If the onset of 2012 brings about a search for inspiring resolutions, head over to the London Design Museum and soak in the brilliance of The Way We Live Now, a retrospective on the life and work of Sir Terence Conran. One of England’s most influential aesthetes, Conran opened his first design studio back in 1956 - after withdrawing from the textile design program at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts. Now, more than 50 years after that rogue move and having just celebrated his 80th birthday, Conran’s empire is stronger than ever and his impact on British life is celebrated in this expansive exhibition.
The show, which runs through March 4th, abounds with examples of Conran’s innovative eye. The early years are captured in the form of steel furniture he welded himself in the 1940’s and 50’s to a reconstruction of a room featured in one of Habitat’s iconic catalogues. Conran, of course, founded Habitat in 1964 and in doing so revolutionized the way the younger generation decorated their homes, bidding adieu to chintz and lace and capturing the spirit of swinging London. Beyond his talent as a tastemaker however, Conran is also a great translator. Dig in to any of his how-to books – Essential Bathrooms, Bathrooms: Supply and Water, The Essential House Book or the forerunner Do-It-Yourself with Style: Original Designs for Bathrooms and Bedrooms – and it’s apparent that he not only speaks the language of design but he is brilliant at decoding it, making even the complicated task of renovating a bathroom totally accessible.
Luckily for us, retirement is not a word in Terence Conran’s vocabulary. He’s just launched a range of bath and body products and this spring will see an expanded range of home wares for Marks & Spencer (call it his next generation Habitat project). In 2014 the Design Museum, which he founded, will relocate from Butler’s Wharf to a heavily trafficked Kensington High Street. And what is any great innovator without an iPhone/iPad app these days? Conran’s Magpie “acts just like any good magpie should; it collects the things that inspire you, storing them as future reference for your design decisions.” Genius.
Photographs © Ray Williams, The Boundary