Sir Terence Conran, the British designer who revolutionized retail and décor, has died at the age of 88.
Known as the founder of Habitat, he brought modern style and simplicity to British homes in the 1960s and later helped found the Design Museum.
“He was a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionized our lives in Britain,” read a family statement.
“He was adored by his family and friends and we will miss him dearly.”
- Obituary: Sir Terence Conran
The statement added: “It gives us great comfort to know that many of you will mourn with us, but we ask that you celebrate Terences’ exceptional heritage and contribution to the country he loved so much.”
He “promoted the best of British design, culture and art around the world” with “a very simple belief that good design improves people’s quality of life”.
Sir Terence began his career in the late 1940s, but became a household name as one of the most important designers of the swinging 1960s.
His empire continued to include restaurants, architecture, and household brands like Mothercare, but he’s still best known for his accessible and fashionable furniture, interiors, and housewares.
Years before Ikea hit the British shores, he pioneered flat-pack furniture and helped lower the prices of its innovative designs to “democratize good design”.
Design museum director Tim Marlow presided over the awards and said it was “a privilege and an inspiration to know him”.
In a statement, Marlow wrote: “Terence Conran was instrumental in reshaping post-war Britain and his legacy is vast.
“He has been adored by generations of designers, from Mary Quant and David Mellor to Thomas Heatherwick and Jonny Ive.
“He changed the way we lived, shopped and ate. He also created a great institution – the Design Museum – which he was rightly proud of and which he kept busy until the end of his extraordinary life . “
The designer and architect George Clarke, the gardener and broadcaster Monty Don and the restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin paid tribute, among others.
After studying textile design and setting up his own furniture studio, Conran joined an architecture firm in 1950 and worked at the Festival of Britain the following year.
His ambitious and far-reaching approach to design and business became apparent in the 1950s. A furniture workshop, a French-inspired restaurant and a café eventually led him to found the Conran Design Group. The company also designed interiors and retail spaces, including a shop for pioneering fashion designer Quant from the 1960s.
Conran opened the first Habitat store on Fulham Road in 1964, selling tasteful and trend-setting furniture, art, household and cooking products to an up-and-coming young clientele who wanted to break away from the dreary austerity measures of the post-war era.
“It’s hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then,” he said later. “You could walk down a terrace of houses, and every living room you looked into was exactly the same, with the same extremely bleak furniture.”
Conran was heavily influenced by continental European styles and is credited with introducing comforters to Britain.
Habitat quickly expanded across the UK, taking over Mothercare and British Home Stores, as well as other businesses such as its extensive and influential restaurant business – including Bibendum and Quaglino’s – and The Conran Shop. He also wrote numerous books on design and food.
“The restaurants, hotels and bars that we have designed or operated, the shops, the interiors, the buildings, the products and furniture, the books I have written – design connects them all and they add up to what I am name a lifestyle, “he said.
He was married four times, including to Shirley Conran, who Conran Design started before becoming the author of self-help books such as Superwoman and the classy bestseller Lace.
Their sons Jasper and Sebastian Conran both became designers, while his other three children – Tom, Sophie and Ned – forged successful careers in the creative field, especially in food writing and restaurateurs, from his third wife, the food writer Caroline.