As we’ve been spending so much more time at home staring at the four walls lately, the death this week of design guru Terence Conran should have extra resonance.
There was a time not too long ago when the less well off in Britain had to be content with viewing the world through a pair of net curtains. While it may be hard for the younger generation who have grown up with cheap-as-chips flat-packed furniture to believe, great design was once the sole purview of the rich. Then Terence Conran came along.
Conran democratised good design in this country. He once said that a designer’s job is to imagine the world not how it is but how it should be. If that’s true, then designers have their work cut out at the moment. We’ve never been more in need of a leap of the imagination, and for creative inspiration we should look no further than Conran’s legacy.
The designer, entrepreneur, restaurateur and founder of Habitat brought sleek modern style to the masses. He was also the forerunner of the now ubiquitous flat pack.
Conran introduced a modern, clean simplicity to British homes in the 1960s. Prior to this, houses tended to be drab, doily-fied places, crammed with dark furniture and populated by a slightly sinister army of china figurines. The ubiquitous ticking clock on the mantel belied the fact that, as far as interior design went, time had stood still since the Victorian era.
He taught us how to make the home as beautiful as it is practical, a place that gives delight, serenity and a feeling of space, even when there isn’t any. He gave us sleek furnishings, stylish chairs and sofas, elegant glassware and bowls so joyful that no one would dare pollute them with plastic fruit or potpourri.
The Conran empire was so successful, it swept away the previous generation’s notion of what our homes should look like. He also gave those of us living in cramped quarters space and room to express ourselves. Suddenly, style wasn’t just something you saw in magazines or on holidays in France, you could affordably create it in your own home.
Bringing creativity and great design to the quotidian is also what our industry should be doing. Conran’s legacy serves as a reminder that true creativity is not about repeating a winning formula. It’s about doing something unique and making people’s lives better while you’re at it.
Conran’s trailblazing style has since become the norm and his influence is everywhere. But where will the next wave of creative pioneers come from?
Our duty as leaders in this business is to produce and support world-class creative talent. Given government cuts, creative subjects being squeezed at school, a looming brain drain and the pandemic’s devastation of the arts sector, we’re going to have to work harder than ever to advance creativity and innovation in design in this country.
Conran wanted people to view the world differently and he succeeded. Despite the challenges confronting us, we must focus on ensuring that his soaring creative ambition lives on in the next generation.
Vicki Maguire is chief creative officer of Havas London