The Interview – David Watts

Aviator interviews Halo furnishings' David Watts


David Watts, Business Development Director of Halo furnishings discusses the resurgence of vintage styles, and how the popularity of mixing old and new runs at the very heart of their business.

Halo started from a family of antique dealers in Manchester, but very quickly grew into an industry leader. I?m not a member of the family, but pleased to say that they are still very much involved ? Charlie Oulton heads up the UK side of our business, whilst the other brother Timothy Oulton is based between China and Barbados, overseeing the manufacturing and design development.

Halo has definitely been instrumental in the resurgence of vintage brands. We not only work with hotels, but are a major supplier to the retail sector. We’ve had great success supplying goods to support the radical expansion of brands such as All Saints; a brand that exists on the fusion of contemporary vintage. The trend for mixing old and new has seen us reinterpret classic designs by introducing a contemporary fabric or vintage leather..

Our factory is immaculately kept, but we do try to embrace the traditional manufacturing methods. We are developing lots of different techniques based around the traditional way of making things, so even though it?s a very large factory it?s made up of many different workshops. Whether it is the traditional buttoning on our Kensington sofa or the riveting on our Aviator range we ensure everything is finished by hand. For instance ? all the rivets in our Valkrie desk are applied individually by hand ? it?s like an aeroplane wing in manufacture and design. In the Far East they have a great respect for British Artisan techniques and it is critical for us to retain that British ethos.

Fashion and Art are our main influences, and we work on the evolution of old pieces that were iconic in their time ? for instance our Tomcat chair was inspired by a fighter jet, Grumman F-14 tomcat, while the seat and back are swathed in ribbed leather with the worn-down softness of a vintage bomber jacket.

David WattsDavid Watts.

We have become famous for the hand finishes that we apply to our leather hides. We only use top grain, full aniline hides with a focus on achieving a unique authentic finish ? the aim is to create an appearance full of character that our loyal customers can enjoy, the fact that the furniture is brand new is often the biggest surprise of all.

The Halo Group is constantly growing; Under the Halo umbrella are a number of flagship brands, one of which being Timothy Oulton, named after our Co-founder. The Timothy Oulton collection is certainly in Tim?s words the Rolling stones of the furniture industry. This collection is aimed at the top end of the market, again with a very vintage theme running throughout. We are all focussed on developing this part of the business and we have big plans for the coming year.

We have a team of in-house designers who are constantly working on new concepts and projects, this is without doubt the heart of our business and whilst we don?t have an interior design studio, we work with most of the best designers in the world. We are very particular about who we work with, and how our products are displayed ? we wouldn?t engage in any business partnership that may compromise the brand.

America is also big for us; we are the largest supplier to Restoration Hardware, who for me present one of the best retail experiences in the world, some of their stores are breathtaking! Restoration Hardware is a good fit for our brand, the attention to detail with their in-store displays creates a lifestyle and identity that is now iconic in the industry. Quality is also important for us ? Tim has a house on site, he lives and breathes every piece of furniture, to say he is immensely dedicated is an understatement. It is very easy to create things, but to offer real service takes dedication, and the brothers have raised the bar every time.

In the Maison et Objet show in Paris this year (one of the best shows in the world) it was evident that many suppliers had introduced mixtures of wood and metal into their new collections. I also noticed that whilst we were highly individual last year, there seemed to be a huge number of companies making derivatives of Halo?s typical vintage style. This is always the price you pay for innovating with design, our saving grace being the speed at which we evolve. We are currently working on our Indigo story, with a focus on vibrant colours and complementary textures. By adding new vibrant linens and vintage moleskins to our leather offering we have added some femininity to our typically masculine footprint.

In this industry you have to move and react quickly with design. We are currently looking at different powder coating and quilting techniques; you have to look outside the box and to other industries for inspiration to keep ahead of the game.

We have developed several manufacturing techniques to create new authentic styles; we tend to test a few to see what works well for us. A typical example of this – We use a cement mixer to age our linens, adding stones and bricks into the cycle to get authentic characteristics. It creates a wonderful effect that you would struggle to create by hand ? they look great in contrast to our vintage leathers. We import all of our reclaimed pine from the UK and create ranges such as our Gentlemen?s club collection which have proved very successful across the world. I am very proud of our furniture and respect the massive amount of effort and expertise that is dedicated to this area. In the world of product development, for every winner there inevitably has to be runners up!

I think relying on just good service is no longer enough for a hotel ? I think you have to create an impact and an impression. I think within the chain hotels there is no individuality, 9 times out of 10 on first impression you could be anywhere in the world and in any one of a number of hotel groups. For me it says everything when I walk into Aviator, there is a great atmosphere, a great buzz ? even great smells! For me it is all about the little touches. The architecture here is great and the extra touches make all the difference.

My personal taste is for timeless furniture. I like statement pieces, but I am a little more classical with my tastes. When I walk into any space, I like it to feel comfortable; the furniture has to be functional. I think small, little hotels are my thing, although I am a big fan of the Ritz-Carlton in New York, the family favourite is the Sandpiper in Barbados ? it is so personal. When I use a hotel I check everything ? the linen, the sofas ? everything, even my two daughters are getting good at it!

“My Mulberry washbag goes everywhere with me, and has done for about the last 18 years! I think it is now as authentic as some of our furniture!”
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Food and Wine are major pleasures in my life. I?m a massive Thai food fan, so we spend a lot of time in Thailand, and I also like the River Café in London. I would drink white wine with my Thai food ? probably an Ecco Domani Pinot Griggio? I did try the Little Beauty when I last visited your hotel, I must say it was beautiful!

My last holiday was in Tuscany, we stayed in a delightful B&B called Ankhura Ankhura in a village called Monterongriffoli. It is run by a Scandinavian couple who offered cookery classes and the chance to prepare dinner for the other guests. It was a real Masterclass in Tuscan cooking, and great fun ? probably for the added opportunity to sample their comprehensive wine cellar whilst I was cooking! We also loved a restaurant called La Locanda del Castello in Giovanni d’Asso, near Siena. The restaurant is located in the oldest part of the building which itself is within the ancient walls of the hamlet. It was a real experience to enjoy some of their local specialities that really are produced on the doorstep. The fact that Italians love their interiors too makes the visit extra special!