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British designer Timothy Oulton.

‘I don’t like the idea of luxury for luxury’s sake’, says British designer Timothy Oulton

The interior design giant reveals why he moved production to China and how the material always comes before the design

Why did you become a designer? “My dad had a small antiques shop near Manchester and, when I left boarding school, I went to work with him. I loved antiques but there was no creative process there. That’s when I decided to focus on furniture and interiors, inspired by the past but made relevant for today.”

You often talk of your brand as humble luxury – what does that mean? “I don’t like the idea of luxury for luxury’s sake. I want luxury to be apparent in the mate­rial and craftsmanship of the product. The Noble Souls collection is prob­ably our best interpretation of humble luxury because there is no decoration.”

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What comes first, the materials or the design? “It always starts with the materials; we don’t even decide on the shape until we’ve got a material in our hands. We bring old timber from the UK, leathers from Brazil and Argentina, stone and rock from Italy, or Brazil or China, and we’ll look at the materials and say, ‘What can we try to do with this?’

“For Noble Souls, we wanted to create a sofa collection using only pure, natural materials. The filling is goose down feathers – the purest form of feather – and the covers are made from pure linen, coloured using vegetable dyes. The dyes are extracted from plants through a simple fermentation process and then mixed with water. It’s an ancient practice and completely natural. We use indigo for the blue tones – one of the oldest plant extract dyes in the world, and we use gallnut to create the grey hues. We also use ‘veg’ tanned leather, sourced from South America, for the dining chairs.”

You recently opened a 7,200 sq ft flagship store at London’s Bluebird, a historic garage on Kings Road. What does this showroom bring to the brand? “The brief was to make it an expression of everything we stand for; heritage, innovation, creativity and hospitality. We’ve got our most iconic designs along­side some rare vintage pieces. We’ve got a giant yellow submarine submerged in a fish tank, a giant glowing rock crystal that’s millions of years old, our own spaceship … it’s certainly not your usual furniture store.”

The brand’s flagship store at London's Bluebird.

Your furniture is made in China, a decision you say was made not to save costs but for quality and efficiency. Can you elaborate? “I saw China as a place to add cost in – the reason I moved [production] here was because they are not scared to add detail, you can get things done, that’s what I liked.”