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Pioneering British designer celebrates life’s work

LONDON (AFP) ― Legendary British designer Terence Conran, whose products and retailing style transformed the interior design industry, on Tuesday launched a London exhibition charting his 60-year career.

Conran, 80, an artschool drop out, began making furniture in the 1940s and his modern and affordable home designs have been credited with bringing British homes out of post-war gloom.

He became a household name in Britain after he founded revolutionary retailer Habitat in 1964.

Habitat’s low-cost, stylish products and innovative store layout paved the way for mass-market retailers like Ikea and made Conran a household name.

The exhibition “The Way We Live Now” showcases Conran’s work dating back from Britain’s post-war years to his most recent collaboration with high street retailers.

“It is very exciting for me because it reminded me of things I had quite forgotten about,” Conran said.

“Recently I was 80 years old and it seems that being 80 is a moment when you have to look back on your life. So for that reason this exhibition seems quite relevant.”

Conran was first inspired by the practical products and unfussy shopping experiences he saw in France in the 1940s.

Exhibition curator and long-time friend Stafford Cliff said simplicity remains at the heart of Conran’s designs.

“He wants to do a great piece of furniture but it has to be comfortable and it has to be something that gives you joy and it can’t be 10,000 pounds ($15,900),” Cliff said.

No longer at the helm of Habitat, Conran is chairman of Conran group, a retail, design and restaurant group. The company owns more than 40 restaurants across the world and runs The Conran Shop, an international homewares retailer.

Despite diverse interests, Conran said he remains committed to promoting manufacturing and good product design ― and believes it could help boost the ailing British economy.

“For me, design is absolutely fundamental to a recovery in this country of a manufacturing base,” Conran said.

“It’s so important that we become a workshop again. We’re never going to be the workshop of the world but we can become a workshop that produces beautifully designed, innovative products.”