Giant of British design Sir Terence Conran passes away at 88

The designer, retailer, restaurateur and philanthropist made his name in the 1960s, bringing modern style and simplicity to the country’s homes.

14 September 2020

Sir Terence Conran, the British designer who founded Habitat and later helped found London’s Design Museum, died on Saturday (12 September) at the age of 88.

Tributes poured in over the weekend from all corners of the design industry, with Tim Marlow, director of the Design Museum, saying: “Terence Conran was instrumental in the re-designing of post-war Britain and his legacy is huge. He is revered by generations of designers, from Mary Quant and David Mellor to Thomas Heatherwick and Jonny Ive. He changed the way we lived and shopped and ate.”

Tim Marlow’s predecessor, Deyan Sudjic, now director emeritus of the Design Museum, said in a statement: “No one has done more to create modern Britain than Terence Conran. He spent his whole career looking for ways to make life better for everyone.”

Born in 1931, Sir Terence studied textile design at London’s Central School of Art before he set up a workshop with his tutor, the artist and print-maker Eduardo Paolozzi. Here, he concentrated on furniture design, ceramics and fabrics. Then, in the early 1950s, he worked on the Festival of Britain alongside architect Dennis Lennon.

However, Sir Terence really became a household name in the 1960s, as one of the key designers of that decade. In 1964, he founded Habitat, the furniture company that he grew from a single, high-profile outlet in London to become an international chain. Habitat was the springboard for Conran’s expansion into the retail mainstream. As the founder of the Storehouse Group, he acquired the Heal’s furniture business, set up Next and ran British Home Stores and Mothercare. He opened the first The Conran Shop in 1972, with eight stores located in London, Paris, New York and across Japan.

Sir Terence was also at the forefront of professionalising design in Britain throughout his life. Founded over 60 years ago, The Conran Design Group demonstrated the best of design in Britain, specialising in interiors, hotel and restaurant design, graphics, products and homeware. He would also go on to establish an architectural practice with Fred Lloyd Roche called Conran Roche that eventually became Conran and Partners.

Alongside design, food was also one of Terence’s great passions and he became a renowned restaurateur. His first restaurant, with Ivan Storey, The Soup Kitchen, opened in London in 1953 and he went on to open many more including Pont de la Tour, Bibendum, Orrery, Quaglino’s and Mezzo.

In a statement, Sir Terence’s family wrote: “He was a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionised the way we live in Britain… It gives us great comfort to know that many of you will mourn with us, but we ask that you celebrate Terence’s extraordinary legacy and contribution to the country he loved so dearly.”

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Portrait of Sir Terence Conran (Copyright © 2020 the Design Museum)

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Matt Alagiah

Matt joined It’s Nice That as editor in October 2018 and became editor-in-chief in September 2020. He was previously executive editor at Monocle magazine. Drop him a line with ideas and suggestions, or simply to say hello.

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