Through a series of parallel careers, Sir Terence Conran had a greater impact than any other designer of his generation, revolutionising everyday life in contemporary Britain.
Founding the Design Museum in Shad Thames in 1989 following an innovative start as the Boilerhouse in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Terence Conran was a visionary mentor, leader and philanthropist. In 2016, The Design Museum relocated to Kensington, West London. Leading architect John Pawson converted the interior of a 1960s modernist building to create a new home for the Design Museum giving it three times more space in which to show a wider range of exhibitions and significantly extend its learning programme. The Design Museum is now the world’s leading museum devoted to contemporary architecture and design. Its work encompasses all elements of design, including fashion, product and graphic 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 including Paul Smith, Zaha Hadid, Jonathan Ive, Frank Gehry, Eileen Gray and Dieter Rams.
His ongoing commitment and support to the museum was recognised with a medal for Arts Philanthropy in 2012 and in 2017 the Queen awarded him the Order of the Companions of Honour for his major contribution to the arts. Terence was the subject of a monographic exhibition The Way We Live Now at the Design Museum in 2011 to coincide with his 80th birthday.
Born in 1931, Terence studied textile design at London’s Central School of Art. Leaving studies in 1948 to seek full time employment, he set up a workshop with his tutor, the artist and print-maker Eduardo Paolozzi where he concentrated his skills on furniture design, ceramics and fabrics. The early 1950s saw Terence work on the Festival of Britain alongside architect Dennis Lennon.
Terence founded Habitat in 1964, the furniture company that he grew from a single, high profile outlet in London, to a national and international chain. Habitat was the springboard for Conran’s expansion into the retail mainstream. As the founder of the Storehouse Group he acquired the Heal’s furniture business, set up Next and ran British Home Stores and Mothercare. Terence continued to be involved in retail after he opened the first The Conran Shop in 1972, with eight stores located in London, Paris, New York and across Japan.
Terence was also at the forefront of professionalising design in Britain throughout his life. Founded over 60 years ago, The Conran Design Group demonstrated the best of design in Britain, specialising in interiors, hotel and restaurant design, graphics, products and homeware. Terence would also go on to establish an architectural practice with Fred Lloyd Roche called Conran Roche and eventually became Conran and Partners.
Alongside design, food was also one of Terence’s great passions and he became a renowned restaurateur. His first restaurant, with Ivan Storey, The Soup Kitchen, opened in London in 1953 and he went on to open many more including Pont de la Tour, Bibendum, Orrery, Quaglino’s and Mezzo. His restaurant interests extended to Paris, New York, Copenhagen and Tokyo.
Tim Marlow, Director and Chief Executive, Design Museum said: “Terence Conran was instrumental in the re-designing of post-War Britain and his legacy is huge. He is revered by generations of designers from Mary Quant and David Mellor to Thomas Heatherwick and Jonny Ive. He changed the way we lived and shopped and ate. He also created a great institution – the Design Museum – of which he was justifiably proud and with which he remained fully engaged right to the end of his extraordinary life. It was a privilege and an inspiration to know him.”
Deyan Sudjic, Director Emeritus, Design Museum said: “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.”
Lord Mandelson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Design Museum said: “Terence Conran has filled our lives for generations with ideas, innovation and brilliant design. He is one of the most iconic figures of post war Britain, starting to recast the world of design when as a young man he joined the team working on the 1951 Festival of Britain and never stopping from that moment on. He leaves a treasure trove of household and industrial design that will stay with us forever. And in the Design Museum which he conceived, inspired and drove, he has the most brilliant, enduring tribute and legacy. All of us at the Museum will miss him terribly and never lose sight of what he believed in and what he has contributed to the UK story.”
The Design Museum will celebrate his life, career and contribution to the museum with a commemorative display and memory book for the public to sign.
The Design Museum mourns the loss of its founder, design visionary, Sir Terence Conran.
Statement from Sir Terence Conran’s family
“It is with great sadness we announce British designer, retailer and restaurateur Sir Terence Conran passed away peacefully today at his Barton Court home aged 88.
He was a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionised the way we live in Britain. 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 a very simple belief that good design improves the quality of people’s lives.
From the late forties to the present day, his energy and creativity thrived in his shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels and through his many design, architecture and furniture making businesses. Founding The Design Museum in London was one of his proudest moments and through its endeavours he remained a relentless champion of the importance of education to young people in the creative industries.
Sir Terence enjoyed a remarkable life to the full and always maintained that his work never felt like a job – everything he did for business he would have done for pleasure.
In his private life he was adored by his family and friends and we will miss him dearly. 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 so dearly.”
Sir Terence Conran Biography 2020
Sir Terence Conran was one of the world’s best-known designers, retailers and restaurateurs. Born in 1931 he founded the Conran Design Studio in 1956 and in 1964 opened the first of the Habitat chain of home furnishing stores that revolutionised design on the British high street in the 60s and 70s and continued to expand its influence around the globe. Later he established The Conran Shop and opened stores in London, Paris, New York, across Japan and most recently in Seoul being the largest Conran Shop in the world.
In the Nineties Terence founded the Conran Restaurants group that opened iconic restaurants, hotels and bars in London, Paris, New York, Japan and Scandinavia including Quaglino’s, Bluebird, Mezzo, Guastavino’s and Le Pont de la Tour. He remains involved in restaurants through Bibendum in Chelsea and The Boundary in Shoreditch which includes a small boutique hotel with 17 individually designed bedrooms, three restaurants and bar spaces and a grocery, bakery & deli
Throughout his career Terence’s companies have designed, owned and operated shops, restaurants, hotels, bars and cafés around the world as well as working across the fields of architecture, interiors, products and graphics. This diverse range of projects have all been driven by Terence’s fundamental belief that intelligent design improves the quality of people’s lives.
