The Floating Lantern

– 22 Feb. 2018 –

Concealed behind the industrial doors of a repurposed factory building in the heart of China’s Pearl Delta, a camera shutter and a Chinese lantern collide mid-air to create a unique private office in the latest project from Timothy Oulton Studio. Hovering above the open workspace below, which doubles as a dramatic entertaining area, the floating timber lantern reinvents the idea of a classic CEO’s office into something whimsical, modern and inspiring.

Timothy Oulton’s passion for traditional handcraftsmanship and authentic materials is shared by timber specialist and close collaborator San Kok Arts. San Kok’s owner recently engaged Timothy Oulton Studio, the interiors and construction design studio of Timothy Oulton, to design a show-stopping office and hosting space to showcase the company’s timber capabilities.

Timothy Oulton Studio collaborated on the brief, taking San Kok’s personality and passions as a departure point and gaining the freedom to take some risks and create something truly unique and dramatic. In response, the warehouse has been transformed into a timber utopia filled with surprise and intrigue, and infused with the owner’s personality.

Visitors arrive to discover a pentagonal entrance door, where a puzzle must be solved to gain entry. An electric drawbridge opens into the cavernous main space, to reveal a suspended timber and polycarbonate structure forming the owner’s private office, an idea inspired by a traditional Chinese paper lantern. A motorised ocular door, inspired by a camera shutter mechanism, connects the office with a cylindrical meeting room and the other staff areas via a central metal and timber walkway and staircase.

Suspending the aerial structure created the biggest challenge of the project, and the team worked closely with an engineer to find a solution which could transfer the loads to the existing warehouse structure. In doing so, the timber structure achieves an impression of visual weightlessness, as though the office is floating mid-air.

The playful elements of the design are imbued with the owner’s effervescent character and humour, and the notion of putting her at the centre of the space. When the lights are on, shadow and movement can be seen within the office – a play on the owner being visibly present yet at the same time in her private space.

Underneath the lantern structure, a meeting and dining area features a 15 metre reclaimed timber table, handcrafted from accumulated workshop samples gathered over years and now forming a historical mosaic. The table can accommodate dining for up to fifty guests, with additional entertaining areas focused around a salvaged log beam bar configured with Japanese 3-way joints and a backdrop of undulating reclaimed local bricks.

Every inch of the space has been designed as a living example of San Kok’s collaborative work ethos and artisanal skills with reclaimed timbers. The layout of the 200m2 first floor highlights the cooperative interaction within the company, in the way that the elevated paths leading from the two offices come together at a central meeting point, while the 600m2 ground floor public space focusses on people, acting as both a lens on the company’s production structure and daily operations, and an inspiring backdrop to entertain guests. In this way, it is the very heart and soul of the company that has been reflected in the unique design and architecture.

The build is the latest project by Timothy Oulton Studio, which was co-founded by Tim Oulton and Simon Laws. Established to transform Tim Oulton’s lifelong passion for design and Simon Laws’s experience in customised construction projects into holistically conceived experiences, Timothy Oulton Studio is a multifunctional practice that delivers bespoke and innovative projects worldwide, with a focus on the hospitality sector.

On the San Kok Arts project, Simon Laws explains, “It was a privilege to have such a close alignment with the client and to be able to experiment with quite complicated ideas that could actually be made in the client’s own workshop. The raw space had 7 metre ceilings with a wonderful natural grandeur, the idea of suspending the office elements above the more public showroom area below heightens the overall experience.”

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