Driven by a passion for traditional handcraftsmanship and a fearless quest for innovation, Timothy Oulton is known for daring yet timeless furniture, lighting and accessories. Here, RLI speaks to the man behind the brand to discuss how it has grown from its humble beginnings in 1976 to its global footprint today.
The Timothy Oulton brand began life back in 1976 with a small antiques shop in Manchester that was owned by Tim’s dad. In later years, Tim took his passion for antiques and created an authentic, visionary brand with the deepest integrity and determination to deliver the extraordinary.
Handcrafted with only the best traditional techniques and fabrications, each Timothy Oulton piece is inspired by the past, but reconceived with a modern twist, producing uniquely authentic collections which push the boundaries of furniture design.
Today, the company is an international one and operates 40 stores across six continents and has a presence in the UK, the east and west coasts of the US, Mexico, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and the Middle East.
Like every business, Covid-19 has had a profound effect on the company and how it operates, but its core focuses remain unchanged.
“I’ve always said you cannot influence market conditions, you can only concentrate on your business philosophy and keep working,” explains Timothy Oulton, Founder and Creative Director of the brand. “When stores were closed during lockdown we were hosting our customers on Zoom for Friday night drinks, and I really enjoyed that face-to-face time with them.”
In recent times, a new Timothy Oulton gallery has been opened in San Francisco, and they are also looking forward to launching their upcoming Glasgow store, which is due to open by the end of the month in Princes Square shopping centre, a high-end period building which suits the brand perfectly.
New materials and new experiences are always being explored by the company. For example, just last year they hosted a group of customers at a screening for the final season premiere of Game of Thrones, and it got them thinking about the whole theme of binge watching, and in the current age of Netflix and home theatre, it got them exploring how to further perfect the in-home movie experience. They are all about trying to elevate the rituals of modern life to make them more enjoyable.
“In terms of new markets, we are always considering new territories and we have new galleries opening in the US and Asia. We also have our first location in Germany opening this month at the stilwerk centre in Hamburg. Germany is a market we’ve wanted to enter for a while but it was a case of finding the right location.”
Oulton believes that while they will also have classic pieces, like the Saddle chair or the Westminster sofa, it is crucial to innovate and he has been afraid to take risks. He explains that if you are not prepared to swim upstream, while everyone else is going in the other direction, then you will never find something that no one else has seen. For the Timothy Oulton brand, this starts with the unique materials and finishes and goes from there.
“Our offer is not about the country you live in, it’s more an attitude that we find in people the world over – an entrepreneurial mind-set that is continually seeking reinvention and relevance,” explains Oulton.
Everything the company does has a story behind it, and because of this social media has become very important to them, however the store remains pivotal as they still believe in people coming to stores and touching the real products, having a real experience and feeling something that cannot be replicated with an online purchase.
“We try very hard to deliver a great experience in everything we do. We have a point of view that there is a character and soul to what we do. The materials we use and the link to heritage and designs – that combination is unique. We can’t appeal to everyone because that wouldn’t be authentic, but the people who do love us remain loyal for life,” Oulton says.
The aim of the business is to create an experience which resonates with people. The stores, the furniture, its hospitality projects, everything it does is a vehicle for delivering a visceral experience that is designed to have an impact on customers.
Looking forward, there is a desire from within for the company to move into more finished spaces. They want to work on full spaces and they have all the materials to do it – the wood, leather, marble, crystal and glass. They have already completed some fantastic projects such as the 1880 members’ club in Singapore, the San Kok Arts showroom in China and the Glazebrook House Hotel in the UK and they want to do more of this in the future.
“One of our biggest challenges is being distributed across the globe and keeping the experience 100 per cent consistent for customers – it’s something we work extremely hard at. Our flagship at Bluebird in London is magnificent and sets the benchmark. People walk in and think they’re in a bar or club. I don’t want to be just an ordinary furniture store, I’m very passionate about giving people the best experience possible when they visit us,” concludes Oulton.