Terence Conran, 1931 – 2020

Posted on by Guy Cookson

Sir Terence Conran, who died in September aged 88, was fond of saying that he only ever worked for someone else once.

Soon after dropping out of college Conran joined a firm designing stands for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

It did not last. The restless energy, for which he became famous, led him to set out on his own just a few months later.

Success came quickly. A commission to design the interior of Mary Quant’s second Bazaar shop raised his profile.

In 1953 he made his first foray into hospitality with the opening of a bistro – an innovative concept at the time – called Soup Kitchen in Charing Cross.

Then, as the seminal Pop Art exhibition ‘This Is Tomorrow’ took place in 1956, he established the Conran Design Group.

Its output both captured and shaped the zeitgeist, as a new generation sought stylish, colourful furnishings after years of grey post-war austerity.

In 1964, frustrated by fusty furniture retailers, Conran decided to launch his own group of stores.

Habitat introduced European style and simplicity to British homes, from Bauhaus chairs and Braun stereos to French cooking utensils and – a novelty at the time – duvets. Habitat even popularised flatpack furniture, some twenty years before IKEA arrived on these shores.

By the 1980s Conran’s ferocious ambition had outpaced his business acumen, and the addition of Mothercare and a drab BHS to his retail empire ultimately caused its collapse.

But his instincts never left him. After losing control of Habitat he launched a new collection of design centric shops – simply called Conran – as well as a series of restaurants (50 over his lifetime).

He was also closely involved in the establishment of the Design Museum in London in 1989.

“He had an absolutely sincere passion about the importance of ordinary things – a drinking glass, a roast chicken, a kilim tapestry-woven rug, a table – and taught anyone willing to listen to share it,” wrote Stephen Baylay in a tribute. “His passions were fixed and benevolent.”

“The designer’s job,” Conran once said. “Is to imagine the world not how it is, but how it should be.”


A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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