British design guru Sir Terence Conran dies at 88

Conran was the visionary behind the Habitat stores and London’s Design Museum.

Sir Terence Conran, the British designer who revolutionised retail and decor, has died at the age of 88. Best known as the founder of Habitat, he brought modern style and simplicity to UK homes in the 1960s and later helped found the Design Museum.

"He was a visionary who enjoyed an extraordinary life and career that revolutionised the way we live in Britain," said a family statement. He "promoted the best of British design, culture and the arts around the world", with "a very simple belief that good design improves the quality of people's lives".

Sir Terence started his career in the late 1940s, but became a household name as one of the key designers of the swinging '60s.

His empire would go on to span restaurants, architecture and household retail brands, but it was for his accessible and fashionable furniture, interiors and homeware that he remains best known.

He pioneered flat-pack furniture years before Ikea arrived on British shores, helping to lower the prices of his cutting-edge designs in his bid to "democratise good design". Design Museum director Tim Marlow led the tributes, saying, "Terence Conran was instrumental in the re-designing of post-war Britain and his legacy is huge.”

After studying textile design and setting up his own furniture studio, Conran joined an architectural firm in 1950 and worked on the subsequent year's Festival of Britain.

During the '50s, his ambitious approach to design and business became clear. A furniture workshop, a French-inspired restaurant and a coffee shop eventually led him to form the Conran Design Group. The company also designed interiors and retail spaces, including a shop for pioneering '60s fashion designer Mary Quant.

Conran opened the first Habitat store on the Fulham Road in 1964, selling taste-making and trend-setting furniture, art, home and cookery products to an aspirational young clientele who wanted to break from drab post-war austerity.

“It is hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then," he later said. "You could go along a terrace of houses, and every living room you looked in was exactly the same, with the same extremely dreary furniture."

Conran was heavily influenced by continental European styles, and is credited with introducing duvets to Britain.

Habitat rapidly expanded across the UK, and he went on to take over Mothercare and British Home Stores, as well as running other ventures, such as his extensive and influential restaurant business - including Bibendum and Quaglino's - and The Conran Shop. He also wrote numerous books about design and food.

"The restaurants, hotels and bars we have designed or operated, the shops, the interiors, the buildings, the products and furniture or the books I have written - design is the one thing that connects them all and they add up to what I call a style of life," he said.

Habitat photography by Dunja Opalko