Tom Dixon On The Significance Of Terrence Conran's Design Legacy
Designers owe him the idea that design isn’t just a job where you design another widget, but something that impacts every part of your life
Sir Terence Conran, who shaped much of the way domestic Britain looks today, has died at the age of 88.
The designer, retailer and restaurateur passed away peacefully on Saturday at his home in Barton Court in Berkshire, his influence on furniture and homeware design could be felt in a generation of homes.
In a statement his family described Sir Terence as “a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionised the way we live in Britain”.
They added: “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.”
Designer Tom Dixon reflects upon Terrence's death below.
Sir Terence Conran was a father figure to me and to British designers. In my case almost literally because I knew his children Seb, Sophie and Tom and he was always there in the background.
But he was also a huge influence on me professionally. When I joined Habitat in the late 1990s as head of design and then creative director, after he had lost control of the group, he was still there watching over things from a distance.
He would write to me long beautifully handwritten notes, quite critical sometimes, about what we were doing and letting me know what he didn’t like - such as when a series of black plastic Christmas trees appeared in the windows. It was clear he was still keeping an eye on what we were doing.
His influence on us all was huge. He had something of the Renaissance man about him. Sir Terence lived it, bringing together disciplines that were previously quite separate, such as product design, food, art.
Designers in Britain and globally owe him the idea that design isn’t just a job where you design another widget, but something that impacts every part of your life, from the duvet you sleep into the paint that you buy for your walls.
He made design not only glamorous and aspirational - something young people wanted to do - but also democratic, something we could all try in our own homes.
That wasn’t just the case with Habitat and his other shops, but also with the restaurants he launched, which went from pizzerias to fine dining.
There was so much to learn from him and he was a great teacher. He could explain things, because he had a passion about them, but he could also present his ideas and convince people to buy them.
That’s not always the case with a designer but it’s crucial. If you can't sell your designs you can't make them. Sir Terence understood that.
His achievement in setting up the Design Museum as part of that process of teaching and explaining was monumental.
He was a unique figurehead for design, not just in the UK, but globally, in terms of explaining how design could improve the way we live our lives.
I don’t know if the current generation of designers is as convincing about the way design can impact our lives.
Tom Dixon is the Creative Director of the brand 'Tom Dixon', specialising in lighting, furniture and accessories and was appointed an OBE for services to British Design in 2001.
- The Telegraph.