Sir Terence Conran and his Modern, Optimistic Design: On View at London's Design Museum

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0. The motto of furniture store Habitat, founded by Sir Terence Conran.

Sir Terence Conran's life and work in design is being celebrated at London's Design Museum. It's his 80th birthday, so what better time to revisit the impact of his vision on Britain in the past half-century. Conran was a designer, retailer, entrepreneur and maker and restauranteur. His vision defined what has become contemporary design.

Conran brought optimistic, modern design to the forefront in the 1960's. His version of modernism was based on simple forms, natural materials, and a fresh colour palette.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0. Some of Conran's work.

Conran was looking for a way to show his designs and display them in the way that he wanted them to look. At a time when the words "modern" and "well-designed" were not ones associated with the everyday wares available in stores, he opened Habitat, a furniture and home wares store.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0. The Basketweave Cone Chair, 1953.

We take it for granted now that we can find good looking furniture and cookery ware but it wasn't always the case. He designed plates, bowls, dinner sets, chairs and tables. They were intelligent, modern, interesting and simple design.

© Ray Williams Terence Conran, circa 1950

He did flat-pack designs for furniture before anyone knew what its name meant. It was a style and aesthetic that changed the way British houses and decor looked.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0. Midwinter, 1955.

Visitors to London in the late 60's flocked to Habitat to see, and to buy because it was amazing. He carried things from Europe like garlic presses and duvets and simple French wine carafes. He showed people how to to do it: he set up rooms so that young home makers could see how the modern furniture, and accessories could look in their own home. It sounds commonplace, but at that time it wasn't done that way.

The exhibition at London's Design Museum, "The Way We Live Now" traces his career from post-war austerity through to the new design sensibility of the Festival of Britain in the 1950s,and onwards to the current period.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 Armchair, 1957

In the words of the master:

"I have spent a colourful lifetime in design – printing textiles, making furniture, retailing home furnishings, clothes, baby and children’s products, designing, opening and running restaurants cafés, bars and hotels. Our design group has designed everything from skyscrapers to cottages and interiors for anything from airport terminals and department stores to small shops and cafes. I have been closely involved with the design of practically every project over the years as either the conceptual or lead designer although it is the quality of the team around me that must take a large part of the praise for our success over many years.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

I hope I have remained true to my fundamental aim throughout my life – to produce useful things at a price that most people can afford. Such things may not win design prizes but neither do they go out of fashion.

I have always believed that if products or buildings or interiors are intelligently designed they will help improve the quality of life of the users."

Tags: Chairs | Decorating | Designers | Furniture

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