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Farewell to Sir Terence Conran, who died at the age of 88


If Sir Terence Conran's only legacy was to bring affordable style to the high street, its place in British history would be assured. But he achieved so much more.

When Habitat first opened its doors in the mid-1960s, its continental designs gave birth to the idea of ​​"bourgeois taste". Without Sir Terence, who has been married four times, the country might never have had Le Creuset casseroles, bedspreads, woks, flat furniture and paper lampshades in the Japanese style.

But this tireless man who hated vacation because it interfered with work would never rest there.

If Sir Terence Conran's only legacy was to bring affordable style to the high street, his place in British history would be assured. But he achieved so much more

After Habitat came the Conran Shop. Soon after, he opened the first of more than 50 restaurants, including Mezzo, the first in London, which could seat 700 guests.

Somehow he also found time to write or co-write more than 40 books and to open the Design Museum. Then there was his architectural practice, where projects ranged from hotels to urban renewal projects in London and Tokyo, and his role as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister.

Most importantly, Sir Terence was described as a "visionary" and "proud patriot" yesterday after his death at the age of 88.

His family said he died peacefully and had "an extraordinary life and career". He added: “It gives us great comfort to know that many of you will mourn with us, but we ask that you celebrate Terences’s extraordinary legacy and contribution to the country he is loved so much. & # 39;

They added that he had "promoted the best of British design, culture and art around the world" with a "simple belief that good design improves people's quality of life".

Woman # 2: Terence and Shirley Conran in 1955 - they had two sons, Sebastian and Jasper

Woman # 2: Terence and Shirley Conran in 1955 – they had two sons, Sebastian and Jasper

Sir Terence was born in Kingston-upon-Thames. His first foray into furniture design came when he was 12 when he was in hospital recovering from an appendix. To pass the time, he built furniture for dollhouses – and never looked back.

He was educated at Bryanston School in Dorset and later studied at the Central School of Art and Design (now Central St. Martins), where he remembered wearing "pretty fancy clothes". "I remember going to Cecil Gee's and buying inappropriate things and my father was pretty embarrassed when he had to stand on the platform with me," he once recalled.

“London was a depressed place with all its bomb sites at the time. It was difficult to find something decent.

“My tutor at college was the artist Eduardo Paolozzi. He was very keen on his Italian food and always got food parcels from his parents.

“I remember sitting with him over a risotto with squid and black ink. He taught me how to chop an onion and the importance of garlic. He was my influence on food more than anyone. & # 39;

After studying textile design and setting up his own furniture studio, he joined an architecture firm in 1950 and worked at the Festival of Britain the following year.

He pioneered the open life and in 1958 invited a journalist to his home in London to see for himself this "new way of planning a house where you cook, eat, work and play in a huge room".

With the third wife, Caroline, with whom he had three children

The designer met the fourth wife Vicki in the south of France

With third wife Caroline, left, with whom he had three children. Right: The designer met fourth woman Vicki in the south of France

The journalist was not convinced and later wondered how a woman could listen to Perry Como when her husband "wants quiet for his office papers".

While the Conran empire spanned many retail brands, including Mothercare, it is still best known for its fashionable furniture, interiors, and housewares.

Products had to be simple and well designed before they hit the shelves – and even the shelves themselves were like nothing a shopper had seen before.

In addition to beds and cupboards, a number of smaller items were sold that were seductively displayed in overcrowded bowls or casually stacked on the black slate floor and on whitewashed walls. Such touches are ubiquitous these days, but 50 years ago it seemed like a concept from another galaxy.

After sleeping under a duvet in a hotel in Sweden, Sir Terence thought, "Gosh, how comfortable, how simple and how sexy" and later became the first to sell them in the UK.

Early Habitat directed its wares to the British for a teacher's salary. "I suppose the Habitat facility is what stands out most about my accomplishments – that and the Conran stores which are really a more sophisticated version of what Habitat was," he once said. "But I consider the opening of the new design museum to be the greatest achievement of my life." The museum in Kensington, West London, deals with product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design.

Museum director Tim Marlow cited the tributes to Sir Terence yesterday, saying it was "a privilege and an inspiration to know him". He added, "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 Jony Ive." He has ours Lifestyles changed and bought and eaten.

"He also created a great institution – the Design Museum – which he was rightly proud of and which he was fully occupied with until the end of his extraordinary life."

Sir Terence married his first wife, an architect named Brenda Davison, when he was 19 years old. The marriage lasted barely six months. Then came Shirley Conran, writer and author of the Superwoman books. They had two sons, Sebastian and Jasper, but the couple divorced in 1962.

& # 39; It wasn't bitter. It could have been, 'said Sir Terence once. Then came Caroline Herbert, with whom he had three other children – Tom, Sophie and Edmund – but she left him for another man on their 30th wedding anniversary. He then met Vicki, his current wife, in the south of France. I had to work harder to be a good husband, ”he once said.

"Though my kids will say, 'You're a good father,' I don't think so, and neither do I think I was a good husband … Too much time in business, in all honesty, not enough time to to take care of them even though I always went on vacation with them. & # 39;

He once admitted that his staff had taken the stairs rather than the elevator (he once called to an art director who was taking the elevator, “Do you know how much money you just cost me?”) And picked up crumpled pieces Put paper in the trash, flatten it and put it back on the employees' desks for reuse.

"I'm a war child and when you are a war child you remember all the things that have been drummed into you," he explained.

Despite Sir Terences frugality, he always cut a glamorous figure, part of the set that brought Swinging London to market in the sixties.

He exuded confidence and was perfectly positioned to benefit from the rise of the Sunday newspaper's color inserts, which educated the new generation of consumers of good taste. This meant bringing good design and good quality to a wider market – "a quality of life that is simple, not demanding and not snobbish".

It was once said that "Terence created this idea of ​​a life that seemed to be his and that we would all love to live".

Lord Mandelson, Chair of the Design Museum's Board of Trustees, said: “Terence Conran has filled our lives with ideas, innovation and brilliant design for generations. One of the most recognizable characters in post-war Britain, he began reshaping the world of design when he joined the team at the Festival of Britain in 1951 as a young man and never stopped from that moment.

"He leaves a treasure trove of household and industrial design that will stay with us forever."

A Habitat spokesperson said, "Sir Terence Conran leaves a legacy of popular designs and our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time."

In an interview a few years ago, the designer spoke about his work ethic. I never looked forward to retiring. I'm desperately busy already, ”he said. “But the only time I've ever felt bad as I got older was when I was around 35 and realized it was time to give up rugby.

“I try to avoid looking in the mirror. I have a terribly bad back and just feel relaxed in my comfy old chair with a wood fire three feet away. I still enjoy smoking cigars and drinking whiskey and wine. My doctor is a reasonable man and he says enjoying life is more important than the pills he gives me. The young me would be amazed to see what I did.

“What I've achieved in a small way is to make the country appreciate design. I hope to leave that behind. & # 39;

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