Design Museum celebrates Terence Conran’s 90th birthday with free exhibition


Conran founded the museum in 1989, and the showcase will explore this and several other “side careers” he has had, most notably with Habitat and the Conran Design Group.

The Design Museum will celebrate what would have been Terence Conran’s 90th birthdaye anniversary with a free exhibition exploring the life of the late creator.

Born in 1931, Conran was a prolific designer, retailer, businessman and restaurateur. As the Design Museum explains, it is credited with “changing the way we eat, shop and live today”.

The showcase of Conran’s life and work coincides with the publication of a new book dedicated to the designer. Terence Conran: Making Modern Britain was written by Deyan Sudjic, Director Emeritus of the Design Museum.

Catalog Habitat 1971

“Terence’s work has been both trendy and old-fashioned”

The exhibition honoring the life and work of Conran was first announced upon his death last year. At the time, Sudjic said: “No one did more to create modern Britain than Terence Conran. He has spent his entire career looking for ways to improve the lives of everyone.

Sudjic now says Conran would have considered the museum “his most important legacy,” and adds that this exhibit is a reminder “of all he accomplished and how the role of design – which was called commercial art when he was a student – developed during his lifetime ”.

“Terence’s work has been both trendy and old-fashioned,” he says. “It’s been quite a long time now, from the start of her career at a remarkably young age in the 1940s, to see her contribution as beyond fashion.”

Ladies tray, designed by Conran

Personal and professional look

According to the museum, visitors can expect to see personal photographs of the late designer, as well as designs for well-known 1950s fabrics and furniture.

Among the items on display will be Conran’s Cone Chair, one of his most popular designs. The simple design is considered indicative of Conran’s commitment to affordable quality.

Along with more personal mementos, the Design Museum says visitors will have access to mementos from the launch of Habitat and the Conran Design Group.

Conran in his famous conical chair

“Terence has had so many different careers”

The overall effect, according to the museum, is to show Conran’s many “parallel” careers. As Sudjic explains, “Terence has had so many different careers, from a potter, to the chairman of a £ 2 billion state-owned company, to a restaurateur.

Spinning many plates was a long-standing habit of the designer, continues Sudjic. “By the age of 25, he had opened and sold 5 restaurants, opened a furniture manufacturing company, partnered with a textile factory in Manchester (to start Conran Fabrics), ran a magazine, worked in Festival of Britain, married his second wife and published his first book, ”he says.

Habitat Original Bag

“So many things I didn’t really know”

Sudjic’s latest book follows a collection of other pieces that the former Director of the Design Museum wrote about Conran. In 2011, on the occasion of the creator’s 80th birthday, he published Terence Conran: The Way We Live Now.

While he says he had a close relationship with the designer, having first met him in the 1970s and started working together in 2006, he says the writing process on Conran this time around – this revealed “so many things that I hadn’t really known”. Rather than classifying Conran’s life and work in chronological order, the book is organized into a series of themes, Sudjic explains. “His education in arts and crafts, his impact on food and restaurants, his role as a creator of taste – the Habitat catalogs and his books,” he says.

“Then there was the 1980s when he really took off as a businessman, at one point as the head of Storehouse, a group of 19,000 employees and valued at £ 2 billion, before lose control and create a group of restaurants. The last chapter is its role in the culture of design, especially in the start of the museum.

“With such a hyperactive career, my problem was not to sound like a race commentator at the Grand National,” he explains.

The Conran Effect opens October 4 and is free at the Design Museum. For more information on the display and the accompanying book, go to the museum website.

All images are courtesy of the Design Museum.


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