Schön! meets in­te­rior de­sign’s golden boy, Lee Broom.

Schon! - - The Midas Touch - Words / Huma Hu­mayun Im­age / Clear Crys­tal Bulb & Pen­dant by 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…

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