Sir Terence Conran, the man who dragged Britain’s front rooms and parlours into the modern age almost single-handed, has died at the age of 88, his family has announced.
A designer, retailer and restaurateur who founded Habitat in 1964, Conran was at the centre of an aesthetic revolution that established England, and London in particular, as a European creative powerhouse.
The chain eventually formed the foundations of a retailing empire including brands such as Mothercare, Heals, Richard Shops and BHS.
“He was a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionised the way we live in Britain,” his family said, adding that he had died on Saturday morning at his Berkshire home, Barton Court.
“A proud patriot, Sir Terence promoted the best of British design, culture and the arts around the world and at the heart of everything he did was the very simple belief that good design improves the quality of people’s lives,” his family said.
Conran was famous for unpretentious and unashamedly practical furniture and household equipment, sold first in a growing chain of Habitat shops, the retail achievement of which he remained most proud, and then in the Conran Shop.
In the 1990s he went on to found a fleet of leading restaurants including Le Pont de la Tour, Quaglino’s and Bibendum. In 1989 he set up the Design Museum in London and on news of his death Deyan Sudjic, the museum’s director emeritus, spoke of the power of his legacy. “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,” he said.
Born in Kingston upon Thames and educated at Bryanston in Dorset, Conran entered the world of design in 1947, as a student at the Central School of Arts and Crafts studying textiles. He once spoke of his compulsion to improve his surroundings. “I had a small room in Warwick Gardens but I absolutely detested the furniture and wanted to make my own, so I established a small workshop.”
First running a small studio with the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, whose lectures had inspired him, the ambitious young designer went on to work for the architect Dennis Lennon on projects including the 1951 trade and design showcase, the Festival of Britain. In 1962 he moved his furniture-making to a factory near Norfolk and launched Summa, his first domestic flat-pack range.
Tim Marlow, director and chief executive of the Design Museum, which plans to mark Conran’s life with a commemorative display, credits him with redesigning postwar Britain. “He is revered by generations of designers from Mary Quant and David Mellor, to Thomas Heatherwick and Jony Ive. He changed the way we lived and shopped and ate. It was a privilege and an inspiration to know him.”
Lord Mandelson, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, said Conran had “filled our lives for generations with ideas, innovation and brilliant design”, adding: “He leaves a treasure trove of household and industrial design.”
Up until his death, Conran’s family said, he had remained busy, developing new looks for lines of products for his Benchmark brand and the Conran Shop. “We will miss him dearly,” they said. “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.”