Timothy Oulton, founder and creative director of his eponymous brand, is renowned for his elegant furniture creations, which blend traditional craftsmanship with innovative design. Katie Sherry, deputy editor of Furniture News’ sister title Hospitality Interiors, asks Timothy to elaborate on his approach, and on the notable additions to his showroom portfolio in London this year.
What drew you to furniture design?
When I finished school at 18, I wasn’t very sure what I wanted to do. When I started working for my dad in his antiques business I thought it would just be a stop-gap, a year’s worth of life experience before I became a banker, of all things. I can’t imagine living that life now. My childhood dream matured, I guess. I’m very grateful for the way things developed, for the creative life I get to lead.
How would you describe your signature style?
The re-interpretation of timeless, classic designs using a fresh perspective. Bringing our personality to the piece. Driven by an ongoing commitment to traditional hand-craftsmanship, timeless designs are refreshed and reinterpreted with a fresh perspective, resulting in uniquely authentic and distinctive pieces that exude the perfect balance of tradition and modernity.
… and your design process?
Good design needs to be relevant, to you and to your life. Surrounding yourself with design because other people tell you it’s good doesn’t make sense to me. I make pieces I like – you probably think it’s good design if it’s something you like too.
I do believe in classic design – the kind that stands the test of time. Our pieces will do that, like those older classic designs that have proven their relevance. They are still great today. Ours will still be great in the future. Actually, I hope that most of our pieces actually improve with age.
Why has the quintessentially British aesthetic of the Timothy Oulton brand proved so popular internationally?
I am British. So at least in some sense I guess my work is British. However today, we all travel – we see things from all over the world – and we create an individual style that often rests on pieces from different cultures and periods. And perhaps that is British also – when you think about it, British heritage is truly international in some respects, as it embodies a curiosity and fascination with different cultures.
I love visiting old flea markets around England – the faded grandeur and the quirks of history often provide great starting points for a new idea. But equally, the flea markets of Paris, Europe or the US are just as fascinating.
What makes for a successful business?
We often remark that our brand is not for everyone, but curiously that’s just what makes it successful. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are – everywhere there are discerning people who can appreciate what we do. We are successful because those people want furniture that is made with passion for design and detail – furniture with stories people can relate to. And we have an incredibly hard-working team.
What makes the brand stand out?
What we offer is unique. We dare to go to great lengths to achieve an authenticity which is rare these days. People want furniture that is beautiful but also practical, appropriate for the 21st century. That makes sense. I wanted to provide something that bridges the gap between these things. Creating something new and useful that honours the past – maybe in design or in materials – but that is relevant for today.
What do you enjoy most about working in retail?
Being able to deliver a unique experience. Before getting into the retail business, I said to myself I should commit entirely or simply not attempt. No room for tries. And it goes beyond furniture – the aim is to treat people differently.
What are your thoughts on the recently-opened London showrooms?
It’s always great to see that what you do is appreciated in your home country – even more so in London, where the retail level is very high. Opening at Harrods is fantastic – who wouldn’t dream of having a gallery in the world’s most famous department store? We love that people can come to our gallery, feel the quality of our leather and timbers and see the craftsmanship that goes into every piece, and then leave under the iconic lights of the Knightsbridge store.
What plans do you have for further retail expansion?
The aim is to open galleries in the world’s best and most global cities – and we’ve already got a good start.