Designer, entrepreneur and restaurateur who transformed British taste through his passion for the importance of everyday things.
The Swinging Sixties in London was flourishing in art, music and fashion. The Beatles were the leaders in music. Mary Quant’s miniskirt was the style and popular shopping areas such as King’s Road and Carnaby Street were the hot spots for the trendy happy-go lucky. Biba, Twiggy, Dusty Springfield, David Bailey just a few of the many names that illustrate the essence of London in the sixties.
During this period, the city of London underwent a change from gloomy grimy post-war to the bright, care-free epicenter of style and flair. The younger people enjoyed greater freedom and fewer responsibilities than their parents, they also benefitted from a more secure economy. Pop art was in full bloom, so was the film industry and television.
And then there was Terence Conran who in his own words believed that « style and design could add quality to life » and redefined in his own way the urban world. By 1962, he opened an innovative flat-pack manufacture company, the first of its kind in the UK, which produced easy to assemble Conran « Summa » furniture making plain, simple useful design accessible to all.
Habitat followed shortly and opened on Fulham Road in 1964. For the first time, merchandise appearing on the glossy pages of foreign architecture magazines was available on the shelves of this Chelsea shop in London. It sold a combination of urban Scandinavian styled furniture and rural French housewares. The concept created by Sir Terence Conran was simple yet brilliant and it was to change the landscape for designers in Britain at that time.
As noted in The Guardian by Stephen Bayley, Conran was a visionary « …he was the first to see the connection between wanting to make ratatouille and wanting a kitchen to make it in. »
The business quickly expanded throughout the UK in the sixties and internationally with the first overseas store in Paris in 1973 and in New York in 1977. Habitat published a catalogue that showed a range of products. The merchandising in the shops was alluring, cosmopolitan, brilliantly packaged, the staff’s uniforms were designed by Caroline Charles and Beatles music was played. The whole retail concept of Habitat was innovative and refreshing for an aspiring generation of first-time buyers emerging from an effervescent society.
Conran became the master of the retail business and a unique editor of merchandise. He moved on to create a series of businesses which spanned design, retail, publishing, restaurants and food. His vision is the epitome of the term « lifestyle ». His objective was to enhance interiors and to inspire people to enjoy a pleasurable way of life – cheerful interiors, good food with a continental flair.
Sir Terence Conran had a passion for ordinary things. He not only had a keen eye and good taste but an equally outstanding entrepreneurial flair. It can be said that he created the beginning of chain stores. He is the man behind Mothercare, British Home Store, the leader of the flat – pack in Uk before Ikea, he opened over 50 restaurants without forgetting the iconic conversion and restoration of the Michelin House which houses the Bibendum Restaurant. In 1989 he founded the Design Museum, the first of its kind, it was opened in the presence of Margaret Thatcher.
There is no denying the importance of Terence Conran’s contribution. His legacy is stylish useful home decor to the mass market at a price they can afford.
He passed away earlier this month aged 88. His children, contemporary designers Sebastian, Jasper, and Sophie Conran, continue his legacy.