Best way to get around the narrow streets and hidden laneways in Milan – is to bring your own urban transport…
“It’s not any desire for speed, just mobility… Traffic…is really terrible, and this allows me to get around much more freely. I can get to twice as many appointments as non-bike-riding designers.” — Tom Dixon
NY TImes May 20, 2007 / Written by David Colman
Is anything really an accident?
In the 30 years he has been riding a motorcycle, he has had eight accidents and has broken limbs three times. Asked what he had learned from the smashups, he answered: “Nothing really. Maybe to pay more attention?”
Or maybe not. In their way, the motorcycles he has driven — or at least the accidents they ended up in — have steered his career in unforeseen ways. The first accident came at 18, when he had been in art school only six months. “I fell off and broke my leg,” he said. “And I never went back, which as it turned out was a good thing, I think.”
But he got right back on the motorbike. A few years down the road, when he was playing bass in a band, he cracked up again, this time breaking his arm. “We were about to go on tour,” he recalled. That was the end of that. “That’s how I got into design.”
Not everyone would long for a guardian angel who constantly threatens life and limb. And for the record, Mr. Dixon does not stick with his preferred form of transport for the career guidance it has rendered. Still, the bike he has been riding for about 15 years, a 1978 Moto Guzzi California, is an object lesson of sorts.
As the head of design for the Habitat furnishings chain from 1998 to 2004, Mr. Dixon honed a flair for modern yet basic objects that possess a practicality missing from much high design. (He was also one of the design minds who curated Phaidon Press’s contemporary-design compendium “& Fork,” the companion to its best-selling 2002 design tome “Spoon.”) As he explains it, his passion for his motorcycle is more prosaic than romantic.
“It’s not any desire for speed, just mobility,” he said. “Traffic in London is really terrible, and this allows me to get around much more freely. I can get to twice as many appointments as non-bike-riding designers.”
He added that the bike is a useful city-scanning device: “If I was traveling by underground, I’d be passing underneath it all. This way I can be much more reactive. I can make a detour, pick up a friend, stop in at a gallery. I have so much more flexibility than most people.”
Though the Italian-made Moto Guzzi is good-looking, its appeal is in its simplicity. It was designed to be a reliable touring cycle that needs little maintenance and is easy to repair, a reputation Mr. Dixon said it lives up to. “I could be interested in a bike as a piece of art, but I wouldn’t stick one in the Guggenheim,” he said, referring to the museum’s controversial 1998 motorcycle show. “It’s a greasy bit of engineering, not a polished piece of sculpture.”
The example the motorcycle sets as he darts in and out of London’s nasty traffic is echoed in Mr. Dixon’s desire to find not only new ways to design but also better ways to get design to people. At Habitat, he oversaw packaging designs to make the fulfillment processes easier. And he recently gave away 500 inexpensively produced chairs in Trafalgar Square, a promotional ploy more common to DVD marketers than furniture makers.
In other words, he likes to get everywhere faster. That fact is underscored by the tour he is taking to build up his American business, starting with this weekend’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, after which he will travel to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. For all the romance of riding a motorcycle around the country, Mr. Dixon is nothing if not pragmatic. He’ll be flying.