Find Out How This British Designer Went From A Career In Theater And Fashion To Design

Prolific designer Lee Broom creates cutting-edge products that explore innovation yet have a classic quality and are inspired by the past. Born in Birmingham in 1976, he started as a child actor on TV and in theater and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His father, a talented artist, taught him how to draw and paint. After winning a fashion design competition at the age of 17, he interned under Vivienne Westwood and studied at the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London. He discusses his debut and making the transition from theater and fashion design to furniture and interiors.

You were born in Birmingham in 1976. Tell me about your background, your parents and what your childhood was like. Did any of your family members work in design? How, when and why did you realize you wanted to build things and get into design?

My father is a talented artist, and I remember him teaching me how to draw and to paint. I loved architecture and I loved drawing, but later on as a teenager, I became more interested in fashion design, Although I spent my childhood training as an actor and later focusing on a career in fashion, I have always loved design and I cannot remember any point of my life where I have not drawn or sketched.

How did you go from theater and fashion design to furniture and interiors, and how do these interests inform your work today?

As you mention, I trained as a professional actor as a child until I was 17, and later developed an interest in a career in fashion. I entered and won a competition at 17 called Young Designer of the Year and subsequently interned for Vivienne Westwood, who judged the competition. While studying at Central Saint Martins, I started offering decor advice to a number of independent bars and clubs, which soon became a small business. This was definitely a natural transition into design, and I launched my first furniture collection in 2007.

My theater background has had a subconscious influence on my work, especially when it comes to our exhibitions – I like to create an engaging and memorable experience for people. I have also always had an interest in fashion, even though I am no longer in that industry, and I like looking at what people are wearing and keeping up with new shows and collections – all of which inspire my product design.

What did you learn from Vivienne Westwood?

Vivienne Westwood was hugely influential, and told me to always do my own thing, which is a sentiment I have tried to stick with throughout my career. She also showed me how she was influenced by tailoring and pattern cutting from centuries past and how we can learn from techniques of the past and make them relevant for the modern day. I’ll always be incredibly grateful for the opportunity she gave me.

After partnering with Maki Aoki, you founded your own design studio in 2007. What was your path to success like? Who gave you your first design project, what was it and in which year, and what was your breakthrough project that earned you recognition from the design community?

My first major design project came along just after graduating. Maki Aoki, my friend and colleague from Central Saint Martins, and I were commissioned in 2000 to work on a nine-month-long project to design what would become the London bar Nylon. The project was nominated for The Evening Standard Bar of the Year Award, and we founded an interior design practice, Makilee Design, shortly after this, designing interiors for independent bars, clubs and restaurants in London. After four very successful years, Maki moved back to Japan, and I decided to launch a furniture and lighting brand under my own name in 2007.

How would you describe yourself as a designer, your design language and approach, your sources of inspiration and what do you hope to achieve at the end of the day?

I’m constantly inspired by everything around me, from fashion and design to history and art. I also love to travel and think that gaining a wider world view and experiencing different cultures is a great source of inspiration. My designs combine craft, heritage and modernity. I think they are at the same time unique and familiar; I reinterpret classic styles and traditional materials in new and contemporary ways, always with an unexpected edge. I design for longevity; I don’t follow trends. I design pieces that I hope people will love and live with for a lifetime. I think it is important and a responsibility as a designer to ensure that we do so.

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