Cubitts’ Tom Broughton: ‘My obsession with Isokon furniture is dangerous’
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My personal style signifiers are my spectacles. I’ve been wearing glasses since school, when I had these terrible black rectangular frames. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I invested in a pair of Cutler and Gross 692s. They were the most expensive thing I’d ever bought and made me realise the power of glasses to transform and define your appearance. It sent me down a rabbit hole, and I spent years buying up old frames from car-boot fairs. Now I tend to switch between a bespoke Cubitts 1970s style and a super-light titanium prototype we’re trialling in an effort to create the perfect frame for exercising.
The last thing I bought and loved was a 1920s Richard Döcker chrome and opaline globe floor lamp. I live in the penthouse of the Isokon building in Belsize Park, a Grade I-listed modernist masterpiece by architect Wells Coates. Two of its founders, Jack and Molly Pritchard, lived in this apartment from 1934 to the mid-1970s, so before anything passes through the doors I ask myself: “Is this Isokon worthy?” Everything is of the period, and I’ve spent years trying to find a lamp that’s suitably Bauhaus – I eventually found this one on a Swedish auction site.
And on my wishlist is a muted turquoise version of a 1930s vase by Gunnar Nylund – part hedgehog, part floral receptacle – to add to a pair I already have. The founders of the Isokon building were hugely influenced by the ideals of Scandinavian design, so they work really well here. The glass is delicate and often damaged, so it can take time to find the right one.
The best gift I’ve given recently is an artist’s proof by David Shrigley: Untitled (Dog), 2021. I’ve got to know him quite well after we collaborated on a design for a glasses cleaning cloth. We regularly go to watch Nottingham Forest football matches together. He’s so creatively consistent. I’ve loved his work since the 1990s, and it continues to cut to the core of the contradictions of the human condition.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a hand-knitted woollen jumper. It’s deep blue-green and absolutely glorious. My mother made it for me as a present for my 40th birthday – she’d never knitted anything before and taught herself for months. It reminds me of the crazy, chunky 1980s knits I’d wear as a child. I genuinely love it and wear it all the time.
A recent “find” is O Tino. It’s a tiny, traditional family-run Portuguese restaurant in Camden. There’s cheap beer, amazing clams with rice and they have the football playing on a television in the corner. It reminds me why I love London – I’ve lived here for 20 years and had never noticed it until very recently. Now I’m a Saturday regular.
My style icon is Michael Caine. Watching him wearing those amazing library frames in the 1965 espionage thriller, The Ipcress File, when I was about 16, transformed my perception of glasses. He wore them so confidently.
The place I can’t wait to go back to is Cape Verde. It represents pure escapism for me. I have memories of drinking grog and eating red snapper, lobster and crustaceans on the beach with the local fishermen. It’s a fascinating country with a vibrant, close-knit community, incredible Portuguese architecture – and a wild carnival.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is an injection-plastic kiosk toy from Tokyo. I found it in a vending machine in Shibuya. It’s very weird but I love it.
I have a collection of Mexican bathroom furniture, from cisterns to mirrors to an entire sink that I picked up at Tonala Market just outside Guadalajara. It’s all in this ridiculously exuberant style, with depictions of desert sunsets and sombreros. Depending on your perspective, they’re either unbelievably gaudy or amazing.
In my fridge you’ll always find copious amounts of chutney – from Geeta’s mango to homemade varieties. I made a batch using the excessive amount of tomatoes I’d grown on my terrace. It’s a sad reflection of my life as a 40-year-old bachelor. My kitchen is minuscule – there’s no freezer and a tiny fridge, which makes cooking a challenge. But in the summer, I like to go to Bourne’s fishmongers or Barrett’s butchers in Belsize Park to buy something fresh to cook with spring vegetables on the barbecue.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed by James Fenton. It’s a beautiful clothbound book that’s a poetic exploration of seeds. I read it in one sitting, which I rarely do with a book. It made me realise what an infinite source of life seeds really are. I’d been trying to cultivate a garden on my terrace and everything would just die. This book gave me permission to play around more – growing seeds involves constantly messing up and, like any creative pursuit, the fun is in the doing.
