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.”
If style is a sore subject for the up-and-coming interior designer Rafael de Cardenas, who bristles at the suggestion that he might have one, a therapist would likely lay the blame on his mother. A Polish-Swiss former fashion PR agent — who with his Cuban father moved the family to New York City when de Cardenas was six — she was constantly redecorating, stripping the house bare every time her tastes changed. “She’s into one thing carried throughout, she can’t mix and match,” says de Cardenas. “So once it’s something new, everything’s gotta go. There was an Armani Casa phase, and now it’s all Native American, with blankets and sand-covered vases from Taos. It scared me away from design to a degree.” After spending most of his childhood wanting to be a doctor, he eventually went to RISD to study fashion and painting, and ended up heading the menswear department at Calvin Klein for three years. But although he admits that interiors were something he never put any thought into back then, design began exerting its slow pull.
It's always seemed to me that being Donna Wilson is indeed as much fun as it looks. From her Aladdin’s cave of a studio in London’s Bethnal Green to her colorful, vintage fashion sense, Wilson actually does live and breathe her work. On the rainy November afternoon I visited her studio, which is filled floor-to-ceiling with bits and bobs of yarn, I asked what she might do if she had any spare time. She pondered: “I think I’d like to travel to Scandinavia and probably get a dog.” Which led into a discussion about the possibilities for a range of Scandinavian-style dog sweaters, as everything usually comes back to the knitting. Of course, though Wilson made her name creating woven poufs and rugs inspired by the Fair Isle sweaters of her youth in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, it’s not actually just about the knitting anymore but also about bone china, linens, melamine trays, totes, piggy banks, ceramic Staffordshire dogs, biscuits, packaging, furniture and more. At this point, there isn’t much that Wilson hasn’t turned her hand to.
As the youngest child of a Parisian architect — with three older brothers working in the same field — Victoria Wilmotte had one thing going for her when she started studying furniture design at London's RCA four years ago. But she also had a few handicaps: she was only 20 years old, she had just been rejected from Paris's ENSCI school, and her professor at RCA, Jurgen Bey, couldn't comprehend her strange working methods. Obsessed with materials and surfaces, she wanted to spend all her time in the workshop, skipping the thinking and brainstorming part and going directly to prototyping. "Jurgen Bey was really into concepts," says Wilmotte, now 24. "He was more about a table telling stories, but I only wanted to talk technically. He basically said, 'I don’t understand you. But continue.'"