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Woks, duvets, chicken bricks: how Terence Conran restyled Britain | Terence Conran

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“I’m a Bauhaus-educated chap,” Terence Conran told Vanity Fair last year, before spelling out his philosophy of design, that objects should be “economic, plain, simple and useful”.

On these points he was remarkably consistent: he would have said something very similar at any time in the past seven decades, ever since he was a student at what was then called the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, or even at the design-aware Bryanston School in Dorset.

He was, to be more precise, a product of that version of modernism that developed around the Festival of Britain of 1951, on which he had worked. As also expressed in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s influential Britain Can Make It exhibition of 1946, it was the idea that postwar Britain could, with the help of enlightened modern design, both enhance the quality of everyday life and rediscover its ability to make things.

The ideals of William Morris, as interpreted by continental modernists, were to be reimported for the good of the nation. The means of this transformation, however, turned out not to be an enlightened socialist state, but the consumer culture of the 1960s, which Conran’s skill and nerve as a businessman turned to his advantage.

Terence Conran enjoys a night out in London with his wife, the journalist and author Shirley Conran, in June 1955.
Terence Conran enjoys a night out in London with his wife, the journalist and author Shirley Conran, in June 1955. Photograph: Thurston Hopkins/Getty Images

His most famous achievements were shops – most notably Habitat and later the Conran Shop – and restaurants. His first business venture, The Soup Kitchen, grew out of his experience working in a Paris restaurant, where staff stole steaks by strapping them to their inside legs. It would be harder, was Conran’s thinking, to steal soup.

These shops and restaurants really did change the visual and gastronomic culture of the country. It has often and accurately been pointed out that, along with the cookery writer Elizabeth David and the fashion designer Mary Quant, he helped to bring some continentally inspired joie de vivre to what was a drab place. “It is hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then,” he said of his early years in the city, “it really was the era of Spam fritters.”

Conran’s most cited achievements include the introduction or popularisation of such things as flat-pack furniture, paper lanterns, duvets, espresso machines and woks. Also the chicken brick, a once-popular terracotta device for cooking poultry.

His many restaurants played a leading role in transforming Britain’s reputation as a gastronomic wasteland.

If none of these innovations were essential to existence, they could certainly add to the enjoyment of it – Conran’s claim that his promotion of duvets “undoubtedly changed the sex life of Europe” was only partly hyperbolic. Ultimately Conran’s work was about pleasure, about making a sort of tasteful hedonism widespread.

Balance alcove shelving, a typical Conran design.
Balance alcove shelving, a typical Conran design. Photograph: Design Museum

His personal life, with four marriages and many affairs, might also be said to have been about pleasure, although with sometimes spectacular divorces and widely reported family tensions that belied the calm of his design aesthetic.

If Conran’s core clientele was a certain kind of metropolitan buyer and diner, his influence can be seen in the products of Ikea, in restaurant menus all over the country, in the popularity of what now gets called “contemporary design”.

At the same time he never ceased in his ambition to restore British manufacturing greatness through the power of design. To this end he founded and generously supported the Design Museum, founded in 1989 near Tower Bridge and since 2016 located in the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington. He also supported younger designers, for example giving Thomas Heatherwick his first break when he was straight out of college, the design of a gazebo in the garden of Conran’s country house of Barton Court in Berkshire.

Conran the businessman did well in the era of Margaret Thatcher, including through canny property development, but he never accepted her politics. “One of the most odious people who’ve ever walked the earth,” he called her. She, for her part, was outraged that the Design Museum’s displays included objects made by foreigners.

Conran found Tony Blair much more congenial, and the feeling was mutual, at least until Conran opposed the invasion of Iraq. He was a prominent representative of Cool Britannia, of the young-at-heart and stylish country that New Labour wished to promote. The Blairs entertained the Clintons at Conran’s Pont de la Tour restaurant. When the French president Jacques Chirac visited for a summit, Conran designed the setting“I’ve seen the fuchsia and it works”, wrote the Daily Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson.

Conran never liked the suggestion that he was a businessman more than a designer, claiming that he hadn’t known what “entrepreneur” meant. But it was in bringing modern design to a wider market that his greatest achievements lay. There’s not a Conran chair or a Conran interior that really sticks in the memory, as there were by, say, Charles and Ray Eames or Eileen Grey, and he was never avant-garde. What he did do, though, as he put it, “was to make things available”.

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Planning a baby? 6 fertility myths you should stop believing

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When you decide to go the family way, there’s considerable amount of advice you get from your family and friends. Of course, all the advice you get may also be riddled with old wives’ tales and not all scientific in basis. Truth be told, there are so many tips and myths people believe about conception, it can be hard to determine which works and which doesn’t. It can also be uncomfortable for couples to receive advice, especially when they have been trying to have a baby for a while. We bust six such myths for you:


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Scooby shack: secrets and mystery on an off-grid cabin retreat in west Cornwall | Cornwall holidays

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‘Give us a shout if you can’t find the bedroom.” As I read through the check-in details before my trip, this was the line that intrigued me most. After all, I was not staying in a mansion with a maze of corridors, but a woodland cabin.

