When a designer has tremendous talent, there are so many aspects of his or her strengths to cover it can be difficult to decide what angles of the oeuvre to feature. This was the notion flitting through my mind as I experienced Timothy Oulton’s Autumn/Winter 2015 collection at ABC Carpet & Home.
Known for morphing classic designs into modern translations, Oulton puts an urbane spin on his furnishings that makes his vignettes read as extraordinarily handsome. There are mild hints of the feminine in his new offerings but overall they tilt significantly toward the masculine—particularly in the finishes he chooses for the final flourish on most of his products.
Hammered and riveted metal, edgy patinas on leather-goods and torched wood proliferated in the grandly sized space as I made my way past the room settings. The Bayswater sofa he was showing was upholstered in his white “wrecked” leather, the hide turned inside out and enzyme washed to give it a matte finish and cushy surface. The aging process makes the material feel warm in the winter and keeps it from sticking to the skin in the summer. Anyone who has owned slick leather upholstery knows the value of this!
Oulton sources quite a bit of his leather from South America and haunts English distilleries for century-old rough-hewn wood to make new pieces that feel as if they’ve passed through numerous generations (the patina evident on the table above, which is in his ABC Home Gallery). He’s gone pyrotechnic with his treatment of pieces like the Glacier series, the family of furniture including the dining table and a generously sized console table shown in the image below.
These are made of wood with surfaces that have been burned to achieve a crystalline-like texture. He dresses up the treatment by cladding it in a thick coating of acrylic, which makes the furrows burned into the wood seem to effervesce. It is one of the most unusual products I’ve come across during the past few years, and a finish I’ve been hoping to see in major product releases again.
I say this because plenty of burnt offerings have been produced in limited edition, which I’ve written about as I’ve covered Design Miami/ over the years. Only Maarten Baas had managed to produce a fully-fledged product offering with his Smoke chair for Marcel Wanders’s Moooi (the video above presents a seductive rendition of the chair’s creation). Other frontrunners in the flame game are François Azambourg’s Douglas Jar and Pieke Bergmans’s Massive Infection, the latter an installation of mouth-blown glass slumped on burnt-wood tables. I’m voting Oulton’s Glacier the sexiest finish of 2015.
Four new design themes were sprinkled around his showroom—Metro, Age of Elegance, Adventurer and Cigar. Oulton describes Metro as a sophisticated collection designed with a nod to urban energy; a sort of Bauhaus-meets-1940s-industrial, the collection’s juxtaposition of cool, dark tones; sleek, polished pieces; and eclectic decorative objects proving his point. It certainly does read vintage, but with a hint of maverick-like muscle that makes it feel fresh and exciting.
The Ivy sofa, shown in the image above is an example of the effort he puts into finishes even on his upholstered furniture. The design is based upon a 1950s flea market find, and the color it is shown in is Vagabond Red. The idea for the Airfoil dining table, also in this collection, came from vintage airplane wings. With a surface this unique as a base, dinner would certainly be a riveting affair, don’t you think?
The Bond sofa, another standout in the Metro collection, has a generously proportioned boxy shape with oversized arms and back, and strapping piping that makes it amenable to stretching out. The name is a nod to Bond Street and traditional men’s haberdashery; the herringbone fabric durable so that kicking back on the sofa isn’t a worrisome affair. The gallery manager Ryan Hughes, above, demonstrated just how comfortable a proposition lounging on the sofa can be.
Even the Age of Elegance collection, the most glamorous of the new themed releases, has textured finishes among its offerings. The Regency dining chair is one of these pieces. Its sumptuous hand-tufted velvet upholstery is paired with a distressed wood frame for a hint of dashing appeal. The Brighton Pavilion inspired its throne-like proportions, the creator of the over-the-top palace, King George IV, one of the most extravagant figures in the history of the British monarchy so it’s no surprise he captured Oulton’s attention!
The Piccadilly sofa, a distressed leather version of the classic British Chesterfield, is at the heart of the Cigar theme, which is reminiscent of a traditional 19th-century English gentlemen’s club. You can almost see the smoke circling to the ceiling in the exclusive enclave where men would gather after a clever day’s work, raising their glasses to having survived another skirmish with chaps of all stripes.
“The new collections have a very distinctive energy that sort of radiates from within,” Oulton says. “The shapes and materials we’ve used are bold and dynamic, but they’re also cozy and inviting at the same time.” It was a treat to be able to see so many of his new releases within one setting because the varied offerings project a breadth and depth that I see as the mark of a great design mind.
The fact that he is such an avid experimenter with distressing makes me a new fan. It will be a treat to see what methods he discovers as he creates products with a vintage feel the minute they come out of his factory. The Rugger cushion, above, in destroyed oxblood, is a perfect example of this slight-of-hand—the muted damask pattern deigning to whisper its normally exuberant declaration of centuries of popularity.
He blames his childhood spent surrounded by old things for his point of view, the fact his father was an antiques dealer serendipitous for those of us who enjoy seeing avant-garde approaches to time-honored design. “Exposure to the antiques industry at an early age introduced me to beautiful design,” he explains. “Being surrounded by great handcrafted products most of my life has definitely impacted how I produce furniture.”
This could be one of the reasons he has a flea-market fixation that compels him to spend untold hours skulking through the stalls. “I spend ages scouring markets in Britain and elsewhere, looking for classic pieces and unique inspiration.” I have nothing to say to this visionary but keep creative and carry on!
Text of A Fine Finish for Timothy Oulton © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon Henry is an author, poet and journalist based in New York City. Books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns. She also produces The Diary of an Improvateur and is a columnist on Architizer.