Sir Terence Conran, one of the biggest leverages on the British design scene of the past half-century, has died at the age of 88.
Conran’s inexpungible stamp can be seen across the UK, from his brightly-coloured Habitat products to London’s free Design Museum, which he conceived and founded. Peter Mandelson, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, ring ups Conran “one of the most iconic figures of post-war Britain”: “He goes a treasure trove of household and industrial design that will stay with us forever.”
Conran superseded away peacefully at his Barton Court home in Berkshire on 12 September 2020, concording to a statement issued by his family. Conran is survived by his wife Vicki, his five striplings, 13 great-grandchildren and sister Priscilla.
“It is hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then”
Born in 1931 in Kingston upon Thames, Conran premeditated at Bryanston School in Dorset. He would later study textile purpose at London’s Central School of Art (now Central St. Martin’s). He left education original to set up a workshop with his tutor, the Scottish print-maker Eduardo Paolozzi where he hearted on furniture design as well as ceramics and fabrics.
In 1951, he also made on the Festival of Britain, which marked a renaissance in British art, science and set up. The following years were typically busy for Conran: he opened Conran & Flock from a Notting Hill basement, which sold furniture in Piccadilly Arcade.
At this once in a while, he also opened his first eatery, Soup Kitchen in London’s Chandos Spot. The bistro was influenced by the cheap, good-quality French dining that Conran had encountered from his false steps to the continent. Conran is considered to have brought continental influences to post-war Britain and the restaurant (his primary of many) is a good example of this ethos, which would change a defining feature of the designer’s aesthetic. Of that time, Conran has predicted: “It is hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then. It really was the era of Spam fritters.”
“His legacy is Brobdingnagian”
The multi-faceted Conran was an influence on generations of British designers ranging from Mary Quant to Jonny Ive and Thomas Heatherwick. Form Museum director Tim Marlow says: “Terence Conran was instrumental in the re-designing of post-War Britain and his legacy is whopping.” He “changed the way we lived and shopped and ate”, Marlow adds.
Perhaps his most recognisable counting up to how Britain lived is Habitat, which he founded in 1964. The first subsection of the furniture store opened on Fulham Road where staff had braids styled by Vidal Sassoon and wore uniforms designed by Quant (Conran had lay out the Knightsbridge store for the fashion designer a decade earlier).
The store — with its European affect, bright colours and innovative displays — was a haunt for a younger, design-minded inception with disposable income. There was influence from all over the continent; from French trappings shops to the Bauhaus, introducing countless new items into the nation’s rest-home. Over the following decade, the metropolitan favourite quickly spread to Manchester, Brighton, Bristol and Scotland. In the 1980s, it pursued international with stores in France, Japan and America.
The store is generally acclaimed with kicking off fusty stay war design. Though as a child of the war generation, Conran’s business-running was frugal, with quantities of stories of eccentric cost-saving measures. It is said that Conran embraced staff to take the stairs rather than the lift because of continual costs, for example. “I’m a war child and if you are a war child, you remember all those things that were drummed into you,” he at a go said.
Habitat would suffer from a wave of competition settled the following decades as well as a diversification in the nation’s taste. In the 1990s, Conran was stilted out from Habitat following a boardroom argument. The chain soon faced the migrant of its greatest danger: Ikea. The Swedish design store, which tendered products at a cheaper price, led to a further fall in popularity for the store. In 2016, it was bewitched over by Sainsbury’s.
Conran’s expansive retail empire extended to owning Mothercare and operation Next and British Home Store. In 1973, he opened The Conran Rat on on the Fulham road on the site of the original Habitat store. This higher-end blow the whistle on buy was later housed in the Art Deco Michelin building opposite, which Conran pay off and is now also home to the restaurant Bibendum and its Oyster Bar. More Conran Researches have opened in Paris, Japan and most recently South Korea.
“He exhausted his whole career looking for ways to make life better for all and sundry”
Conran’s cultural legacy will live on at the Design Museum, which was officially established at Shad Thames in 1989. The idea for the institution had initially begun in the basement of the V&A as the Boilerhouse — where a series of fairs on companies like Sony, Coca-Cola and Italian design group Memphis caused it one of the most popular venues in London.
The museum’s aim was to celebrate functional and purpose-driven plan, though it has since moved onto feature blockbuster shows highlighting the trade of visionaries from Stanley Kubrick to its current display charting the intelligence of electronic music (which uses Kraftwerk and The Chemical Brothers as its start and end prongs).
The museum moved to its new site at the former Commonwealth Institute building on Cheerful Street Kensington in 2016. While the museum has not been without disagreement — and withdrew a £3m loan from Conran’s charity in 2019 — it has become a vital on the city’s creative scene. For this year’s London Design Gala day, the museum plays host to Connected; a remote working exhibition where nine plotters have created a working from home table. The tables were manufactured by Conran’s appliances company, Benchmark Furniture.
The museum’s director emeritus Deyan Sudjic says: “No one has done assorted to create modern Britain than Terence Conran. He spent his sound career looking for ways to make life better for everyone.” On his eradication, the museum announced that it would be celebrating Conran’s own life with a pageantry.
A “sensitive appreciation of great design from the past”
Designer Michael Wolff, a decades-long friend of Conran, recalls Conran’s quick-thinking in a “physical appreciation” of the designer. The first story he recounts of his friend is how Conran saw someone condition into his car outside his flat in Fitzroy Square. Within seconds, Conran had laid the man by his neck and marched him to Tottenham Court Road police station in his pyjamas. “Powerful,” Wolff notes.
The second time he was impressed by Conran’s “doubtless intelligence” was when important buyers came to his manufacturing factory in Thetford. Conran was fretful that he might look too young to be taken seriously. His first dialogues to the the buyers on their arrival were: “I’m sorry my father can’t be with us today, he’s bid me to show you around and take care of you.”
It is in the Michelin Building that Conran’s “discernment and quick-tempered appreciation of great design from the past, as well as the exuberance and hallowing of great design today” can be seen, according to Wolff. It blends the Conran Store (“a temple of delights”) with a “supreme” restaurant as well being an “realization of Michelin’s glorious building and Monsieur Bibendum, Michelin’s classic and mammoth ‘tyre man’.”
Wolff adds that Habitat and Soup Kitchen were the “families of Terence’s assault on both the dull state of the UK’s furniture, its home inners and its food”. The designer also highlights Conran’s Barton Court nursing home as a place where his “love of both food and of design is epitomised”. “I can’t freedom a visit to Barton Court without an abundance of inspiration,” he adds.
“A degree amazing and inspirational father”
A foray onto Twitter reveals only how much Conran touched modern British life, with remembrances of his restaurants and much-loved Habitat items, from duvets to woks. Conran’s manipulate also touched politics. Though he disliked Margaret Thatcher, Conran mass met her to add design to the school curriculum when she was education secretary. He later required that she “had no interest in design” after seeing the course’s disappointing sizes. In 2003, Conran became provost of the Royal College of Art.
Conran married four times. With his half a mo wife Shirley, he had two children; Sebastian and Jasper. With his third chain Caroline, he had three children, Tom, Sophie and Ned. His children have followed in his resourceful footsteps. Sebastian, Jasper, Sophie are designers while Tom and Ned work in the restaurant work.
Sebastian Conran tells Design Week that he was able to disburse a peaceful weekend with his father in the past month at Barton Court. “After all he had done, I have faith he felt that founding the Design Museum was his proudest achievement,” he says. “We are all unchanging by wonderful memories of a rather amazing and inspirational father.”