Leading article: Sign of the times

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It's not quite over; three Habitat stores will remain for the time being in London.

But the brand that pioneered stylish home furnishings for the post-post-war generation of Britons is to be bought by the owner of Argos and Homebase – which to aficionados is not at all the same thing. The rise of Habitat testified to the arrival of a new breed of home-owners with a new awareness of design; Terence Conran spotted them, and helped educate their taste.

There are times, though, when a good idea can be almost too good. Habitat spawned imitators, and others came along, such as Sweden's Ikea, which specialised in doing something simpler and cheaper, but still pleasing to the eye. Habitat's decline mirrored the fortunes of its customers who might be said to exemplify the "squeezed middle" of today; the stagnation of the housing market only penalised the brand further. The heyday of Habitat, though, was about more than household budgets; it was about aspiration and lifestyle and the zeitgeist of late 20th century Britain – and so, alas, is its fall.

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