBE for services to British Design in 2001.
‘It was really through that process of working in interior design that we felt it might be time to start collaborating with people,’ Tom reveals. ‘One of the big problems in contemporary projects is sound absorption, so carpets become more and more important in those kind of spaces. We’ve been interested in carpets not only as a floor finish but also as a technical finish for absorbing sound for a number of years now – and also as a way of bringing an awful lot of colour into a space.
‘I am obviously very interested in the materiality, and the carpet in itself is an extraordinary thing when you see the tufting process and the selection of the yarn. But I am interested beyond the material and the kind of impact it has on the architectural perspectives. Colour is a very powerful thing, as is pattern, particularly when you use it in large expanses as you do with a contract carpet.’
Going back to the beginning, we ask Tom about the origins of the collaboration with ege. ‘They’ve been asking me for years!’ he smiles. ‘They’ve worked with a number of designers and like having that different point of view. It’s all about timing and the reason we said yes is mainly because we’ve started to have much more contact with hotels and the likes, and have started to consider issues such as acoustics a lot more – and also, well, the specification of contract carpet. We started buying and specifying carpet and when you do start specifying the stuff you start to get an understanding of what is and what’s not available.
‘We started to talk about the possibilities and then we decided to go over to the factory – which is actually phenomenally impressive. I think you can tell a lot about a business by its manufacturing.’
So what were the greatest challenges when approaching the collection? ‘It’s not an easy typology,’ Tom considers. ‘I think the idea of cutting a design up and not being able to reconstruct the pattern is a really difficult design challenge. We came at it from a slightly different angle, I think, in that we were not just considering the floor, but were always thinking about the entire environment. We were thinking about the acoustics as much as the decoration, for example.
‘I have to say, we learnt an awful lot from the project.’