Tim Mutton is the CEO and founder of Blacksheep, a leading design agency whose entire focus lies on the world of food and drink.
Having an innate understanding of environments—and, crucially, people’s experience of them—began when he was young. Tim’s father was in the army and the family moved around every two years, meaning Tim became highly tuned to new surroundings. "I always managed well with change," he says.
It also taught him the value of making. Tim recalls how his parents would build almost every house they lived in. He remembers seeing the foundations going in, the walls going up and the roof going on, giving him spatial and practical awareness and an understanding of materials and how they go together. This still influences Tim’s practice today.
Tim is clear his successes to date are explained by him feeling like a black sheep growing up. He never really adapted well to academia, and left school early without any formal qualifications. His taste for hospitality started when his uncle—a hotelier with the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts —suggested he work in a restaurant. Tim washed dishes in a kitchen in Aberdeen, Scotland, before quickly being promoted to behind the bar. Despite enjoying the experience, he soon realised it was time to get an education, and began a BTEC in Art and Design at the Southampton Institute of further Education. This was followed by a degree in Interior Design at Middlesex University, for which he achieved a first honours.
His childhood memories of his family building houses, his time spent washing dishes in Aberdeen and his degree design experience merged in 1994 when he did a placement at Conran Design Partnership (CDP). This was when he saw the value in business, restaurant operations and design, working directly on projects such as Mezzo in Soho, The Chop House and Le Pont de la Tour, in Shad Thames, London. The CDP studio was located nearby, and Tim directly learnt how to measure things and understand practical application of creative thinking. He was then hired by the newly established United Designers and spent five years working there on a range of restaurant and hotel projects. It was the 1990s and London’s gastronomic scene was flourishing: Tim worked on restaurants for chefs Gordon Ramsey, Marco Pierre White and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who were leading the charge at the time.
Then, with just two computers and one telephone, Tim established Blacksheep in 2002. He sold his car to do so, and remained unpaid for the first three years. It was simply created out of a passion for design, but also enthusiasm for doing things differently. “We were an agency with a difference, which was being able to view projects on a holistic basis, as opposed to pure interior design,” he says. Enthusiasm and drive were integral to this, and these are qualities essential to anyone joining the Blacksheep team today. His leadership style encourages the Blacksheep team to think laterally and to experiment. Tim’s history of being hands-on and gutsy defines the agency today.
This approach has made him an expert in his field. Tim, winner of the Wave of Future Award US 2012 for hospitality design, is considered a leading authority on the hospitality sector. He regularly appears as a speaker at high profile events, including the 50th Anniversary of the British Institute of Interior Design, The Menu for Monocle magazine, The R200 Restaurant Conference, The Sleeper Event and The Hospitality Show.
His expert advice and presence is often requested at leadership conferences organised by international hospitality brands. He also lectures at KLC and the Inchbald School of Design. He has made several appearances and has consulted on several leading television programmes, including Ramsay’s Kitchen nightmares, Mary Queen of Shops and The Fixer.