Well, Terence Conran died today. He was 88, so perhaps it wasn’t a great surprise but it definitely feels the end of an incredibly important design culture that began in London and spread out across, well Europe anyway. As young architecture students in Manchester in the late 1960s his influence, through the electrifying Habitat shop on John Dalton Street, pervaded everything we did. No matter that his white circular table top (we could afford that) was balanced precariously on a salvaged Victorian table base, with twisted legs, painted white gloss to match. It was all part of the continuing modern movement. An old 1950s brown utility sideboard, with sliding glass doors, rapidly had its splayed legs cut off and was given a coat of satin black paint to match a genuine Habitat black table top with chrome trestles. Our first ‘proper’ office had Habitat black, chrome and cane chairs. We were really hip, man.
We have The House Book (1974], the updated Essential House Book (1994} and a very precious set of early Habitat catalogues – an incomplete series but an essential record of the time. You can find most of the designs – or poor copies – in Ikea now. 50 years on.
Of course he couldn’t stop there. His design studio, Conran Associates, produced some great (ok, and not so great) stuff. The Conran shops showcased an upmarket Habitat. His restaurants, however, were splendid. The theatre of Quaglinos, the achingly hip vibe of the Bluebird café, the grandeur of Pont de la Tour next to Tower Bridge in Shad Thames and the sheer scale of Mezzo, opened in 1995. Meeting our son, up from uni at Southampton, for the Turner Prize exhibition and then lunch at Mezzo was unforgettable. Though we can’t remember the food!
His restaurant empire went into administration in 2018, but he still managed to open Wilder London in 2019. Yes, it’s on the list. Ultimately the legacy will be the Design Museum in London. No matter what changes in fashion, like the reintroduction of frilly, lacy architecture, or heavy decoration as the uninitiated yearn for new Victoriana, the Design Museum acts as a safety valve, a reference site to fall back on, a celebration of pure modern design. Habitat lives.
The on-the-list-but-still-to-try-when-this-pandemic-thing-is-over Wilder