Given the sheer breadth and volume of Tom Dixon’s back catalogue, you’d be forgiven for assuming that his lengthy CV would list some impressive design qualifications. In fact, the only formal certificate held by the British design polymath is a single A level – in pottery. ‘It’s an A grade, but that’s my only A level,’ he says. ‘It still fascinates me, the way a bit of grey and greasy earth can transform into something so white, clean and shiny.’
Clearly the lack of official diplomas has had zero bearing on Dixon’s success, but this early interest in ceramics is one of the drivers behind his new collaboration with bathroom manufacturer VitrA.
Having only ‘dabbled’ with the material during his creative director role at Habitat, he was keen to work with design director Erdem Akan and his team. The result is ‘Liquid’, a complete range of sanitaryware, brassware, tiles, accessories and furniture (the collection includes a ceramic stool that bridges the now narrow live/bathe gap) that can be used in both residential and commercial settings.
‘One thing I asked was how can you make it simple for people to specify a really great bathroom? It’s actually a difficult thing to do,’ explains Dixon. ‘Why should you go to separate tile and tap shops when it’s all for one space? I’m intrigued by why tradition dictates things are done a certain way, and I wanted to do it differently. Few manufacturers have the facility or the vision to do a full collection, so having access to VitrA’s manufacturing capacity for ceramics, taps and showers alongside design and research expertise made it a lot more straightforward.’
Inspiration for the collection came from sources as diverse as Jeff Koons and Claes Oldenburg’s pop art, Barbara Hepworth sculptures and the work of Isamu Noguchi, as well as the robustness of Victorian bathrooms.
‘I like their permanence, with their big chunky taps and fat tubes,’ he says. ‘They feel civic. It’s an aesthetic connected to a whole tradition of British engineering and the hygiene infrastructure that influenced the development of the bathroom. I’ve always been drawn to the heavy sculpted quality of vessels associated with ritual too, like the font in a church or the Roman bath – big marble containers for dipping yourself in.’
This idea of solidity and permanence is a clear aesthetic throughout the generous, round-edged collection, that manages to look fresh but at the same time classic. ‘It’s quite blobby, almost cartoony, and it’s comfortable,’ he says. ‘The art is to create something contemporary without being of the moment. These products will go into a house and they’ll stay for 20 years or more. They need to feel like they’ve always been there, but also to live in the modern world – that’s the balancing act.’ vitra.co.uk