The Past, Present and Future: Interview with Timothy Oulton

Halo Living started as an Antique House then moved into furniture manufacturing. From reselling antiques to making their own timeless pieces of wooden furniture and leather upholstery, Halo has evolved greatly over the years. E-Frontpage sat down with one of the founders, Timothy Oulton to learn more about how they made their mark in history.

E: How did you transition from the antiques trade to furniture manufacturing?

O: I was restoring antique furniture for many years and that’s when I learnt everything about craftsmanship and materials. We were always strong on materials, always great woods, great leathers, so we knew how to build stuff. But I realised with antiques I couldn’t really go anywhere. So we said let’s borrow from the antiques – 400 years of design out there, why wouldn’t you borrow from it, but let’s make it interesting. It’s about making antiques relevant.


E: What was the key reason for this transition?

O: I loved antiques but there was no creative process there. I wanted to build a business, to contribute, to have an impact on people’s lives. I got to about 23 or 24 and I said to my dad there’s something missing, it doesn’t seem right to me, I need to do something that’s more permanent and scalable. That’s when I decided to focus on furniture and interiors, inspired by the past but made relevant for today.


E: What were some of the difficulties you faced during the transition?

O: When we first started out I built a factory in the UK and that was horrible, it was a completely different business model. But in a way I kind of loved it because it taught me about profit and loss and balance sheets and all that. And then we got to a reasonable size but we were doing nothing outside of the UK. The big break was when I moved to China in 2004 and suddenly we really went on a bit of a turn. We have a beautiful showroom there and we’ve built a village for our international design team. We ship our materials in – reclaimed timber from the UK, leather from South America, it’s very complex as everything’s done by hand so you need a lot of people.


E: Why did you choose to use leather as a key material for manufacturing furniture?

O: I went to boarding school in an old Benedictine monastery, which was full of beautiful old classic English leather furniture and antiques. The richness, the patina… it just got under my skin. And then working in the antiques trade I became obsessed with leather Chesterfield sofas, I would buy any Chesterfield put in front of me and fix it up – I always knew how to do that. Leather is one of the oldest natural materials known to man, it’s somehow become embedded in our psyche.


E: What is unique about hand-finished leather that sets it apart from other types of leather?

O: Each hide is worked on individually – there is no mechanisation involved, which guarantees that each leather is unique in a way that only human touch and sensibility can achieve. Our leathers undergo many stages of hand-finishing using only simple tools such as lamb’s wool and lime stones. This results in luxurious and rich leathers that are supple and lustrous, tough and durable, whilst retaining the intrinsic beauty and character of each hide.


E: How do you source and obtain the leather used in your furniture?

O: We hand-pick the hides from South America – Brazil and Argentina – where the cattle run free on the Pampas. We ship them to our workshop and then finish them entirely by hand. We use translucent aniline dyes which show the leather’s natural texture, only 5% of the world’s leathers are good enough to be used for these types of dyes.


E: What sets the leather sofas made by Halo apart from other leather sofas in the market?

O: For us it’s always about the experience, our leathers create visual and tactile sensations that transport your senses. And it’s the sensory experience of our leathers that makes them so luxurious, from their soft and buttery touch to the richness of their patina. The leather actually becomes more beautiful with time and wear.


E: With the current trend of sustainability, how has this affected Halo, a manufacturer that has leather sofas as its selling point?

O: We try to give thought and effort to make things that last, and to make choices that lead to an increase in enduring value – for our staff, our suppliers and customers. We try to make responsible long term choices – making things of robust materials like leather, reusing waste wherever possible, that’s always been part of our ethos. Our furniture should last for years, not just a season – we never chase trends. And so should our relationships, with employees, suppliers and customers. These are the values we strive to bring to life in all aspects of our work.

E: After 12 years of participation and the challenges faced over the years, what makes you keep coming back to the show? Can you share with us some of the pulling factors?

O: It’s one of the most important fairs for us, it’s the perfect platform to connect with customers, interior designers and partners, to showcase our latest designs as well as maintaining momentum on our existing top selling pieces. There’s always such a buzz here, it’s an exciting atmosphere to be part of. Our booth is always busy and it’s a great feeling to be meeting new people as well as nurturing our existing relationships.


E: What is the best IFFS experience you’ve ever had and why?

O: I think it keeps getting better each year we do the show, but one that does stand out for me was 2 years ago when we celebrated Halo’s 40th birthday at the show. It seemed like the perfect moment in the year to get together with our customers and say thank you for all their continuous support. We hosted a great party with over 100 people – all dancing on a rooftop overlooking the city.  It was one of those really memorable nights.
E: With regards to our new theme, URBANASIA – the future of urban living, please define Urban Living in your own vision.

O: I think that in this virtualised and digitalised world we live in, there is a growing feeling that we really need to reconnect, either with yourself or with others – and even more so when you live in a fast-paced urban environment. Your interior can certainly play a part in this.  Whether it’s down time or entertaining, it’s about engaging the senses and feeling alive, and that’s an energy that we try to embody in all our products.

Find out more about Halo Living when you visit their boothat C361 when you visit IFFS 2019 from 9-12 March at Sands Expo and Convention Centre.