In a day and age where luxury across all sectors is struggling to survive around the world, British furniture designer Timothy Oulton recently cut the ribbon to his new Dehli gallery (he refuses to call them “shops”); soon, a restaurant in one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in Hong Kong; and by Q3, a 20,000sqft member’s club in Singapore designed to house restaurants, spas, co-working space, cocktail bar, a yoga and pilates studio, event spaces, outdoor terrace and a cocktail bar.
Yet, this success strays far from the conventional model of pushing business online, which, for Oulton, includes a lone website designed to feature his work rather than hit sales numbers. Understandable, given that one of his many edges is a bespoke service that tailors everything from shape to the type of leather stitching – experiences that customers definitely need to see to believe.
So if forward isn’t the way to go, Oulton heads sideways, by adapting his furniture into different environments to showcase its verstaility in the experiences they can offer, from, commonly, a F&B setting, to something as extravagent as his 2014 invention, the Dome Home – an energy-saving living space that can be picked up and relocated anywhere in the world.
“It’s never just about great-looking pieces. A beautiful sofa is great, but it feels alone. If you pair it up with the right coffee table, however, it changes how you look at the sofa,” said Timothy Oulton in his petite Hong Kong Gallery on Gough Street, which was deliberately designed to look like an apartment to show that his bulky pieces work even in the city’s notoriously small homes. And prominently featured in the shop are his 2017 collections: the more glamourous Hosted Living and its casual and rugged brother, Ultralounge, which sees signature pieces like the Alto sofa refitted with a cupholder and an extra flap for remote controls.
“Furniture is for relaxing and entertaining, and though the brand has always been about comfortable designs, we’ve added simple details that completely change an experience and how it’s used. So rather than Alto just being a sofa, it can now perform throughout the whole weekend; people can lounge on it without having to move one finger and they’d have everything just next to them,” he said.
Ironically, this forward-thinking was born during his time spent working in his father’s antique shop. Not long after university, he and his brother eventually took over the family business; but his real breakthrough wasn’t until a decade later, when his textiles made a catastrophic impression in the 2004 China Import and Export Fair, or what’s commonly known as The Canton Fair.
“Back then we brought fake business cards cuz we didn’t know whether our business was going to go anywhere. We arrived at the show that week, and by Monday we were getting orders. By Wednesday we had a fax machine set up,
an apartment that we were working out of, a registry and even employees,” said Oulton. As one of the few foreigners at the Guangzhou-based show then, his portfolio eventually expanded to include vintage cigars, trunks and today, furniture.
One trend Oulton does follow is migrating his business to China, in a city called Gaoming in the South, but not for reasons of cost-saving; vice versa, for quality and efficiency.
“I can probably make my furniture cheaper anywhere else, but there’s no one place in the world that can make all my pieces. My team in China gets things done, they’re not afraid, and they understand quality.” Aside from a fully staffed workshop, Oulton’s China-based home away from home also serves as a showroom for up-and-coming projects as well as a training base for all of the brand’s staff from around the world.
For a business that relies so heavily on the touch and feel of its products, Oulton knows mass production isn’t the way to go (though he admits he’s currently eyeing for potential partnership in Japan); so the current challenge drills down to how far they should extend the brand without jeopardising its essence.
“Our consumer message is very obvious. So the question becomes how we can align the brand with these experiences on a broader scale. Is it just F&B? Or are we venturing into co-living, co-working, even? Nobody knows.”
Timothy Oulton在其小巧的香港艺廊接受访问时表示：“这绝对不仅仅是讲究美观。美丽的沙发很棒，但显得有点单调。如果配对合适的咖啡桌，就会改变你对这张沙发的观感。”其香港艺廊位于香港中环歌赋街，故意设计成公寓的格式，以突显其大型家具甚至可以融入香港局促的蜗居之中。店内的特色之处是他的2017家具系列：较奢华典雅的Hosted Living，以及其休闲而粗犷的兄弟系列Ultralounge，当中一些著名家具，如alto沙发经过重新设计，安装了一个杯架和用来放置遥控器的额外托架。