Sir Terence Conran was a visionary whose entire career was dedicated to making life better for everyone. His commitment to design and innovation has changed the way people live, shop and eat. We are saddened to hear of his passing, aged 88, and we join many around the world at this time in remembering his extraordinary legacy.
Designer, philanthropist and entrepreneur, through a series of parallel careers, Sir Terence’s impact revolutionised everyday life in contemporary Britain – and by extension, around the world. A proud patriot, British design, culture and the arts were at the heart of everything he did, as was the simple belief that good design can improve the quality of people's lives.
Famous for his many iconic retail destinations, from Habitat and the Conran Shop to The StoreHouse Group (Next, Heals, British Home Stores and Mothercare), he was also a renowned restaurateur - The Soup Kitchen, Pont de la Tour, Bibendum, Orrery, Quaglino's and Mezzo were hugely influential, and his restaurant interests extended to Paris, New York, Copenhagen and Tokyo. Through these, and his various design and architectural practices, Sir Terence not only invented, but evolved and disseminated globally the entire concept that we know today as contemporary design as a lifestyle.
Founding the Design Museum in London, in 1989, was one of Terence Conran’s proudest moments. Now the world’s leading museum devoted to contemporary architecture and design, it has staged over 100 exhibitions, welcomed over seven million visitors and showcased the work of some of the world’s most celebrated designers and architects. Sir Terence remained fully engaged right to the end of his life and, in 2011, was himself the subject of a monographic exhibition, “Terence Conran: The Way We Live Now”, which coincided with his 80th birthday.
Recently, KEF was privileged to collaborate with Terence Conran and the Conran Shop to customise the LSX Soundwave, lending a new look and feel to the iconic design that would echo Conran’s early work as a textile designer. As he told Sound of Life in an interview about the design, “I have always said don’t be afraid to put modern objects in traditional spaces and vice versa. I suppose that is the trademark of Conran design.”
For all that Sir Terence remained extraordinarily active, involved and up to date for his entire – and extremely full – lifetime, he remained a traditionalist to the end. Especially when it came to his creative process: “When designing, I like to sit in the garden or have the windows open and have the sound of nature as my backing track,” he told us. “I’m a traditionalist though, and my creative process is still a pretty basic, almost Shaker-like utopia where I am happiest with an HB pencil and a sketch pad.”
Sir Terence Conran’s legacy was well-described in the Times by his long-time collaborator and the Design Museum’s founding director, Stephen Bayley, who explains that few people made a better contribution to British material life in the past 60 years. “If you see a gutsy butcher’s block and think ‘How lovely!’, that is his influence. If your local pub is serving pâté, not pickled eggs, that is his influence too.”
Terence had two genius insights, says Bayley. “The first was to realise that ‘design’ was no longer something people do, like throwing a pot, but something people can buy.” No longer an activity, he made “design” a commodity.
His second genius insight was that there was a new generation who had to buy their own furniture. “In a process involving the keenest possible sense of style, unusual charisma, prodigal effort, no small amount of ego, a love affair with the media, a genuine passion for material things, he had a genius for opportunity and an absolute conviction of what life should be.”
Just as his life’s legacy is the very concept of a modern lifestyle, “Conran” became an eponym for “design” itself.
Cover Image: Sir Terence Conran