Conran goes back to his roots as a furniture designer

Terry Kirby
Tuesday 03 December 2002 01:00
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Four decades after Habitat burst on to the scene in the Swinging Sixties, Sir Terence Conran has returned to the drawing board to design a new range of mass-produced furniture.

Sir Terence, now possibly known more as a restaurateur than the man who brought stripped pine and bean bags to the living rooms of the middle classes, has produced a range in partnership with the country's biggest furniture manufacturer, Christie-Tyler.

Content by Conran, the 70-piece collection of sofas, tables, cushions and rugs, is to be launched to the trade next month and go on sale to the public next summer, almost certainly in department stories and independent furniture shops. Prices will be aimed at the middle market, with sofas selling at £800 to £1,000.

Sir Terence's new designs will be eagerly awaited by those among his fans who find his three Conran Shops in London, which are aimed at the top end of the market, too expensive or too far away.

The project began after James Benfield, chief executive of Christie-Tyler, initially asked him to help to redesign the company's G-Plan range. "Our discussions went so well we decided to launch a whole new joint venture,'' Mr Benfield said.

The range has many of the traditional Conran hallmarks: clean lines, with lots of wood such as oak and ash, with plain fabrics, plus some deliberate fun, such as the two-seater "love sofa" in red velvet. "They are modern, timeless classics. Simple, but very well designed,'' Mr Benfield added.

Sir Terence, who did most of the designs at his home in France, said: "It's a very exciting project for us. Christie-Tyler have the distribution channels to get our designs into a wide range of shops around the country. And the quality of the workmanship – the upholstery and the cabinet making – is very good.'' He said the range would share the design ethos of the Conran shops, where the collection would also be sold. "It's not trying to do anything very cutting edge or different from the Conran shops.''

The success of Habitat, first opened on Fulham Road in London in 1964, put Sir Terence on a steady path of expansion. This eventually led to the Storehouse group, which also encompassed, for a short time, Mothercare and British Home Stores.

But in 1990, unhappy running the sprawling conglomerate, Sir Terence pulled out and Habitat was eventually sold to its Swedish rival Ikea, which had emulated many of its ideas but undercut its prices.

Since then, Sir Terence, now 71, has concentrated on smaller ventures: his restaurant business, which includes Bibendum, Quaglinos and Le Pont de La Tour in London, a design consultancy and the Conran Shop, which has branches in New York, Paris and Tokyo as well as London.

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