In 1989 he founded the Design Museum in London, the world’s first museum dedicated to design which moved to larger premises in the former Commonwealth Building, Kensington, in 2016.
Today Terence designs furniture for Benchmark and The Conran Shop, and remains involved in the restaurant and hotel industry through The Boundary and Bibendum.
He has written over 50 informative books that broadly reflect his design philosophy and is an honorary professor of the University of the Creative Arts.
In 1983 Terence was knighted for his services to design in 1983 and in 2018 he was made a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty The Queen, one of the highest distinctions available in the United Kingdom.
A Lifetime in Design
1931 Born in Kingston upon Thames
1948 Enrolled in Central School of Arts & Crafts
1949 Shared a studio in London’s East End with Eduardo Paolozzi. Began making furniture
1950 On the advice of his tutor leaves course at Central to work for architect Dennis Lennon. In the evenings he works on window displays in Simpsons, Piccadilly
1952 Opens Conran & Company from a basement in Notting Hill, selling furniture from a showroom in Piccadilly Arcade
1953 Opens Soup Kitchen in Chandos Place, inspired by the elegant simplicity of affordable restaurants in France at the time. It housed the second Gaggia coffee machine in London
1954 Opens Orrery restaurant on Kings Road
1955 Started Conran Fabrics
1956 Set up Conran Design Group, designing among other things a store for Mary Quant in Knightsbridge
1963 Moved his operations to 40,000 square foot factory in Thetford, Norfolk, taking 80 staff and their families with him
1964 Habitat opens on Fulham Road in Chelsea with staff in uniforms by Mary Quant and hair styled by Vidal Sassoon
1965 Habitat opens second branch on Tottenham Court Road
1966 Habitat opens further branches in Manchester, Brighton and Glasgow
1968 Merges company to form Ryman Conran
1970 Neal Street Restaurant opens, which until its closure was run by Terence’s sister Priscilla and her husband, Antonio Carluccio. Conran Associates replaces Conran Design Group
1973 Habitat’s largest branch opens on Kings’ Road and first branch of Conran shop opens on site of original Habitat store
1974 Publication of House Book by Mitchell Beazley
1976 Opens Habitat shop in Citicorp building in Manhattan under the name Conran
1980 Conran Foundation set up, dedicated to educating the public and British industry on the value of industrial design. Habitat becomes a public company.
1981 Boilerhouse (the initial incarnation of the Design Museum) opens at the V&A. As Chairman of Hepworths, uses his position on the board of a menswear chain to develop Next. Buys 11-acre site at Butlers Wharf for redevelopment
1982 Purchased Mothercare; launch of Habitat Basics so popular in Japan that Seibu (the department store that franchised the line) developed the ‘no brand’ formula to create MUJI.
1983 Receives his knighthood to become Sir Terence Conran
1985 Conran Octopus created with Paul Hamlyn to produce educational but inspiring books about interiors, gardening and cookery
1986 Boilerhouse closes at V&A to begin renovation of Shad Thames site; Habitat-Mothercare merges with British Home Stores and rebranding begins to become BhS. Benchmark furniture-making company set up in the grounds of his home in Berkshire.
1987 Buys the Michelin Building in Fulham Road and refurbishes it to become home for the Conran Shop, Octopus publishing and Bibendum restaurant
1989 Design Museum opens at Butlers Wharf
1990 Retires from Storehouse, sets up Conran Holdings from an apartment in Shad Thames, Butlers Wharf
1991 Conran Restaurants set up. Design company Conran Roche becomes CD partnership.
1994 Conran Shop opens in Shinjuku Park Tower in Tokyo
1999 Conran Shop opens in New York underneath the 59th Street Bridge, along with the restaurant Guastavino’s. Merges CD Partnership with Sebastian Conran Associates to form Conran & Partners, or C&P
2000 Opening, in partnership with Wyndham International, of London’s Great Eastern Hotel which became one of London’s most successful hotels
2003 Named Provost for the Royal College of Art. Starts developing the Conran Collections, a series of brand licensed products that reflect his lifelong philosophy to bring good quality, contemporary homewares to a wider audience. Ranges now include Bed by Conran, Light by Conran, Terence Conran by Royal Doulton, Content by Conran and Vision by Conran
2004 Awarded Prince Philip Designer of the Year award for services to design. Conran & Partners complete work on Roppongi Hills, a new urban quarter in the heart of Tokyo, created by the Mori Building Company.
2006 Conran restaurants renamed D&D London but Conran Holdings maintains a 51% stake in the business. Sells Great Eastern Hotel to Hyatt Hotels
2007 Launches range of cookware for Royal Doulton. Becomes an honourary Doctor of Science at Southbank University.
2012 Design Museum Exhibition: Terence Conran – The Way We Live Now from 16 November 2011 – 4 March 2012. Awarded The Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy which celebrates the impact of givers to the arts and won the Lifetime Achievement medal at the London Design Festival
2016 Sir Terence Conran cuts the ribbon to open the new Design Museum in Kensington High Street on November 24. Awarded the Order of the Companions of Honour in the Queen’s Honours List.
2017 the Design Museum welcomes 780000 visitors in its opening year.
2019 Opens the first and largest Conran Shop in Seoul, South Korea