I hadn’t truly logged what an impact furniture designer and restaurateur Terence Conran had made on my life until visiting the current exhibition ‘The Way We Live Now’, a celebration marking Conran’s 80th birthday at Design Museum, London.
I was a long term fan of Habitat (founded by Conran in 1964) since my teenage years of the the early 80s when a trip to ‘town’ (Cheltenham) wasn’t complete without a visit to this then emporium of homeware. You have to remember nothing much like this existed on the provincial high street back then. I loved the sense of style and design which pervaded the shop – through the furniture, the cookware and the fabulous fabrics. Not to mention the catalogues!
I shrieked out loud at the exhibition when I saw a catalogue from 1986 I had totally forgotton about, but seeing it framed on the wall was like bumping into an old friend. I suddenly realised how early Habitiat catalogues had fueled my life long passion for interiors books and magazines. I would buy them and pour over the contents, many years before I could ever afford my own home, and it’s probably those catalogues which partly made me want to be a graphic designer. The idea of setting out completely styled rooms, not only in the catalogues but in the shops themselves was a pretty new concept and has also influenced me as an art director in creating mini worlds.
And then fast forwarding to the late 80s/early 90s, once I’d graduated from St Martins and been working as a graphic designer for a few years, I now also realise what an impact all those Conran restaurants had on the London dining-out experience. No friend’s birthday was complete without a night of good food and stylish interiors at Pont de La Tour, Chop House, Quaglinos, or Bibendum. Just as me and my friends started to earn some money, we were able to experience ‘posh’ restaurants which weren’t stuffy – and we felt grown up and a little bit like proper foodies.
Through his individual sense of style and entrepreneurialism, Conran changed many things from the living room to the restaurant, and the exhibition documents this in a calm, considered and well-paced way.
Exhibition Open until 4 March