Up and Coming
Lee Broom, Furniture and Interior Designer

Growing up in Birmingham, England, Lee Broom had dreams of becoming an actor. So it doesn’t come as a shock to learn that his first proper job was in the office of Vivienne Westwood, the dramatic doyenne of women’s fashion. What’s surprising is how he got there — at age 17, no less: “I was in theater school at the time, and I was into design as a hobby,” explains Broom. “Somehow I decided to enter a fashion design competition judged by Vivienne Westwood, and I won. At the event, I asked Vivienne for her autograph; she wrote her phone number instead and asked if I wanted to spend a couple of days at her studio. I hopped on a train to London and literally spent two days, just Vivienne and myself in her office, while she talked me through her work. I showed her a portfolio of around 100 outfits I had designed, and she said I could stay on as an intern. I ended up being there for seven months.”

Broom’s career since then — though wildly divergent from both of those original paths — has been full of moments like these, where by some alchemic mixture of doggedness, talent, and sheer pluck, he has managed to end up in the exact right place at the right time, sending his career spinning into another unplanned yet deeply satisfying trajectory. While studying fashion at Central Saint Martins College, for example, he would often hang around a Notting Hill bar, finally one day convincing the owners that he could do a bit of pick-up work around the bar to earn some extra cash — hanging drapes, gold-leafing walls, what he calls “arts-and-crafts type stuff.” Soon enough, the jobs got bigger and bigger, and in his final year at university, the owners asked Broom to design the space for Nylon, a City of London bar they’d recently taken over. “It was a small budget of about £50,000,” Broom says. “I came up with two schemes — one very basic, using paint effects and vintage furniture, and another more elaborate, with booth seating and custom furniture.” The latter proved so appealing that the owners found new investors and presented Broom, at the tender age of 26, with a £750,000 budget to gut renovate the place. It was then that the phone started ringing.

The furniture, though — which is what Broom has come to be known for since launching his first full line in 2007 — came about in a much more organic fashion. “I was always designing some bespoke piece for my interiors,” says Broom, and even now, he’ll often specify pieces from his own collections for a job. All of which makes sense considering how often that old theatricality pops up in his designs: Louis XIV-style chairs made glam with neon-tube perimeters, decorative cornicing turned into a texture for sideboards and consoles, and vintage lead-crystal decanters, polished gold and hung with glittering bulbs, perfect for dangling above a crowd of revelers. “Most of my interiors are about some kind of escape, so I like for them to have a bit of drama,” says Broom. “That usually requires some kind of trompe l’oeil or other type of magic.”

There’s no faking, however, the type of success that has suddenly befallen Broom, who kicked off the year by winning two separate Elle Decoration British Design Awards — Best British Design for his Carpetry Sideboard and Best New Interior for his Coquine Bar in West London. The fact that he won in two different categories doesn’t seem strange at all to Broom. “I’m a designer first and foremost, so whether it’s fashion or furniture or interiors, it’s the same process. It’s about research, and materials, and how something gets put together. To me, the boundaries are quite blurred. If someone were to say to me now, ‘Lee I’d like you to design a car,’ I wouldn’t freak out and think, no, that’s not me. It would be ok, right. I’m going to find out how to do that.”

Items you keep around your studio or home for inspiration: “Books — lots of oversized books with fantastic imagery, from art to photography to fashion. I built a large bookshelf in my home specifically for these types of coffee table books. Anything smaller than A4 gets thrown off the shelf.”

First thing you ever made: “It was during my foundation at college, and it was a mirror. I took a regular mirror with a plain frame, dipped fabric into plaster, and then draped it around the frame. Once it set I covered it in gold leaf. I did about 10 of them and sold them in Portobello Market.”

Thing you love most about London: “I’m very passionate about living in London and always have been since I moved here. It’s cosmopolitan yet very British at the same time. I adore the traditional aspects of London, but I also love the fact we’re a modern and tolerant city, which is the most important thing.”

Thing you hate most about it: “The weather, without question. Quality of life would most certainly improve if London had decent weather.”

Carpetry Sideboard

What inspired your Carpetry Sideboard? "I had been obsessed with Persian rugs and the relationship the West has with them — here they’re often used in stately homes and palaces. I decided to create my own homage to this, and I made a carpet that appears to be quite Persian from a distance, but on closer inspection you see it has very British details woven in, such as the Tudor rose and the Crown Jewels. I also wanted to use traditional British manufacturing techniques, so when weaving the carpet, we used a Wilton loom, which is very rare these days. From there, the idea was to transform the carpet into a piece of furniture rather than a floor covering, so I developed it into a sideboard; when it's closed it’s almost like a floating carpet, and when it’s open, the pattern literally comes alive. It’s one of my favorite pieces."

