Renowned designer Timothy Oulton calls upon his experience in the antiques world when creating fresh furniture and lighting designs for today. BY Linda Longo
When Timothy Oulton graduated from Ampleforth College in England, a boarding school run by Benedictine monks, he figured he’d end up working in banking as a career. The finance world’s loss is home décor’s gain, however, as Oulton decided to follow a different path. His passion for antiques – cultivated from working in his father’s antiques shop – and his appreciation for traditional English craftsmanship led him to create his own line of furniture and lighting that pays homage to the past while offering a modern perspective.
“The crystals are piezoelectric — they release energy when you squeeze them.”
His first mentor was his father’s employee Eddie Gibson, a woodworking expert. The two worked together when Oulton took over the operation of his father’s shop, Halo Antiques, and still collaborate today. In time, Oulton seized upon the idea of reinventing antiques for the wholesale market. By partnering with Diego, an Argentinian leather master, Oulton was able to incorporate those skills into his designs as well.
His creative vision and hard work paid off. In 2008, Oulton opened his first retail gallery under his name at HD Buttercup in Los Angeles. Over the ensuing years, he established flagships in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, and established a gallery in London’s iconic Harrods department store.
More recently, he launched Timothy Oulton Studio as his own boutique interiors and construction design studio targeting the hospitality sector. Completed projects include 1880 members’ club in Singapore, the Blue Room at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, and Glazebrook House hotel in Devon, England.
Last year, Oulton applied his design sensibilities to the culinary world, opening a restaurant in Hong Kong – named Gough’s on Gough – which is a modern take on a British restaurant that exudes style, craftsmanship, hospitality, and charm.
Known for creating distinctive handcrafted leather furniture plus unique lighting and home accessories, Oulton has just unveiled his 2018 Collection in March.
“The cornerstone of this collection is the materials — some of which are incredibly difficult to collect and even more difficult to work with,” Oulton explains. “It takes an enormous amount of skill and effort to cut marble thin enough to use in cabinetry, or to use rock crystal to make furniture and lighting. But I’m not interested in anything that’s easy. The unique materials and the complexity in the hand-finishing is what makes this collection so special.”
According to Oulton, the materials were the starting point for forming his latest collection. “We’ve taken pure, natural materials like marble, leather, and reclaimed wood and used them in new, innovative ways. We’ve launched a new hand-finished leather that feels like velvet when you touch it, and a cabinetry collection handcrafted in marble — it’s incredibly technical and difficult to do. We spend countless hours on our hand-
finishing, but that’s what sets us apart,” he explains. “With everything we do, we always think about the experience. It’s not just what you see or hear, it’s how you feel that makes a space truly great.”
In addition to the furniture, the lighting is equally stunning. Of particular note is the Rock Crystal Rain chandelier. “It’s pretty special,” Oulton enthuses. “Each crystal is individually lit, so the whole piece casts these dramatic shapes and shadows on the wall. Rock crystal is my latest fascination, it’s millions of years old and has a very mystical culture. The ancient Japanese revered it as the breath of a white dragon because it represented perfection, and the crystals are piezoelectric – they release energy when you squeeze them. I think it’s one of the most exciting materials we’ve ever worked with!”
When it comes to lighting, Oulton’s team employs their own complex hand-finishing processes using simple tools and time-honored techniques.
“A lot of our lighting collection is made using K9 optical glass, and that’s because it’s much lighter than crystal so you can use it in big installations,” he comments. “It also has better clarity than crystal;
it diffuses the light for a softer, mellower glow.”
The inspiration for the lighting designs often harkens back to the past, but with Oulton’s stamp on it. “We take inspiration from Georgian England to Art Deco to Mid-Century design — classic, vintage forms, but we reinvent them with a modern viewpoint,” he notes. “Materials are always key, and we’re constantly searching for new, innovative materials to work with. As well as working with rock crystal, we’ve also used marble in some of our pendants, like Odeon and the new Discs pendant. Now that’s not an easy material to work with when it comes to lighting, but you get this incredibly atmospheric effect when the light shines through it, almost like moonlight.”
Just as his designs pair both historic and modern touches, Oulton is not averse to using LED in his lighting designs. “I like the classic aspect of incandescent bulbs and the warmth of color, but that said, LEDs allow us to achieve new shapes and incorporate a light source in a product where it wouldn’t be possible using classic incandescent bulbs,” he remarks. “I guess for us, LEDs are a means to an end to achieve designs that really push the boundaries.”
Not one to follow trends, Oulton finds his clientele is as eclectic as his designs. “We make things we love and hope other people will love them just as much,” he says. “What we make isn’t trend-
driven, it has character and soul, and that’s something that we hope resonates with people everywhere from New York to Dubai to London.”
When it comes to decorating their homes, Oulton finds most consumers fall into two key modes: relaxing and entertaining. “People generally fall into one of those camps,” he quips. “I don’t think that’s a trend; it’s how people live. Some of our collections are directed at complete relaxation — big slouchy sofas to sink into, pared-back storage so you can hide everything away and just chill. Then in contrast, we’ve got incredibly elegant and refined pieces for people who love to host at home — more upright sofas so you can lean into conversation, dramatic lighting, and lots of ‘conversation starter’ pieces,” he explains.
“When you look at our collection as a whole, it spans the full spectrum and that’s because ultimately what we’re trying to do is give people a great experience, however they want to live. I do think that in this virtualized and digitalized world we live in, there is a growing feeling that we really need to reconnect — either with yourself or with others. Whether it’s down time or entertaining, it’s
about engaging the senses and feeling alive.
That’s an energy that we try to embody in all of our products.”