With Vintage Inspiration, The English Brand Is Ready To Conquer The World
Sophisticated, timeless, classic yet daring, with a modern twist. Timothy Oulton’s eponymous brand is the embodiment of these attributes. From his humble beginnings in 1976 as an eager apprentice at his father’s antiques business in the UK to creating a brand with global reach, Timothy Oulton’s commitment to his British heritage, deep authenticity, and passion to create have landed him at the forefront of the design world. His constant quest for the most refined yet functional designs has always fueled his passion for this craft, while finding the best materials and finishes has earned the brand its accolades. With a love for collaborative work and a desire to reinvent spacial design, Oulton and his company are now leaders in the industry. British-born Oulton’s motto of “be relevant or be dead” doesn’t leave much to interpretation. His desire to create is only matched by his relentless dedication to extraordinary craftsmanship, while pushing the accepted boundaries of furniture design. The straight-talking Oulton took time, while doing business in China, to speak with us.
Your father’s influence on the brand is rather obvious, but how do you take this heritage and make it into a brand that is relevant for the customer of today?
I’ve often said that there wasn’t anything fantastic about the antique business. I was fascinated by the craftsmanship, the materials, and in some ways the design. But I also know that, in order to sustain a business, there had to be a modern way to construct relationships with customers, implement new and modern techniques, introduce sustainable practices, etc.
What are the esthetic differences between American and British consumers?
To tell you the truth, I don’t see many differences. Our customers come from Europe, the UK, Asia, and, of course, the United States. They have in common a love for beautiful furniture and accessories, and I believe that it transcends geographic borders.
Who is the typical Timothy Oulton customer?
I don’t know that there is one. Well, let me rephrase that: I think the person who enjoys beautiful craftsmanship, quality materials, and a certain sense of creativity definitely enjoys our pieces. We don’t design things with a specific audience in mind. We design our furniture to please ourselves, really. I know that, if we are happy with the results, odds are people will find it appealing too.
You have stated that there is no long-term future in the antique business, yet the appeal of TO is a mix of an antique feel with a modern take. Is this contradictory?
Not at all. We want to create unique pieces that take into account the craftsmanship of the past, but using modern techniques and the best materials to create results that ultimately make a statement in your home.
The Timothy Oulton brand is considered a luxury brand by many. Is the price point an obstacle to making it accessible to a broad audience?
I’m not sure that I agree that our brand is a luxury brand. Actually, I don’t think it is at all. When you take into account how much work goes into creating one-of-a-kind, I would say that you get your money’s worth. An example, take our Nest sofa. I love this piece, and when people sit in it, they get it! We build great homes, spend a lot of money doing it—it becomes a part of us. I think that great furniture accomplishes the same thing.
The brand has grown steadily in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, yet the American market is undoubtedly important to the overall growth of your company. How important is North America to your strategy?
It is vital — especially in New York City. As NYC goes, so does the market. The old adage of “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” is undoubtedly true. Our brand has grown, not so much fast as carefully. We want to have impactful stores, not just a bunch of locations. We’ve been cautious in exploring the marketplace, and I would say that we are in the exact place we should be.
The retail industry continues to experience unprecedented challenges in the global economy. How does Timothy Oulton continue to thrive?
By being smart. [We’ve told you that Mr. Oulton was direct] I don’t mean that we are any smarter than our competitors, but just that we’ve been very careful in managing our growth. We know that we are creating products that people want and need, and because of that we’ve been able to sustain our trajectory and continue to create the very best product we can.
What comes-first design or material selection?
For me, it is design. That is who I am at my core. It’s got to start with an idea. My creative process, which has not really changed in years, is what gets me motivated. I am endlessly curious and looking for inspiration everywhere. As we speak, I am sitting in China in a small apartment, which of course, designed with Timothy Oulton. While it is a small space, I have rather large furniture that completely fits the space. The creative process is not related to how big the space is.
How do your personal style and design ethos affect the overall look of the brand?
I think that my personal style tends to permeate our pieces. I love the idea of having spectacular materials, exquisite design, and cutting-edge technology, with time-honored process and traditions. The result is rather simple: beautiful and comfortable furniture that lasts for generations.
The design and creation processes at Timothy Oulton seem to be a wholly collaborative one. How important is teamwork in the context of design?
It is paramount. We are only as great as the sum of our parts. It takes literally an army of craftsmen, designers, material providers to create a simple piece of furniture. It does start with an idea, but ultimately, it is the result of a collaborative environment.
What is more important — something beautiful or something interesting?
Definitely something interesting. I love beautiful things, but there has to be something special about them. I want people to walk our showrooms and be amazed by what they see and feel.
What is the essential furniture piece one must have in their home?
A great sofa! Just think about it…how much time you spend in your living room? In all my places, it has been the central point of focus around which I’ve designed the rest of the space. Give me a great couch, and I can design you a great space!
You’ve stated: “Be relevant, or be dead.” Care to elaborate?
Well, that should tell it all, shouldn’t it? In this economy, if you are not relevant, you (and your brand) will die a quick death. There are so many choices out there; a brand has to be relevant to make an impact. Our pieces are authentic and uniquely crafted with a great story that provides meaning. We provide our very own viewpoint, which is what makes us different from everyone else.
Words by Yves Le Sieur
Photos by Timothy Oulton