Interview: Tim Mutton,
Blacksheep

Tim Mutton

Founder and CEO of Blacksheep, Tim Mutton combines a passion for food and beverage design with in-depth sector knowledge. Tim is considered a leading authority on the hospitality sector and has been a speaker and panellist at a number of high profile events. This year he will be joining Robert Angell and Steve La Bouchardiere (DesignLSM) at the Restaurant & Bar Design Talks in Dubai.

Blacksheep is an award-winning, international and independent design agency. Tim’s philosophy places people at the centre and his mantra ‘people, growth, results’ means the studio has a very distinctive approach, believing that the experience is at the core, with design used as a tool to engineer an experience. Tim has a firm belief in the totality of brand and believes the F&B sector is driven by people, their experiences and interaction with a brand. Ahead of the Design Talks, we asked Tim to describe his work ethos, himself and talk to us about F&B design.

I’m bald, driven and love the world of design.

How do you think great food and great interior design are linked?

I passionately believe it goes beyond linking just those two. You have to think about the entire offering, the whole experience. Great food needs to come with everything else. I love looking at the entire guest experience. I do feel that interiors have an important part to play and enjoy the role a designer has in engineering the ambience, service delivery and awesomeness.

Which areas of the world do you see as the best for emerging hospitality design?

I really enjoy visiting Asia, and Thailand particularly has always had the most amazing, welcoming hospitality. I always prefer authentic hospitality as opposed to hospitality for the sake of it. So I harp back to the places that have it endemically in their DNA.

One area I haven’t had a chance to discover yet is South America. I’d love to travel through Brazil going to Peru, Chili, Argentina. Do the Pan American Highway – on a classic motorbike all the way from North America to South America. If I ever get the chance to get away, I’d love to do that journey visiting many hotels, restaurants and bars. That for me; that sense of discovering, is the best way to do it.

What was the first food and beverage space you designed?

I’d always had the idea of designing restaurant spaces. Right from doing my final year at my foundation Art and Design college before heading off to start my Interior Design Degree. For my final project I decided to design a sushi restaurant. So even at that stage I was passionate about it.

When I started out, I worked for this crazy architect in Clerkenwell Green who got this ridiculously low budget commission to look at a small family owned Italian café in the Whitgift Centre in Croydon. When I left there, I ended up working with (Sir) Terence Conran. The first project I worked on there, was Le Pont de La Tour down in Shad Thames which I absolutely loved.

What has been your most challenging project to date and why?

They are all challenging. It’s all based on meeting the needs of a client and more importantly; the guest. We are currently working with a big international corporation, creating an entire new building built around a bakery, café, retail space, cooking school, library and an urban farm. This is a dream project, but as you can imagine it has many complexities and is located in a country we have never worked in before.

Then we have a client, who has created an emerging street food brand, and that’s just as challenging because we have to help him grow, communicate his brand in the right way and make it a huge success as we take it to the next level. Every project in the studio is challenging but that is the responsibility we all have and why we love our work so much.

As a designer you should set yourself up for facing challenges every day as you only thrive when you are challenged and stretched.

What design challenges are unique to hospitality / food and beverage space design?

I feel Interior design is falling behind in the way it is being taught. The unique challenge now is that most people can make choices and visit websites before they visit hospitality environments. I feel designers need to start adapting and start thinking outside the box to look to merge the two mediums. I feel the biggest criticism that our industry gets is that we don’t take into consideration the operational requirements of a brand and that most designers are focused on making the front of house look pretty. These are always the biggest challenges a designer must manage which can make or break an F&B space. I’ve come from working in bars and restaurants and that has always been a major focus of mine at Blacksheep.

Brasserie Blanc
Brasserie Blanc (Cheltenham), Blacksheep

Who gave you your start in the industry and what did you learn most from that experience?

There were three very influential women who gave me my stepping stone start in the industry. One was my mum, who forced me in to art college, kicking and screaming when I just wanted a continue my career behind and in front of the bar. Then there is Lindsay Coppick who interviewed me and gave me my first real design job, even though I was wearing a terrible suit! Then I’d like to thank Jo Sampson, my ex wife, because I would never have started Blacksheep if it hadn’t been for her. Three women I won’t forget. What I learnt from them was to always follow my gut.

As a designer, how would you describe your in-house design style?

We don’t have a style. Design style is a lazy, selfish approach to design that doesn’t offer any value or merit to a client’s work, other than filling your portfolio in the way you want to; rather than a more intelligent way that will benefit and help them grow their brands.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Experiences. Extreme experiences. It all resonates from that and people. I enjoy designing for people in all sorts of different ways. It’s really about observation, understanding and intelligence. Design isn’t about a style, its about using your abilities as a designer to improve people’s lives.

Tell us about your recent shortlisted project The Gorgeous Kitchen, Heathrow T2, how were you inspired to create the space?

We were really fortunate to get involved with HMS Host and we delivered a tender proposal for them to the British Airport Authorities for T2 and on the strength of that idea, we got into a conversation with BAA and they wanted it to be a bit more luxury.

blacksheep gorgeous kitchen
The Gorgeous Kitchen (London), Blacksheep – Shortlisted: Restaurant or Bar in a transport space

Gorgeous Kitchen is created around these four brilliant female chefs. Its all about using the sensibilities of the four chefs and building their personalities into the scheme and making sure it exuded a certain luxury mark too.

What challenges were uniquely overcome in this project?

Working in an airport that was being built at the same time. There were a lot of design considerations in that and also there were all sorts of horrible issues with regards to the space.  There was a fire exit running straight through the middle of it, and it was awkward in terms of shape and location.

In your eyes, who are the F&B designers do you admire most?

I admire the team here. I admire working with brilliant people everyday and those who have worked here and gone on to do brilliant things.

How do you define Design Excellence?

Through success. People eat with their feet. If they walk in, they sit down, have a good time and come again. That is success for me.

You have shortlisted projects in this year’s Awards, what would be the biggest benefit to you in winning an award from the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards?

It would just be a remarkable achievement for everybody who is part of the business. As an owner, you don’t look at the financial success of the business, the important thing is the work so it’s incredibly rewarding to get the industry recognition. I’d be hugely proud of those clients and the association of winning with them but more importantly, proud of my team. You can’t get a better feeling than picking up an award for your whole team.

Red's True BBQ Manchester Multiple Restaurant
Red’s True BBQ (Manchester), Blacksheep – Shortlisted: Multiple Restaurant

What are the three most invaluable pieces of advice that you would give to aspiring hospitality designers?

Go and work in a bar or a restaurant before you even start.

Be passionate about it.

Work your fucking arse off.

What do you think will be the most significant design trends in the near future for hospitality design? 

I avoid trends. They don’t last.

Images © Blacksheep

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