A few weeks later, standing in the cabin’s living room, I couldn’t find the bedroom. I searched in vain for a door or some sort of drop-down staircase. It was only when I took a more Scooby-Doo approach that the entrance was revealed. I shan’t spoil the fun for future guests, but let’s say there’s more to the bookcases than meets the eye.

The hidden bedroom is one of many lighthearted touches at the recently opened Log Jam. The cabin took owners Huw and Bernice three years to construct at Little Menherion, a Cornish smallholding surrounded by farmland and half a mile from the nearest road.

“Our initial idea was to build it as a writer’s retreat,” Huw told me. That explained the 1930s Imperial Good Companion typewriter I found inside. It has been fully restored, and guests are encouraged to get in touch with their inner Highsmith or Hemingway and tap away on it.

bedroom at Log Jam
Big reveal … the hard-to-spot bedroom at Log Jam

In tune with this old school theme, I’d arrived on foot. From the station at Redruth (nine miles west of Truro, 12 east of St Ives and 11 north-west of Falmouth) it was a pleasant four-mile rural walk over low hills. Staying off-road virtually the entire way, I passed by the tall brick chimneys and tumbledown buildings of former copper mines, now smothered in gorse and the occasional palm. On arrival, I handed Bernice my phone and laptop – on this three-night stay I would attempt to slow down and live well.

“We’ve tried to be as environment-friendly as we can,” Huw said as I explored the cabin, “and we’ve used natural materials wherever possible.” Log Jam, with its frame of local Douglas fir and larch cladding, looks at home in the young grove that shelters it. A pair of slender oaks rise in touching distance of the walls, while a silver-barked sycamore grows right through the spacious veranda.

Stepping inside, I breathed in the rich smell of wood and took in the eye-catching steampunk effect created on one wall with the use of wooden offcuts. Across a covered walkway, a separate cabin housed a shower and a swish composting loo.

exterior-of-log-jam-cabin

Despite the call of the typewriter, I ended up on the comfy sofa, reading a great deal from the cabin’s library. There’s a well-equipped kitchen (and even an induction hob – a rare nod to modernity) and one evening I baked, using the oven heated by the wood-burning stove.

Each morning I sat at a table on the veranda to eat breakfast in the company of birds, the most exotic visitors to the copse being great spotted woodpeckers and a lone greenfinch. I took a daily wander around the smallholding, over a brook, beside a pond and up through a series of small fields to apple orchards and a fledgling woodland. When night fell, I climbed up into the high double bed and experienced what is almost a forgotten pleasure: utter silence. The first night I slept for 10 hours. Admittedly, the following night I was awoken by the bellowing of a herd of red deer, but I’ll take that over traffic noise or sirens anytime.

Little waterfall on brook
Little Menherion’s grounds are crossed by a brook

Though perfectly content to potter in my sylvan bubble, I did force myself out for excursions. Borrowing a funky old mountain bike from Huw and Bernice’s collection, I went village-hopping on country lanes thick with yellow and pink honeysuckle and foxgloves. For the first few miles towards the Helford River, I passed more horse riders than car drivers.

Reaching the coast, I walked out on to Dennis Head to watch ships sliding through a calm sea. On another day, I took a stroll on footpaths up the neighbouring Carnmenellis hill for views of farmland dotted with woods, before dropping down for a circuit of the nearby Stithians reservoir, stopping for coffee and cake at the new shoreside Wild Vibes cafe. On the way back, I got goodies from Little Menherion’s honesty shop: fruit and vegetables picked from the organic kitchen garden and, from the orchards, home-produced ciders.

As I lay in bed on my final morning listening to the rain on the roof, and gazing at a scene composed almost entirely of shades of green, I found myself agreeing with something Bernice had told me – this was much too tranquil a place to reserve just for writers.

Accommodation was provided by Canopy & Stars. Log Jam sleeps two and costs from £110 a night (three-night minimum), canopyandstars.co.uk


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Kareena Kapoor Khan’s pink anarkali set can be your perfect Diwali maternity outfit

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She has made pregnancy fashionable and we love her for that. Bollywood film actress, Kareena Kapoor Khan is pregnant for the second time and as expected, she is slaying one look after the other. The actress has made Indian women realise that they can celebrate their maternity and still look their best. From flowy dresses to comfy pants, the actress has aced them all and her current look – a beautiful anarkali set is hitting the headlines for its sheer beauty.


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