Terence Conran: Innovation, originality and beauty are my real passions
It’s restauranteur, designer, writer and philanthropist Sir Terence Conran’s 81st birthday next month (on 4 October). Last year, to commemorate his 80th, among other things, he donated £17.5m to the Design Museum, which he founded more than 30 years ago in the basement of the Victoria & Albert museum. Last week, the relocation of the Design Museum from Shad Thames to the former Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street began. The ambitious project will offer the museum three times the amount of floorspace of the old building and cement it’s position as an international centre for design. blogs.independent.co.uk speaks to the father of modern British design about this incredibly important pet project.
You are relocating the Design Museum to Kensington and you’ve commemorated the move with a time capsule. What did you put in it?
I personally suggested a tin of anchovies – one reason is I hate this business of sell-by-dates because I believe things don’t really go off by the sell-by-date; anchovies can last 100 years. I remember recently having a fairly expensive tin of some by a french manufacturer, the sell-by-date was something like nine months before and it was perfectly good. So tinned anchovies and a bottle of red Burgundy 2012, I have no idea whether this year is going to be a good year, but it’s a nice idea.
If you could put in any food – tinned or otherwise, what would it be?
I find myself enjoying sweetcorn, mainly because you can go in, break off half a dozen pieces of sweetcorn, peel the shroud off, throw them in a pot of water for 15 minutes and eat them very easily without too much washing up. My favourite dish is a sort of gesture that my vegetable garden is really getting going and had plenty of rain… so we’ve got our peas and radishes and baby artichokes. I’m very keen on vegetable gardening, we grow a lot of flowers, too, in the vegetable garden, I like that mixture of flowers and rows of vegetables.
What’s the most important kitchen utensil for your home-grown veg?
A sharp knife is, in my opinion, singularly the most important tool in a kitchen, you’d be amazed how many struggle with blunt knives. I like a traditional carbon steel Sabatier, myself.
Would you consider founding the Design Museum to be your greatest achievement?
Well, obviously opening the new Design Museum at the commonwealth institute will have national and international importance – we’ve said by 2015 but we aim to open in 2014. Yes, I think probably founding the Design Museum … although everybody would say “oh, Habitat” [ Conran opened the first Habitat shop in Chelsea, In 1964], but to me the Conran shops — and what we are able to do there in a very specialised way in trying to demonstrate innovation, originality and beauty — are my real passion. I really do believe intelligent design has a big influence on the quality of people’s lives, and if you live in a badly-designed space it doesn’t keep you very cheerful.
What’s most important to you – affordability, functionality or attractiveness?
Functionality is the most important thing. Curiously, I am writing a book about luxury at the moment, which is obviously about just having things around and demonstrating how much money you’ve got. To me, just having plain simple and useful things is a sort of Fabian or quaker-like attitude. I’m doing the book with Steven Bailey and I sort of keep playing ping-pong with him over the title, but its about luxury. One of our big things is to look at how people in the luxury industry think about luxury.
Affordability is very important too, although I suspect as you go into the Conran shop you wouldn’t think so… in my Habitat days it was enormously important. That’s why I am lucky enough to have M&S as a client, and, in the USA, JC Penny. All my democratic urges are taken care of by the work that we do for them.
How does it feel to produce products that are ubiquitous?
You know, I keep being told that and going into people’s living rooms and not spotting a thing [by me].
The Conran team have created ten limited edition bottle designs for Gordon’s gin, called the ‘Ten Green Bottles’ collection.
Tagged in: Birthday, cooking, design, Design Museum, how to, knives, restaurants, Sir, Terence Conran, V&A
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