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Lee Broom: The Design Ambassador

Broom describes his furniture designs as a “desire to be more creative with furniture than is normally possible in the bar industry”, with limited edition designs that are very handcrafted and expensive to produce.

Wednesday, 26.05.2010
17:15 (Cet)

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Three years after launching his first furniture collection, Lee Broom is already garnering the acclaim most designers spend many years attempting to achieve. His designs are sold in New York, Paris, London and the Middle East, have been exhibited by Boffi at the Milan Furniture Fair, featured in publications such as Wallpaper* Magazine and Sunday Times Style and described as ‘Fantastic’ by the New York Times, ‘Dazzling’ by the World of Interiors and ‘Best in Show’ by the Observer Magazine. His fans, meanwhile, include Kanye West and Matthew Williamson.  His rapid success is even more striking given his unconventional route into design.

As a child, Broom was apparently destined for a life in the theatre. Born in Birmingham in 1975 and enrolled in theatre school by his parents at the age of 7, he quickly showed a talent for the stage, appearing in TV shows and films and West End Shows. By the age of 16 he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At the age of 17, Lee won a fashion design competition organized by The Clothes Show. The prize involved spending several days with Vivienne Westwood in her studio. Broom’s enthusiasm earned him a six month internship with Westwood where he went to Paris to assist with her runway shows. Enthralled by the experience of working with one of the most iconic figures in fashion, Broom called a halt on what had effectively been a 10 year career in theatre, to study women’s fashion at Central St Martin’s.

While at St Martin’s, Broom met fellow student Maki Aoki, and together they subsidized their degree with bar consultancy work. “It was hardly planned,” Broom laughs. “We’d be going to independent bars who’d ask us to create-black out curtains for after-hours parties, and then we’d start doing drapes and that very rapidly evolved into a styling service.”

After graduating with a first for his final collection, Broom still had intentions of starting a fashion label, but was approached to come up with ideas for Nylon, the legendary London bar. In the end, Broom’s concepts became the subject of a three quarter million pound refurbishment and Broom’s future in bar design was set.

With a loan from the Princes Trust, Broom and Aoki set up a formal bar design consultancy, Makilee, which has created over 30 venues and won 10 industry awards. Aoki returned to her native Japan in 2006 but Broom successfully continues the business under his own name and he has been voted the 13th most influential person in the bar industry in Theme magazine’s Top 100 for 2009.  The success of his designs for venues such as Lost Society in Clapham and The Valmont Club in Chelsea led to commissions for the Executive Boxes at both Wembley and the Emirates Stadium, as well as Roman Abramovich’s box at Chelsea, all of which he created bespoke furniture for.  

“From here it was a natural progression into furniture design,” Broom explains, and in 2007 he launched his first collection, called ‘Neo Neon’, during the London Design Festival at the Brick Lane Gallery. This collection was followed by ‘Rough Diamond’, launched in 2008 and ‘Heritage Boy’ in 2009 also launched during the London Design Festival.

Broom describes his furniture designs as a “desire to be more creative with furniture than is normally possible in the bar industry”, with limited edition designs that are very handcrafted and expensive to produce. While his first two collections featured dramatic contrasts between old and new, such as his ‘Luminaire Bergère’ – a one-off item featuring an old armchair discovered in a flea market in Paris, with its stuffing falling out, “like a ghost,” which was subsequently framed with a strip of neon lighting – with Broom’s Heritage Boy collection everything was produced from scratch. Working with traditional manufacturers in the UK, Broom experimented with British design history and manufacturing to create objects that are utterly contemporary and of our time.

While Broom continues to create interiors for the entertainment industry, he is also expanding his furniture design work, and will continue to launch new collections at the London Design Festival. “If I can give the London Design Festival something of the drama that Alexander McQueen brought to fashion week, then I’d be really pleased!” Broom has been picked by judges to be included in the top ten people to watch in art and design in Courvoisier’s Future 500 list for 2009, in partnership with The Observer and was recently made an ambassador for the brand.

While Broom’s journey may seem to have gone through many disparate phases, they are more unified than they might initially appear. As Broom points out, anyone involved in fashion design is closely attuned to the cultural pulse of a city, and designing bars and anticipating clubber’s desires is no different. Similarly, any training within a creative discipline involves principles that apply to other creative realms. Even his theatre background contributes to his work; “making an impact is second nature to me,” Broom explains. “Theatre is embedded in me, it’s not something I consciously think about or have a need to reference.”

It is possibly Broom’s sense that “everything is related”, that allows him to bring such fresh thinking to the design world, and to create striking objects so in tune with our times.

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