LONDON – Sir Terence Conran, the designer, retailer, restaurateur and lifestyle pioneer who changed the way post-war Britons furnished their homes, has died aged 88, according to the London Design Museum, which Conran founded in 1989.
Conran, who always believed in the power of design to make people’s lives better, died on Sept. 12 – a few weeks shy of his 89th birthday – at home in west London, following a career that began in the late 1940s and spanned more than half a century.
“He was a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionized the way we live in Britain. He promoted the best of British design, culture and the arts around the world and at the heart of everything he did was a very simple belief that good design improves the quality of people’s lives,” Conran’s family said in a statement.
The family added that Conran remained a “relentless champion” of the importance of education to young people in the creative industries, and was an “adored” father, husband and friend.
Born on Oct. 4, 1931, Conran studied textile design at London’s Central School of Art. He left school in 1948 and set up a workshop with his tutor, the artist and print-maker Eduardo Paolozzi where he concentrated his skills on furniture design, ceramics and fabrics. In the early 1950s, he worked on the Festival of Britain alongside the architect Dennis Lennon.
He founded the furniture company Habitat in 1964, which became an international chain, and set an early template for the modern interiors – and lifestyle – store, inspiring the likes of Ikea, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware.
He would later build restaurants into his shops, and the latter became famous in their own right, such as Bibendum in South Kensington, Bluebird in Chelsea and Pont de la Tour in southeast London.
He opened his first restaurant, The Soup Kitchen, in 1953 and his interests extended to Paris, New York, Copenhagen and Tokyo. Last year, he opened his 52nd restaurant, Wilder, in the basement of the Boundary Hotel in London. It focuses on seasonal, local foods.
Habitat led him to found the Storehouse Group, which acquired the Heal’s furniture business; set up the high street fast-fashion and interiors chain Next, and ran the retailers British Home Stores and Mothercare. He opened the first The Conran Shop in 1972, with eight stores located in London, Paris, New York and Japan.
He also founded The Conran Design Group, which specialized in designing hotel and restaurant interiors, 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.
He founded the Design Museum in Shad Thames, southeast London, in 1989. In 2016, the Design Museum relocated to Kensington to a modernist building re-designed by John Pawson. The Design Museum said it will celebrate Conran’s life, career and contribution to the museum with a commemorative display and memory book for the public to sign.
Deyan Sudjic, director emeritus of the Design Museum, said Saturday that “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.”
Conran won a medal for Arts Philanthropy in 2012, while in 2017 Queen Elizabeth awarded him the Order of the Companions of Honour for his contribution to the arts. He was the subject of a monographic exhibition “The Way We Live Now” at the Design Museum in 2011 to coincide with his 80th birthday.
Last year, Conran was the subject of a show at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum along with Mary Quant, who was a close collaborator and friend. Called “Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution,” the show featured their work displayed together in lifestyle settings such as a living room and a shop.
Also in the exhibition was Conran’s Cone Chair from the Fifties, a host of commercially produced furniture made for open-plan living and an innovative open-shelf display from the first Habitat shop on Fulham Road from 1960.
Dennis Nothdruft, head of exhibitions at the museum and curator of this exhibition, said the show was meant to mark the achievements of Quant, Conran and many others who, through commercial success, brought clothes, furniture — and a modern lifestyle — into people’s lives in post-war Britain.
He is survived by his five children and his wife, Vicki. His son Jasper Conran is a fashion and homeware designer based in London.