"BE RELEVANT OR BE DEAD"
Meet Tim Oulton
Founder & Creative Director
A Benedictine school, an Army dad turned antiques dealer, and an obsession with handcraftsmanship and authentic materials. These are just some of the influences that drive Tim Oulton in his passionate quest to create extraordinary spaces.
You were raised in a Benedictine monastery – Ampleforth College in Yorkshire. What impact did that have on you?
I went there at 7 and left at 18 and I loved it, it was awesome. My housemaster was a great guy and we had a great relationship. I loved the Benedictine philosophy, they taught me about community and contributing. It didn’t matter what you did, as long as you did it to the best of your ability. The big message was always to commit fully to something, and that always stuck in my mind.
How did you get into the antiques trade?
My dad had a little antiques shop in Manchester, and he said why don’t you try it, come and work for the business. I had no intention of going to university, so I did it for about 3 months and I really quickly got into it. I was amazed at the quality of the stuff that the British made over 300 years, down to the locks and the handles, and I became obsessive.
Why did you transition from dealing and restoring antiques to designing?
I was restoring antiques for about 10 years – that’s where I learnt about craftsmanship and materials, we were always strong on materials. But I realised with antiques I couldn’t really go anywhere, I couldn’t build a business or create anything. It would just be money for me and my family, which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t scalable, I couldn’t contribute to other people. So I said to my dad I don’t want to do this anymore, and that’s when I started designing.
How has your background in antiques influenced your aesthetic?
Well the trick is, the quality of the materials is the starting point, and then of course it’s influenced by the antiques but the antiques on their own are boring, even the best ones are because there’s no point of view. That’s what I like about what we do – we’ll take an antique-style Chesterfield and then put a bloody great acrylic coffee table in front of it, and that makes it relevant and interesting.
What inspires you?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. As I think Paul Smith says, if you can't find inspiration in something, you're not looking hard enough. It can come from a flea market, from a friend’s bag. Leather finishes have come from cowboy chaps. I see the creative process as a bit of a quest, a journey. You explore, discover and often end up finding inspiration down pretty unexpected avenues.
Why are you so passionate about using salvaged materials?
I’ve always loved reclaimed materials – they have an honesty and a purity, what I call humble luxury. I don’t like luxury for luxury’s sake, but humble luxury where the material is unfinished. I don’t understand people who get reclaimed wood and then varnish it, you should never have started with reclaimed wood in the first place. If you’re going to use reclaimed then show it, don’t lacquer it, don’t wax it. For instance, I love the English Beam console, we don’t plane the beam, we don’t do anything, we just cut massive pleats into it and I think that’s just epic.
You’re very focussed on giving people a unique store experience, why is this so important to you?
Hosting is ingrained in the whole company philosophy, that’s why we always serve champagne in our stores. When you come in we want to give you the best experience we can give you. We don’t want people to leave and say well that was a great furniture shop, because then we’re just a furniture shop, and we see it as more than that. We want people to say wow that was awesome, what was that? Was it a bar or a restaurant? We want to connect with people and be part of their lives - that’s what it’s all about, whether it’s a great experience in store or through our designs.
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