Conran and one of his earliest designs, the Cone Chair, in the 1950s
Conran and one of his earliest designs, the Cone Chair, in the 1950s

Sir Terence Conran death: British designer who founded Habitat dies aged 88

Retail pioneer broke down class boundaries by making fashionable furniture accessible to the masses

Sophie Gallagher@scfgallagher
Saturday 12 September 2020 13:05
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The pioneering designer, retailer and restaurateur Sir Terence Conran has died at the age of 88. 

Sir Terence, who founded both furniture retailer Habitat and the Design Museum, promoted British design, culture and the arts around the world through his wide-ranging body of work. 

In Britain, he helped break down class boundaries by making quality designs more widely available across the population.

In a separate statement, released by the Design Museum – which Sir Terence founded in 1989 – it describes him as a “visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionised the way we live in Britain”.

The statement continued: “Founding the Design Museum in London was one of his proudest moments and through its endeavours he remained a relentless champion of the importance of education to young people in the creative industries.

“In his private life he was adored by his family and friends and we will miss him dearly.”

Born in 1931 in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, Sir Terence went on to study textile design at London’s Central School of Art and had a furniture-making business in the East End of London.

Sir Terence studied textile design at London’s Central School of Art before beginning his career making and selling furniture, including innovative flat-pack creations.

He went on to open restaurants across London before launching the first Habitat furniture store in 1964 on Fulham Road in Chelsea, which was at the heart of the “Swinging Sixties” phenomenon in the British capital. 

Its staff were attired in uniforms by Mary Quant and had their hair styled by Vidal Sassoon. Many more furniture and lifestyle stores would follow in the years to come.

Sir Terence, who was knighted in 1983, personally influenced other household-name brands like Heal’s and Mothercare. He also set up the Conran Roche architecture practice in 1980. 

He bought the Michelin Building in London in 1987, refurbishing it to become a home for The Conran Shop, Octopus publishing and the Bibendum restaurant.

His ambitions expanded across the Atlantic. As early as 1976, he opened a Habitat shop at the Citicorp building in Manhattan under the name Conran. In the 1990s, his international operations grew further, with the opening of a Conran Shop in Tokyo in 1994, followed five years later with one in New York underneath the 59th Street Bridge.

“From the late 1940s to the present day, his energy and creativity thrived in his shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels and through his many design, architecture and furniture making businesses,” his family said.

The family also said his involvement in founding the Design Museum in 1989 was one of his “proudest moments”. The museum shifted to Shad Thames, an old section of London near Tower Bridge, in 1989 following an innovative start as the Boilerhouse in the basement of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Lord Mandelson, chairman of the board of trustees at the Design Museum, said: “Terence Conran has filled our lives for generations with ideas, innovation and brilliant design.

“He is one of the most iconic figures of post-war Britain, starting to recast the world of design when as a young man he joined the team working on the 1951 Festival of Britain and never stopping from that moment on.”

Businessman Javad Marandi, whose family acquired The Conran Shop chain from Sir Terence earlier this year, said: “It continues to be a unique privilege to propagate Sir Terence’s incredible contribution and we will do everything in our power to ensure his work and guiding principles endure for generations to come.”

He was married four times, including to Shirley Conran, who helped launch Conran Design before becoming the author of self-help books like Superwoman and the racy bestseller Lace.

Conran’s five children – Sebastian, Jasper, Tom, Sophie and Ned – from those marriages have followed in their father’s footsteps, forging successful careers in the creative sector.

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