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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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Here’s what every parent expects from their child, based on their zodiac sign

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Becoming a parent sure does come with a lot of responsibilities. However, it is not devoid of expectations and hopes. Every parent, no matter how liberal or free-spirited they are, anticipates something positive from their children and/or awaits them to achieve something great in life. While the kind of belief you place in your child may differ according to your personality, here is what you as a parent expect from your kid, as per your zodiac sign.


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How to make your own butter – recipe | Food

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Out-of-date (but not mouldy or funky-smelling) cream makes the most wonderful butter, transforming an ingredient that’s destined for the bin into the ultimate comfort food, while also extending its life.

The first time you make butter, you understand what it actually is – and how easy it is to make. At food festivals (remember those?), there are often butter-making workshops for kids, providing thick cream to pour into jars and then shake until it splits into the butter and buttermilk. It really is that simple.

Child or adult, I highly recommend making your own, not least because homemade butter is delicious, and a welcome reminder why the quality of our ingredients matters. Plus, it’s always satisfying to make your own essentials from scratch.

Buttermilk is a byproduct of the butter-making process, and is itself very useful in cooking: drink it straight, like kefir, or use in baking.

How to make butter

Making your own butter is the easiest thing in the world. My nephew will tell you so, and he started making it himself when he was just six. Young or old, it is a rewarding endeavour that I’d highly recommend. Sour or culture the cream first, and you will have a mind-blowing fermented product that can cost as much as £10 to buy ready-made. You will also have the added bonus of buttermilk to drink or bake with, too.

At least 200ml full-fat, whipping, heavy or double cream (cultured, if you prefer)
1 tsp sea salt per 200ml cream (optional)

Pour a minimum of 200ml room-temperature, full-fat cream into a suitable-sized mixer, blender or food processor bowl. Whizz until clumps of butter form, then pour off the buttermilk (save this to drink or cook with later) and gather the butter solids into a ball; at this stage, if you like, knead in a teaspoon of salt per original 200ml cream. The butter is nice and creamy eaten just as it is, but will keep for only a couple of days. To extend its shelf life, put it in a bowl of ice-cold water and knead into a tight ball, which will turn the water milky. Change the water and repeat until the water stays clear after kneading. Pack the butter into a clean jar, or pat it into a block with a wet flat spatula or butter pat, and wrap in unbleached parchment.


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Super easy ways to declutter your closet

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We’re talking about – collecting, choosing, scraping and storing. The first rule of downsizing your closet is to get everything out and then collecting the items of one category at a time. Make separate piles for dresses, t-shirts, shirts, etc. Choose what goes and what stays by asking yourself if that piece of clothing brings you joy. If not, scrap it, but only after thanking it first. Store all the items that make you happy. Focus on what to keep rather than what to discard. This method will help you see that managing your closet space takes hardly any time.


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