Tom Dixon is one of those extraordinary, modern creative spirits who defies pigeonholing. One day he is poring over the plans for an exciting new architectural project in Tokyo - the headquarters of a fashion brand - the next day he will be attending to a new furniture range for Finland's Artek, for which he is creative director, and the day after that, he will visit a factory to discuss the finer points of injection moulding with an engineer preparing to mass produce a new line of lighting. Dixon has an uninhibited approach to design, which means he constantly has his fingers in several pies. 'It's because I get bored easily,' he claims. He may be one of the hottest names in contemporary design but Dixon is happiest when he has the sleeves of his pinstripe jacket rolled up and is getting his hands dirty. He has had to adjust to the corporate world in his role as creative director at furniture retailer Habitat while overseeing his consultancy from an ascetic, white design studio near London's Chancery Lane, but he says, 'The best times have been in the factories, seeing how things are made, and it is that end of things that often inspires me. My big interest is in how to make things and what can be made with some materials.' Out of his fascination with materials - both new and traditional - and the mass manufacturing process have come such revolutionary developments as the Jack Light, which is based on children's jumping jacks and was launched in the early 1990s, and the Fresh Fat Chair, a funky glass-like (but unbreakable) chair woven from Provista, a recyclable extruded plastic that is hand-moulded into shape. The chair is currently on sale at Lane Crawford. Dixon's hands-on approach dates back to the first pieces of metal he welded together while mending his motorbike as a youth. 'I had no intention of making things but I was fascinated by the process and so just began making pieces of furniture.' In addition to being a craftsman, Dixon is a great believer in mass production, which explains why, in 1998, he took on his role at Habitat, the British high-street homeware chain that was conceived by restaurateur Sir Terence Conran and is now owned by Ikea. At the time, bringing a maverick such as Dixon into the corporate fold was considered controversial. 'I was confronted with a vast range of concepts I did not know much about, such as forward ordering or kids' stuff. It was a rollercoaster ride into all sorts of new areas and I was quite naive about corporate life.' He was the full-time creative director at Habitat for six years, completely revamping the image of the brand. Now he works from his own studio, where he has the freedom to explore other projects: designing a Paris shop interior for French jeweller Marie Helene de Taillac; producing a large lighting installation for a new hotel in Ireland for Philip Treacy, the flamboyant milliner-cum-interior designer; or creating bespoke furniture and fittings for restaurants. However, in his role at Habitat, Dixon set out to re-establish some of the original Conran ideals of 'functional design at affordable prices' while introducing some of his own influences, bringing in other leading designers to work on household essentials such as a new coat stand, a coffee machine and a classier-looking ironing board; items that would appeal to young homeowners in Europe. Surprisingly, Dixon, one of the most influential and enterprising minds in modern commercial design, is self-taught. 'It is a reasonably British trait to be an enthusiastic amateur and I grew up when punk was happening and we didn't care what others thought - we just got on with it. When I travel in Asia, I see people who feel they need to be legitimised by years of study or parental approval. I didn't need that.' Born in Sfax, Tunisia in 1959, he moved with his English father and French/Latvian mother to England when he was four. Having not spoken English before and eaten only French food prepared by his mother, the move came as a culture shock to the young boy. When he left comprehensive school in London's Holland Park, he began a foundation art course at the Chelsea College of Art and Design but was forced to drop out after six months because of a motorbike accident. (His CV is littered with projects terminated by bike accidents). Dixon was more interested in becoming a musician than a designer and, as bass guitarist, recorded an album with Funkapolitan in Jimmy Hendrix's studio in New York. After another motorbike accident he began promoting clubs and organising warehouse raves. Messing around in the garage with do-it-yourself bike repairs piqued his interest in welding and using recycled materials and industrial scrap to make things, which he started to sell. He designed and crafted industrialised artefacts and was one of the first to work with rotation-moulded plastics, which meant his designs could be produced more cheaply without losing any style. He became one of the most talked about avant-garde designers of the 80s, experimenting with new materials and applying industrial solutions to high-end design. Among his earliest successes was the 'S' chair, an iconic design that has a permanent place in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The chair, woven with recycled rubber inner tubes and then covered with rush, a material traditionally used for drop-in seats, was stretched onto a sculptural S-shaped legless form. The design was so revolutionary it attracted interest from Cappellini, a progressive Italian manufacturer who believed new ideas added value to whatever they were making. Cappellini put the chair into production. Dixon disliked the (former prime minister Margaret) Thatcher years in Britain and the lack of support for design during the era. 'The [current Prime Minister Tony] Blair government started off being quite active, but I think the [loss-making Millennium] Dome fiasco put them off. The lottery support for architecture, though, is making them active again.' In Britain, 28 per cent of proceeds from the National Lottery is spent on what operator Camelot calls 'good causes'. Britain's changing tastes in furniture are also having a positive effect and Dixon reckons it is easier to be a designer nowadays. 'I am grateful to the 'S' chair for introducing me to Italian industry and opening my eyes to the possibility of design, which, until then, was self-propelled,' says Dixon. 'There was not a lot of opportunity in 80s Britain, whereas Italian manufacturers appreciated and understood design and what it can do.' The 'S' chair was a symbolic piece of furniture he explains. 'Furniture is a framework. Although I am also interested in art and sculpture, I like things to have a sense of purpose and functionality.' There is a bold linear feel to his designs, which have sharp angles, spheres and curves in the silhouettes he creates. He is a modernist and a purist in his use of shape and materials and is not afraid of using colour to make a statement. He doesn't like fuss (which gets in the way of mass production, anyway) and tends to make the shapes decorative - exemplified by his bird-wing shaped lounger - rather than add any extra surface detail. 'A kind friend once described me as a 'vertebrate designer'. That means I design from the bones outwards and am not really interested in surface.' Dixon is not the kind of man who sits at a desk doodling on a sketchpad; he designs on the move. He believes the more you get out and about to see new ideas and work with manufacturers, the better. 'I don't think having ideas is my problem, it is carrying them out that's the problem - you do come to depend on the people around you. My ideas tend to be reasonably simple and I've put together a structure to put them together here in my studio, but,' he laments, 'there is not enough quiet time to sit down and create things or work on prototypes.' One of his most influential concepts is Fresh Fat Plastic, which was born in 2001 as an experiment in future retailing. 'The idea was that people could influence the nature of objects,' says Dixon. 'We had been talking about the future of manufacturing and retail and the day when we could see a move from high street to warehouse - the move from Habitat in the high street to Ikea in the warehouse. The next logical step was to move from warehouse to factory and to move the factory to the client, so people could design the products they use.' The process was demonstrated at Selfridges department store in London. A plastic extrusion machine was set up and items were made to customers' specifications, and sold to them still warm from the process. Out of this concept came items such as the Fresh Fat Chair and a coffee table, which are now available at Lane Crawford. Where Dixon goes next is difficult to predict; he is a man drawn to many fields of creativity and thinks the whole concept of just working in a small industrial design ghetto is far too limiting. 'I would like to do vehicle design, film, graphics and publishing. I like to get more involved in other fields; the more interested I am the better.'