Schön! meets interior design’s golden boy, Lee Broom.
Still in his 30s (although he easily looks a decade younger), Lee Broom is already one of the UK’s most celebrated interior, lighting and furniture designers. His impressive CV lists countless honours, not least Designer of the Year 2011 from the prestigious British Design Awards. His face has graced many a magazine page, including the cover of the FT’s How to Spend It, and The Times described him as ‘the pin up of British manufacturing’. Yet, when explaining how he came to be where he is today, Broom makes it sounds like a series of happy accidents.
Firstly, Broom never even intended to become a designer at all. He attended theatre school from the age of seven, was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and worked as an actor during his teens. However, with a penchant for all things creative (his father was an artist), Broom was always drawing and, at 17, he entered a fashion design competition judged by Vivienne Westwood and won. An autograph request was rewarded by an offer of two day’s work experience, sitting next to the icon and “talking about fashion and art and literature and pattern cutting…” Two days turned into 10 months after Broom tentatively showed Westwood his book of fashion sketches. Before long, he was jetting off to Paris where he was responsible for dressing Kate Moss – pretty impressive for someone who was still too young to vote. “It was wild,” Broom recalls, “but a lot of hard work. It was a great training in the fashion world, because I had no technical experience whatsoever.”
With such endorsement, it was only natural that the young Broom abandoned the theatre to study fashion design, at London College of Fashion and then Central Saint Martins. To help fund his degree, he worked at risqué retail chain Ann Summers. “It was sort of fun on one hand,” he laughs, “but once you’ve sold those products for so long, it’s not so funny anymore.” So, he ventured into bars and restaurants in Notting Hill and offered to spruce up their interiors. This went down so well that before long he was designing décors for successful chain Babushka, the owners of which went on to accept his luxurious designs for the 1,500 capacity Nylon. Nine months, a quarter of a million pounds and a prestigious award later, the student’s budding interior design consultancy was truly in business and he hasn’t looked back since.
Although still a very successful interior designer, Broom is best known for his furniture and lighting, an area he moved into seamlessly when he launched his brand in 2007. The idea for his award winning Crystal Bulb (which added another British Design Award to the list), literally came to him in his sleep. His popular Decanterlight was conceived when he was searching for a chandelier for a bar interior and thought, “I’ll just chop the bottom off decanters and use them as light fittings. It’s seemed really simple, but nobody had really done it before. It was sort of that easy I guess.” Easy, yes…if you can conjure up concepts that make one ponder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” These concepts include lamps clad in handmade ceramic tiles or furniture incorporating carpets woven using methods dating back to the 17th Century (Broom is big on traditional British manufacturing techniques). With the exception of the Crystal Bulb, which has a more accessible price point, his pieces come with a hefty price tag, but then they are clearly investment buys. “It sounds a bit corny, but we try to design future heirlooms. The idea is the company will be around long after I’m gone,” says Bloom, before joking, “We’re already considering that!”
These future classics can be viewed at Broom’s first store, which opened in London’s Shoreditch last September. It was another significant marker in his career, but again, not part of a master plan. He simply needed to expand his workshop and when his design-loving landlord offered him a space large enough for a shop, he went for it. Now giant bell jars showcase Louis chairs trimmed in neon lights in a white space that is contemporary gallery meets curiosity shop.
The white walls continue in Broom’s adjoining workshop: a series of calm and orderly spaces, that give the impression of quiet productivity, but just when you think it’s verging on minimal, he leads us into ‘the snug’. This is a meeting room with walls clad in panels reclaimed from an old pub, a vintage drinks trolley and a secret door. The contrast between these spaces epitomises Broom’s aesthetic: part traditional, part theatrical but never overthe-top and somehow always capturing the zeitgeist. It is no surprise his work is increasingly in demand, both in the UK and overseas. With 30 new products in development, the workshop already needs further expansion.
Some people have a knack of being in the right place at the right time, but one suspects that a great deal of talent and hard work lie behind this success story. If good things can happen to good people, then Lee Broom is living proof. Watch this (beautifully designed) space…