The podcast I’m listening to is WNYC’s Radiolab, which delves into a range of different topics – from eels to wombs to grief – but always with a human angle. It takes you on a proper emotional journey. I listen to podcasts for a few hours every day while I walk to and from the office. I like the fact that they have this ambient quality that makes you feel as though you’re absorbing information by osmosis.
The last music I downloaded was James Blake’s album Friends That Break Your Heart. I usually just go wherever the Spotify algorithm takes me – I’m like a rat in a maze being fed opium. This is the first time in months I’ve consciously clicked on an album and played it from start to finish. It’s classic Blake – full of distorted harmonies, voices and samples. Though he might not see himself this way, I consider him a really great folk musician.
The gadgets I couldn’t do without are an electric bike and scooter-sharing services like Lime and Jump. Most days I’m scrabbling about trying to find one that’s got a full battery. They’re such fun – it’s like your own personal Pegasus.
An indulgence I would never forgo is Isokon plywood furniture from 1934-39. Every piece of furniture in my flat apart from my bed frame is made from plywood. The Isokon founder Jack Pritchard was a plywood salesman, and he wanted the building to be a homage to the material. I have a stained ash, plywood and brass tea trolley from 1937-8 by Gerald Summers, co-founder of Makers of Simple Furniture in London; a trio of nesting tables by the Hungarian modernist Marcel Breuer; an Alvar Aalto dining table; and a pair of Penguin Donkey bookshelves. Isokon plywood has become incredibly rare, which makes it a dangerous obsession.
The grooming staple I’m never without is my M&S Moisturising and Strengthening Shampoo. Friends are always giving me fancy creams and fragrances, but they just sit unopened in the bathroom cupboard. That said, I have just tried an apothecary brand called Anatomē – its Recovery + Sleep Blue Chamomile Essential Oil puts me out like a light, so I’m willing to be converted. £38 for 30ml, anatome.co
An object I would never part with is a sculpture of a reclining female figure by the artist Rosa Serra. I found it in a shop in the backstreets of a Catalonian town called Vic, not far from Barcelona. It sits on the windowsill at the far end of my dining-room table. It’s the first thing I look at every morning and it helps to anchor my day. I’d wanted to live in this building for 20 years, and it represents this moment of becoming the custodian of my dream flat in my dream building. While I’m here, she’s here.
My favourite room in my house is my bedroom, even though it’s absolutely teeny. When the place was designed, they put all the space into the communal areas. Everything is plywood, so it feels like being in a ship’s cabin. From my bed I can see the birds and squirrels outside in Belsize Wood. When the rain comes down, it just reverberates off the building’s flat roof – it’s therapeutic.
My wellbeing guru is personal trainer Ed Conway of Fit As F-ck. Every week we go out to Highbury Fields – he manages to work me hard and make me feel just bad enough about myself to keep going. fitasf-ck.com
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Barbara Hepworth. I find the fact that she managed to apply such a consistent visual aesthetic to so many mediums – from painting to public sculpture – hugely inspiring. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Isokon building became a melting pot for Hampstead intellectuals and artists – Hepworth and the artist Ben Nicholson used to spend time here. So there’d be a certain synchronicity to having a Hepworth in my flat.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be an architect. I’d always dreamt about it and I spent my school years drawing sketches of houses. It’s such an interesting mix of psychology, engineering and maths, combined with pure creativity. I find it captivating that you can guide and enhance the way people live through design.
I’ve recently discovered Bundobust in Leeds, where we’ve opened a store. This Indian street-food restaurant is very low-key and serves incredible dishes like vada pav and chole saag – and a decent craft beer. bundobust.com
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was not something new but something revisited – an old favourite cord jacket from Albam, which I’ve had for years. Putting it back on reminded me how much I love the brand and how well it endures, and as a result we are now working together on a clothing collection.
My favourite website is Skyscanner. I love the fact that you can search everywhere at once, and go from having no idea where to go to the specifics of flight costs and times in a matter of seconds. Carbon footprint aside, just browsing to see where I could travel next is so much fun.