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What inspires your work in general? "I live in London and work in East London, which is a very creative area. London has a really strong street culture so you only have to step outside of the studio to get inspired." Pictured: Street art on the wall opposite Broom's studio and showroom in Shoreditch.

Lee broom CSM collection jpg

"I also studied fashion at Central Saint Martins and worked at Vivienne Westwood, so fashion is still a big inspiration for me. It’s a really fast-paced industry that changes constantly, which is probably why I tend to experiment with different styles and techniques for my products so often." Pictured: A photograph from Broom's Central Saint Martins graduate collection.

horst

Design or art hero: “I have a great love for photography, and I was massively inspired by the work of fashion photographer Horst P Horst when I was a teenager. I love the styling, the surrealism, and the tone of his work. His images were very contrived, and I love that about that era. Ironically, one of my photographers is also called Horst (Friedrichs)! He's very well-known and also takes beautiful portraits.”

hongkong

Place you go to be inspired: “I recently visited Hong Kong for an exhibition of my work, which was held at Lane Crawford. Not only are the people wonderful, but also the cityscape is breathtaking. The scale of the architecture is incredible, and the way the city is illuminated is genius. I came away full of ideas.”

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Style movement you most identify with: “I love Art Deco, especially at the moment. For me, that era defines a wonderful balance between the modern and the traditional. The lacquered woods, the marquetry, and the reflective surfaces were stunning. I really tapped into this period for my lighting collection One Light Only, which has a really prominent Deco feel.”

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Strangest design ritual: “I always draw by hand first and produce lots and lots of sketches for product ideas. But around every fourth or fifth sketch I’ll design an item of clothing or a complete outfit just to break up the monotony.”

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Favorite material to work with: “The thrill for me is experimenting with different materials. Once I’ve mastered one material I’m very keen to move onto another, which can make life a bit challenging. I did enjoy working with neon for my first collection. When you work with light, the end result is always so pleasing. I’m attracted to things that shine or glow — it’s the magpie in me.”

fiam

Piece you wish you’d made: “The glass Ghost Chair by Fiam Italia — so simple yet so affective. Knowing how tricky glass can be to work with, I admire how they managed to create this form. It’s also a very classic piece that aesthetically will stand the test of time. It’s a work of art but still very functional.”

shoom

Favorite design object: “Nigel Coates’s Big Shoom Bowl for Alessi. I absolutely love this object, not only for its beauty and simplicity but also for its versatility. It just looks wonderful wherever you place it, which is the mark of a great piece of design.”

holly_golightly

Fictional character who would own your work: “Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She’s an eccentric character with impeccable taste, and she did have that bath cut in half and turned into a seat, so she clearly likes something a bit different.”

margiela

Last great exhibition you saw: “The Martin Margiela 20 exhibition at Somerset House in London. I’ve not been so impressed by an exhibition for years. Although I was very much aware of his work, it had somehow skipped me by, so seeing this exhibition was like finding an old friend. His work is so innovative yet so familiar at the same time.”

Liberty_department_store_London

Favorite shop: “Liberty in London. It has such a great heritage but has managed to stay current without losing its traditional values. It’s a wonderful building, and it’s a pleasure just to walk around and soak in the atmosphere. I have some products on the 4th floor, which is probably one of the best furniture departments around.”

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Last thing you bought on eBay: “Vintage drinks decanters. That’s the only thing I buy on eBay — in fact I have a whole team on it! This year I released a lighting product called the Decanterlight, which is a light fitting made from vintage crystal drinks decanters. We also scour flea markets and antique fairs and have decanter men that we meet every week on street corners of London with their latest batch. It’s all very seedy really.”

coquine

What a stranger who saw your work for the first time would say: “How much?" jokes Broom. The Decanterlights, however — which made their debut last year at Coquine, the West London bar pictured above whose interior won Broom his second British Design Award — debuted last spring as a retail product with a price point that's a bit more accessible than the design-as-investment pieces Broom had previously been known for.

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Right now, Lee Broom is: "Finishing up the launch of my first store, inside London's The Shop at Bluebird!"