Rewind with Sir Terence Conran

Sir Terence ConranI used to be incredibly shy. I could never have envisaged what was ahead of me. My wife, Shirley [whom he divorced in 1962], probably organised the photo. She was my live-in lover at that time and worked in my furniture showroom [for Conran and Company in Notting Hill]. Shirley said, “You aren’t going to get anywhere unless you understand press publicity.” She was right.

I was broke at that age. That’s why I had that hole in the toe of my shoe. I wore a suit from the 50-shilling tailor. I already owned a restaurant in 1954 – a soup kitchen, in fact.

I have been known to take food out of the rubbish bin. I find younger people throwing things away that are perfectly good to eat. During the war we were incredibly hungry and I hate wastage. I’m just mean about it. Or maybe “careful” is a better word.

The Cone Chair I am sitting in became quite famous because it was unusual-looking but remarkably comfortable. We re-did the Cone Chair five years ago but they weren’t terribly great sellers.

I think the furniture world wasn’t ready to embrace the spirit of the 1950s that has worked so well in the fashion world.

I like to bring ideas – whether it’s hotels or restaurants – and recycle them. I don’t like to think of things as being good taste or bad taste. It’s not taste; it’s a style of life.

People do credit me with bringing the duvet to Britain. I had been in Sweden in the 1950s and was given a duvet to sleep under. I probably had a girl with me and I thought this was all part of the mood of the time – liberated sex and easy living.

It was wonderful that when you came to make your bed, it was just a couple of shakes of the duvet. We sold duvets at Habitat [Conran’s first large-scale retail chain] and called them the “20-second bed”.

The secret of my success was the frustration of not being able to sell my ideas. No one would buy any of my early designs so I had to start businesses to sell them to the public.

I have a furniture workshop, Benchmark, just outside my house in the country in Berkshire. I still design by drawing and I hand it to a man who CAD-ifies it for me [CAD – computer-aided design – is a software application used in manufacturing and drafting]. There are 45 employees working with highly computerised machinery.

I design something on a Sunday and have a finished prototype by Friday. We make one-tenth-scale models of everything we design. My office has 400 or 500 models of furniture sitting on the shelves. It’s like being in a doll’s house.

Fast forward

I’ve got more going on now than I’ve ever had. I have work all over the world – architecture, hotels, restaurants, furniture [the Conran Group has eight Conran Shops and more than 20 restaurants worldwide].

I’m about to launch Bath by Conran, a range of towels and bath mats, in Australia.

My fourth wife, Vicki [Davis], has given me three stepchildren. I have five children: Sebastian; [fashion designer] Jasper; Tom, who’s into restaurants; my darling Sophie; and Ned, who enjoys restoring old cars.

I have 11 grandchildren, all under 10. The moment they arrive, they make their home in a 1950s caravan we found and painted a jolly colour. We put Jasper in the caravan, too.

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