Designer Lee Broom On Creating Cutting-edge Products With Classic Roots

The prolific designer’s products are primarily hand-crafted and champion traditional British craftsmanship.
by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle

Photo: Lee Broom

Lee Broom has an independent streak. Unlike other designers who collaborate with multiple big-name furniture manufacturers — a common practice in the industry — he assembles most of his creations at the Lee Broom factory in East London and sells them under his eponymous label.

From the beginning, the designer-entrepreneur has chosen to work for himself rather than for another brand. “Designing for my own brand gives me complete creative freedom and control,” he insists. “I love the ability it gives us to personally ensure every part of the design process is efficient, sustainable, and on the right track.”

Credit: Lee Broom wares champion traditional British craftsmanship.

Manufactured in the UK on a made-to-order basis, Broom’s products are primarily hand-crafted and champion traditional British craftsmanship. They push artisans to create something new. “As a designer, it gives me great pleasure to think that my work with these artisans helps them preserve their skills and knowledge,” he says. “It is important for designers at some point in their careers to collaborate with craftspeople, as such handmade manufacturing teaches designers the fundamentals of craftsmanship.”

Broom sources Carrara marble from Italy, crystal from the Czech Republic and hand-blown glass from Poland, sharing that these classic materials evoke a sense of familiarity in people. “They feel they have seen them before, but not quite in that way. In my work, there is often a sprinkling or a heavy dose of the past, depending on my mood. The materiality is so important.”

Influenced by Vienne Westwood

Credit: Broom integrates classical references in his designs, something he learned from famed fashion designer Vienne Westwood.

Born in Birmingham in 1976, Broom acted in TV and theatre as a child 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 with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and studied at Central Saint Martins in London.

“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,” he says. “She also showed me how she was influenced by tailoring and pattern-cutting from past centuries, and how we can learn from these techniques and make them relevant for the modern day.”

Stumbled into interior design by accident

Credit: Brutalist design meets cathedral lighting in the Vesper pendant lamps.

Broom became an interior designer by accident when he offered decor advice to bar and restaurant owners to support himself in his final year of university. “Although I spent my childhood acting and later trained for a career in fashion, I have always loved design and I cannot remember any point of my life when I have not drawn or sketched.”

Soon after graduating, he was tapped to design what would later become the London bar Nylon, which earned him recognition from the creative community and a string of commissions. In 2003, he and former classmate Maki Aoki, who helped set up Nylon, founded Makilee Design to create bars, clubs and restaurants across London. When Aoki returned to Japan, Broom shifted from interiors to furniture and lighting and launched his line of antiques contoured with neon lighting.

Even as a young designer, he was a great storyteller, someone with a remarkable imagination. Christian Louboutin, Shoe Designer

Creating over 100 pieces of furniture, lighting and accessories

Credit: The Hail suspension lamps were based on the idea of rays of light and shadow.

Since establishing his company in 2007, Broom has created over 100 pieces of furniture, lighting, and accessories, while occasionally partnering with brands as varied as cognac producer Rémy Martin, porcelain manufacturer Wedgwood, and shoemaker Christian Louboutin.

“What drew me to Lee’s work when I first noticed him about a decade ago was that, even as a young designer, he was a great storyteller, someone with a remarkable imagination,” recalls Christian Louboutin in the 2022 book Fashioning Design: Lee Broom. “I immediately liked Lee’s energy and asked him to design my store at Harrods, which opened in 2013. It is always a pleasure to work with creative minds with a great spirit and a good sense of humour.”

Credit: Pantheum surface lights, inspired by the ceiling of Rome’s temples. (Photo: Lee Broom)

Broom’s fame grew with his award-winning Crystal Bulb in 2012. The idea of hand-cutting an incandescent light with crystal patterns found on traditional whisky glasses came to him in a dream. Crystal Bulb has since become his signature product, with over 30,000 sold to date. Today, it is part of the London Design Museum’s permanent collection.

“I wanted to create something that was more affordable than my usual pieces yet didn’t compromise on quality or craftsmanship,” he explains. “I think we achieved that. Crystal Bulb is the most affordable product in our range, but the most expensive light bulb you will probably ever buy.”

In Singapore, it retails at $365 at Space Furniture. Broom’s Crescent Light offers another surprising combination of elements, in which an Art Deco-style globe is sliced asymmetrically to reveal a brass fascia.

Return to interior design

Credit: Broom’s symmetrical design has a knack of resembling holy objects, here a halo. (Photo: Lee Broom)

Globally renowned for his geometrical lighting fixtures, Broom in 2021 returned to interior design — which he had paused in 2015 to focus on creating lights and furniture — to spruce up his home in New York City. He renovated its 19th-century edifice with reclaimed or restored materials.

Today, the 3,000-sq-ft duplex apartment in Tribeca is a showcase of his designs in a residential setting. When guests book an appointment, they will be able to see The Penthouse Collection, which features sofa, tables, chairs, and candlesticks in a symmetrical style inspired by the apartment’s interiors and surrounding architecture.

Last year, the brand celebrated its 15th anniversary with the launch of a limited-edition lamp series called Requiem. Broom created the fixtures by draping plaster-dipped fabrics through and around illuminated rings or spheres. Once dried, the cloth gives the sculpture the appearance of weightlessness and fluidity.

At once unique and familiar, Broom’s designs are the trifecta of craft, heritage, and modernity. “I reinterpret classic styles and traditional materials in new and contemporary ways — and always with an unexpected edge,” he says. “I design for longevity. I don’t follow trends. I design pieces I hope people will love and live with for a lifetime.”

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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