The Design Museum in London is marking what would have been the 90th birthday of Sir Terence Conran with a free new display, ‘The Conran Effect’, which explores both the personal life and professional achievements of Conran.

Personal photographs sit alongside some of his most celebrated designs – including his popular ‘Cone’ chair – while the exhibition also showcases memorabilia from the launch of Conran Design Group and the Habitat chain of stores. The display explores how Habitat changed the way we interacted with design upon the launch of the first store, in London, in 1964, its innovative grouping of furniture, fabrics and cookware, bringing design into the daily lives of the UK public for the first time. Staff, dressed in Mary Quant, were a chic bridge between fashion and form.

picture of a habitat bag
Habitat bag © the Design Museum

The respected British designer, who founded the Design Museum in 1989 – something he later referred to as one of his proudest achievements – supported design education and the creative industries throughout his life. Conran’s multiple careers are explored in the exhibition, which takes a closer look at his roles as designer, retailer and entrepreneur, dissecting how his designs such as duvets and flat-pack furniture shaped modern life in Britain as we know it.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book, Terence Conran: Making Modern Britain, by Deyan Sudjic, director emeritus of the Design Museum. ‘Terence had so many different careers, from craftsman potter, to the chairman of a £2bn public company, to a restaurateur,’ says Sudjic. ‘As a student he was close to the art world, and Eduardo Paolozzi. By the time he was 25, he had opened five restaurants, started a furniture manufacturing business and a textile company, and worked on the Festival of Britain, and for Paolozzi. He became one of Britain’s most influential taste makers through Habitat.’ §

platter decorated with shapes
‘Chequers’ platter designed by Terence Conran and made by Midwinter Pottery Ltd, c. 1957 © the Design Museum
habitat catalogue

Habitat catalogue, 1971 © the Design Museum