Sir Terence Conran: ‘Visionary’ designer dies at 88

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The Empire of Sir Terence spread to restaurants, furniture and architecture

Sir Terence Conran, the British designer who revolutionized retail and decoration, has died at the age of 88.

Well known as the founder of Habitat, he brought modern style and simplicity to UK homes in the 1960s and later helped to discover the Design Museum.

“He was a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career, which revolutionized the way we live in Britain,” a family statement said.

“He was admired by his family and friends and we will love him very much.”

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Sir Terence at the opening of the Swinging London Exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2019

  • Death: Sir Terence Conran

The statement added: “It is comforting to know that many of you will mourn with us, but we urge you to celebrate Terence’s extraordinary legacy and contribution to the country he loved so much.”

He “promoted British design, culture and the fine arts around the world”, “with the very simple belief that good design improves people’s quality of life”.

Sir Terence began his career in the late 1940s, but Swinging became a household name as one of the leading designers of the 60s.

His empire goes to restaurants, architecture and home retail brands including Mothercare, but he is also known for his accessible and fashionable furniture, interiors and homeware.

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Image from Terence Conran Suite on the border in 2009 in Shoreditch

Many years before IKEA came to the British shores he provided flat-pack furniture, helping to reduce the cost of his sophisticated designs in an effort to “democratize good design”.

Tim Marlowe, director of the Design Museum, presided over the tribute, saying it was “a privilege and inspiration to get to know him.”

In a statement, Marlowe wrote: “Terence Conran played a key role in redesigning post-war Britain, and his legacy is enormous.

‘Extraordinary Life’

“He has been revered by many generations of designers from Mary Quant and David Meller to Thomas Heatherwick and Johnny Eve.

“He changed the way we lived and shopped and ate. He created a great company – a design museum – in which he was reasonably proud, and he was fully involved until the end of his extraordinary life.”

Designer and architect George Clark, gardener and broadcaster Monty Don and restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin paid tribute.

After studying textile design and setting up his own furniture studio, Conran joined an architectural firm in 1950, after which he worked at a festival in Britain.

Going into the 50s, his ambitious and broader approach to design and business became clear. A furniture workshop, a French-inspired restaurant and a coffee shop eventually led him to form the Conran design team. The company also designed interiors and retail spaces, including a shop for Quantum, a leading fashion designer of the 60s.

Conran opened the first residential store on Fulham Road in 1964, selling taste-making and trend-setting furniture, art, home and culinary products to a growing number of young customers who want to opt out of post-war austerity.

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Shopkeepers at a residential store in 1973

“It’s hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then,” he later said. “You can go to the terraces of houses. Every living room you’ve seen is the same, with the same dull furniture.”

Conran was greatly influenced by the European styles he saw, and was proud to introduce the duet to Britain.

Habitat expanded rapidly in the UK, and he took over Mothercare and British Home Stores, as well as other ventures such as Fibentum and his extensive and influential restaurant business, including the Quaclinos and The Conran store. He also wrote numerous books on design and food.

“The restaurants, hotels and bars we design or operate, the shops, the interiors, the buildings, the products and the furniture or the books I write – design is all about connecting, they add to what I call a lifestyle,” he said.

He was married four times, including Shirley Conran, who helped Conran start designing before becoming the author of self-help books such as Superwoman and Race Bestseller Lace.

Their two sons, Jasper and Sebastian Conran, became designers, while his other three children, Tom, Sophie and Nate – his third wife, food writer Caroline, have created successful careers in the creative field, especially in food writing and restaurants.

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