Her­itage Tim­bre

From a ten­ta­tive start in his fa­ther’s an­tiques store, Ti­mothy Oul­ton has es­tab­lished a global net­work of stores sell­ing hand­crafted, vin­tage-in­spired fur­ni­ture. The Bri­tish de­signer talks to Rose Kaye about qual­ity, her­itage and yel­low sub­marines

Hong Kong Tatler Homes - - FRONT PAGE -

From a ten­ta­tive start in his fa­ther’s an­tiques store, Ti­mothy Oul­ton has es­tab­lished a global net­work of stores sell­ing hand­crafted, vin­tagein­spired fur­ni­ture

The fur­ni­ture and in­te­ri­ors brand Ti­mothy Oul­ton is au­then­tic, mas­cu­line, dis­tinctly Bri­tish and packed with play­ful char­ac­ter. It’s an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of its epony­mous owner­—in per­son the Man­cu­nian seems sear­ingly hon­est, loves a laugh and has per­son­al­ity to spare.

Oul­ton cut his teeth in his fa­ther’s an­tiques store, where he came to love her­itage fur­ni­ture but also recog­nised its lim­i­ta­tions in the mar­ket. When he took the helm of the com­pany in 1990, he turned its fo­cus to­wards de­sign, rein­vent­ing an­tiques and us­ing only the best tra­di­tional tech­niques and fab­ri­ca­tions. The brand’s con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture now has a global pres­ence, with stores in Hong Kong, Am­s­ter­dam, Dal­las and Beirut, to name just a few, and in-store gal­leries at HD But­ter­cup in Los An­ge­les, ABC Car­pet & Home in New York, Coco Repub­lic in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, and Casa Fil­a­mento in Gu­atemala City, among oth­ers. And Oul­ton’s nowhere near done yet.

Ti­mothy Oul­ton’s clever blend of vin­tage and mod­ern, as well as its at­ten­tion to de­tails such as studs and ma­te­ri­als, is what makes the brand so spe­cial. And the lat­est col­lec­tion is no ex­cep­tion. It’s fun and dra­matic, with 1970s-in­spired items such as the In­cep­tion cof­fee ta­ble and the Den sofa in gor­geous pea­cock blue vel­vet. It also plays with new ma­te­ri­als, such as car­bon­stone, a man-made stone created us­ing re­cy­cled quartz, and fur­ther ex­plores the rich­ness of leather with new it­er­a­tions such as Aussie leather, a wa­ter­proof nubuck. Oul­ton tells us about the col­lec­tion, an­tiquing and stud ap­peal.

An­tique Re­vival

No­body at busi­ness school looks at fur­ni­ture and thinks, “Yeah, that’ll work.” Trust me, they don’t. My par­ents fell into it. I did the an­tiques thing for 10 years, and it was pretty tough go­ing. It’s very ex­cit­ing and en­joy­able, but it’s not a proper busi­ness. I’ve now gone back into an­tiques and we’re open­ing an an­tiques shop next door to our Gough Street home store, but that’s a dif­fer­ent thing; it’s a hobby. The only things in

“An­tiques never die; you just have to make them more rel­e­vant”

there that aren’t Bri­tish are the Louis Vuit­ton trunks. He was pro­lific: we’ve got plenty and we only pro­vide the very best ones. But if there was an Eng­lish equiv­a­lent, Louis would be out.

Keep­ing It Real

Of course, we bor­row from the an­tiques world, but an­tiques aren’t in­ter­est­ing on their own. They never die, you just have to make them more rel­e­vant. Au­then­tic ma­te­ri­als, vin­tage ma­te­ri­als will never die. You may have pe­ri­ods where they are more or less fash­ion­able, but they’re never out of fash­ion. It’s not easy. If you try to be ev­ery­thing to ev­ery­one, you end up be­ing a right mish­mash.

Ma­te­rial World

Ma­te­ri­als are our main thing. The shapes seem to come later. We want epic, like car­bon­stone or our Aussie leather, be­cause that’s the first thing that at­tracts peo­ple. We call it “eyes first, mind sec­ond.” It’s re­ally “eyes first, heart sec­ond, wal­let last.”

Ex­pand­ing Hori­zons

We’re not aim­ing for world dom­i­na­tion, but sud­denly peo­ple are chas­ing us. It’s a good prob­lem to have. I’ve been on both sides, and I know which one I pre­fer. We get a lot of cos­mopoli­tan peo­ple who travel com­ing into our store. They’ll pop in when they’re in town for a glass of cham­pagne. We even won the best ser­vice award at Har­rods in Lon­don—that’s against Prada and all the big boys. Fur­ni­ture com­pa­nies nor­mally never even get close to them.

Yel­low Sub­ma­rine

There was one kid who even cried when he left our store in Am­s­ter­dam. We have a yel­low sub­ma­rine there: you press a but­ton and it plays the Bea­tles, it plays “We all live in a yel­low sub­ma­rine.” He loved it. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard of a kid cry­ing when he left a fur­ni­ture store. That’s the stuff that’s im­por­tant to us, be­cause oth­er­wise we’re just another fur­ni­ture store.

Sense of Place

I love places that are full of his­tory—Hong Kong is very spe­cial to me, both be­cause of its dis­tinct Bri­tish back­ground and its uniquely fast-paced en­vi­ron­ment. I like bars that are tucked out the way down an al­ley some­where, or hid­den above street level with a ter­race to kick back on. Hong Kong is dot­ted with these lit­tle gems, but you have to know where to find them. I’m not a party per­son. I’m not a foodie, either—I’ll re­mem­ber the place more than the food. The chairs are im­por­tant, the am­bi­ence.

In Lon­don, I’ve al­ways loved the V&A and the Bri­tish Mu­seum. It’s got an amaz­ing col­lec­tion, be­cause we Brits were ruth­less.

I’ll al­ways do the flea mar­kets, too: the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris, and a cou­ple of the big ones in the UK. I never walk away with­out some­thing. We’d buy a whole sofa just so we could take the studs off, and then we’d give the seller the sofa back.

Waste Man­age­ment

Pack­ag­ing is the only thing that I re­ally de­test be­cause I hate waste. We used to wrap all our fur­ni­ture in blan­kets—you stood there like an id­iot wait­ing for your blan­kets to come back! But now I see the con­sumer and us pay­ing four times the price and all this pack­ag­ing ends up in a bin some­where. We’re def­i­nitely go­ing to take a lead on pack­ag­ing. Aside from the en­vi­ron­men­tal di­men­sion, it’s sim­ply waste­ful—it’s money down the drain. The prod­uct has to ar­rive in per­fect con­di­tion, ev­ery­one gets that, but I’m sure there are other ways to achieve the same aim.

Play­ing Favourites

You can learn to love pieces that sell. That’s the ruth­less per­son in me! The Wall Street arm­chair is prob­a­bly my favourite piece in this col­lec­tion, just the lines of it. It’s not a piece I would nor­mally love, ac­tu­ally, be­cause it doesn’t have vin­tage ma­te­ri­als any­where near it. But I like it; it’s sleek, you look at it twice.

See­ing Dou­ble

I try to have the same sal­vaged desk ev­ery­where. I’ve man­aged two so far in Hong Kong and in Gaom­ing, Guang­dong, where we have our work­shop and show­room. On it I have my books, my com­puter and my Bose speaker.

I want to get twin dogs and call them the same name. I would have one in China and one in Hong Kong. I’d drive with one to the bor­der, say “Bye, Bobo,” then get across the bor­der, pick up the other one and say “Hi, Bobo.” It’s the same thing as want­ing the same desk ev­ery­where I go.

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