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Maximalist shops are in, and we’re here for it

More is more is more is more.

Maximalist shops are in, and we’re here for it
[Photos: courtesy Timothy Oulton]

Apollo 11 has landed—at the corner of Broadway and 20th Street.

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In 1969, NASA’s lunar module put the first man on the moon. Today, a life-size replica (minus the computers) makes up the centerpiece lounge of a lavish new store in midtown Manhattan. Welcome to the new flagship store of British furniture brand Timothy Oulton.

[Photo: courtesy Timothy Oulton]
The story of Timothy Oulton started in 1976 with an antiques shop in Manchester, U.K. owned by Oulton’s father. Since then, the British designer has grown the business into a 46-store affair (the New York outpost is No. 47), moved his headquarters to China, and grown a design empire out of a lychee garden in the countryside. His now-famous Rex mirror has allegedly made it into the homes of Kylie Jenner, Paris Hilton, and Beyoncé.

The New York showroom occupies the ground floor of a historic landmark building designed in 1870 for the country’s oldest department store chain, Lord & Taylor. Much has changed since then. For one, and particularly over the past two years, more and more people are shopping online. Inevitably, as the pandemic wanes, brands are racing to lure people back to IRL shopping with superlatives, grand gestures, and extraordinary experiences. In Shanghai, a new store features China’s largest collection of toys. And in Seattle, customers of online beauty brand Glossier are greeted by hologram butterflies and a giant moss-covered boulder reigning supreme at the center of the store. Maximalist shops are in.

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[Photo: courtesy Timothy Oulton]
But none are more maximalist than Timothy Oulton. Here, guests are greeted by Derek the Diver who is dressed like an astronaut and floating inside a 3.5-ton cylindrical aquarium (there are actual fish, too). The rest of the store unfolds like a cabinet of curiosities. There is a model car of the New York subway whirring around the room along overhead suspended tracks (the subway was painted by a graffiti artist for a realistic look). There’s a motorcycle hanging from the ceiling. And there is Apollo 11, its black polished steel mirroring the glowing chandeliers around and above it. “We want to create visceral experiences, to spark an emotion, to move people in some way,” says designer Timothy Oulton. “With pieces like Apollo and Derek the Diver, it’s not about a commercial angle, it’s about wanting people to walk out thinking ‘what on Earth was that?'”

[Photo: courtesy Timothy Oulton]
To no one’s surprise, everything here is for sale (except the beguiling scent of floral potpourri wafting through the air). One of the priciest items in the store is a $42,000 mirror framed in more than 15,000 individual rock crystals (according to the designer’s website, it takes 41 days to assemble). One of the cheapest is a $140 velvety cushion sporting the British flag (it can be customized into any flag). Everything in between runs the gamut from a bar cart with a swiveling door made of triangular glass prisms, to a dining table made of two glistening slabs of Chinese black marble pressed together.

[Photo: courtesy Timothy Oulton]
The store spans two floors with an additional mezzanine level. Standing proud at the center of the ground floor is Apollo 11. Climbing inside feels like stepping into a VIP cocoon, which of course is the whole point of the experience. A hand-tufted leather banquette hugs a glowing alabaster table at the center. Meanwhile, the tapering walls are swathed in a diamond-tufted painting of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and the ceiling is crowned with a glass chandelier from Oulton’s Odeon collection.

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For the jolly sum of $130,000, those who want to make a splash can join the ranks of Gordon Ramsay, who bought another version of Oulton’s Apollo 11 replica some years ago and turned it into a private dining booth in his Street Lounge restaurant in London.

It goes without saying that the New York flagship was designed to provoke a sense of wonder that is more akin to an attraction ride than a standard shopping outing. This isn’t a store for the average-salaried person (about the only thing I could afford is that pillow). But what is clear is that the level of care that the brand has put into the experience is working hard to lure customers in. The showroom cost $1 million to overhaul, and Oulton signed a 10-year lease.

[Photo: courtesy Timothy Oulton]
“Digital is growing because it’s fast and responsive, but I always say that human touch is key,” says Oulton. “We don’t sell online because we want the store to be the core, and the store is about trying to wow and entertain people, not educate people. The store’s a fun place to be.”

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