October 1, 2009
Terence Conran talks about his job, his dream team, and getting ideas at 3 a.m.
I have always considered myself a designer because it encompasses everything we’ve ever tried to do—in our shops, with the restaurants and hotels, as architects, or creating interiors.
We’re working on an enormous residential development in Kuala Lumpur, and we are also working fairly extensively in Cuba. We just opened a restaurant and hotel in London called Boundary and another restaurant called Lutyens. I just released the Eco House Book.
First step on a project
Sitting down with the team to work out the basics Last step on a project
Last-minute snagging, adding the final touches before opening the doors, and welcoming your first customers, which is the most satisfying part of all.
How do you break a creative block?
Solutions often come at the strangest of times. I get ideas at 3 a.m., strange small details that often don’t get resolved until I’m half awake and half asleep.
Why do you do what you do?
Everything I do for work I would also do for pleasure.
At 16 I went to study textiles at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, in London. Although I enjoyed it very much, when I was offered a job midway through the course I was encouraged to take it, as they were few and far between at that time. I have never looked back since.
Eduardo Paolozzi was a dear friend who taught me so many things, and his work crosses so many boundaries—sculpture, painting, textiles. It’s full of imagination, color, inventiveness, and humor.
All I have ever tried to do is offer people a style of life that I think they will enjoy, and provide the products or environments that will help them realize this.
First act as “design czar”
Demonstrate to world leaders that design and business are completely interlinked—one cannot succeed without the other.
A David Chipperfield building, Andrée Putman designing the furniture, Eduardo Paolozzi providing the artwork and sculpture, with Charles Eames providing the inspiration. And me overseeing the project to ensure all the wonderful things fit together perfectly.
Probably his fourth symphony. Seriously, a bowl made for me by the Japanese potter Kawase Shinobu. Being a potter myself, I really admire what he has made—it’s complex and fine, and I like its shape, and because he made it especially for me makes it even more special.
The Eames Aluminum Soft Pad—the most comfortable office chair I know—has lasted me for more years than I care to remember.
Best place to think
Sitting in the garden or my greenhouse with a glass of wine and peace and quiet, just writing, sketching, and designing, gives me enormous pleasure and allows me to think clearly.
The Art of Looking Sideways, by Alan Fletcher—brilliant ideas seem to jump out at you from every page, and I find it very inspirational.
A table made in the 1920s with a decorative metal frame and glass top. I bought it from a market in Provence. It was so badly damaged that we practically had to remake it, but that just gives me even more pleasure now.
A meter-high sculpture of a rather handsome Monsieur Bibendum, whom I love.
A large room in the country that I use as an office. It is filled with books and models of my furniture designs, a huge desk, a comfortable sofa, an open wood fire, and views over the fields and river.
I smoke four Havana cigars a day and find them more pleasurable now than I ever have.
The serenity of a plain white space
Novelty and gimmickry in design. We need to resist the “here today, gone tomorrow” culture of the fashion industry.
Learned the hard way
Frustration has led me into many ventures that have ultimately proved successful. I spent the previous decade trying to get my designs in the public eye but found it an infuriating process, so I decided if other people wouldn’t sell my furniture properly, I would do it myself. And so began my Habitat experiment.
You’re shaped as much by your mistakes as you are by successes, and as you gain experience you come to understand what works and what doesn’t.
Pretty much what I do now, although it has never felt like a job.