A Tribute from Jacqueline Duncan
In September 1960 I founded the Inchbald School of Design.
Four years later my contemporary, Terence Conran, opened a shop at the end of Walton Street which he called Habitat and which was destined to influence public taste with the effect of a thunderclap!
My husband Michael Inchbald was both a classicist and a skilful modern designer; his body of work remains as a continuing display of brilliance. Terence on the other hand had an outstanding capacity to analyse the needs of the public and this skill took him down an exciting and different path.
London in the sixties was at last emerging from the utter desolation which had dominated the immediate post war years. Bomb sites spattered with the pink blossoms of Rose Bay Willow Herb were slowly disappearing, at last obliterating the reminder of fire and death: a new generation turned its face to the future, but what kind of a future did it envisage? Terence was designing furniture but he also started to import from Italy; this led him to consider the manageable costs of vernacular design in both Italy and France. I have always thought It is ironic that the occupied countries suffered far less cultural destruction than England but of course the occupiers themselves were keen to preserve comfort and culture in their new territories By contrast English manufacture had been totally committed for five war years to the production of arms and armament, to food rationing and the dreary images of what was named ‘economy’ furniture. As for the fashion industry, it was utterly dispirited. Terence was one of several leading artists/designers who understood the crying need for the revivification of English culture and he looked abroad for a different perspective. He found it in the everyday life of the Continent and the uninterrupted levels of quality and craftsmanship so markedly missing in our own shattered economy.
He understood a crying public need for the pleasures of texture and colour, as important to him as form; tiles from France, elegant chairs from Italy, the coloured fabrics and surfaces beloved of sunny countries and the magical products of the artisan community with their textural appeal. They all found their way to Habitat, and the public loved it. It was a short leap to the appreciation of a different lifestyle and Conran added the practical accessories of a more proletarian and affordable manner of living. Out went blankets and sheets and bed making, in came duvets; out went saucers, in came mugs (I hate them!); out went Georgian silver, in came modern French flatware and with it all came total revolution!
For me, Habitat was a dazzling occurrence, a demonstration of difference which has informed our preferences more than anything else born in those swinging sixties.
Terence Conran taught us all about the drama of design in all its detail and his legacy is truly spectacular.