Sir Ter­ence Con­ran speaks out on plain, sim­ple liv­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - Style & Home - By De­sign

As some­one who’s spent way too much time ask­ing her­self, “If I could af­ford any­thing, what would my home look like?” I have found great com­fort in re­dis­cov­er­ing the work of legendary de­signer Ter­ence Con­ran, that would be Sir Ter­ence Orby Con­ran to us.

In his 88 years, Con­ran, con­sid­ered one of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial de­sign­ers, has started a de­sign stu­dio and two in­ter­na­tional re­tail chains of home fur­nish­ing stores (Habi­tat, The Con­ran

Shop), launched sev­eral restau­rants, es­tab­lished a pub­lish­ing house, founded the De­sign Mu­seum of Lon­don, pub­lished 50 books, mar­ried five women, fa­thered five chil­dren and been knighted by Queen El­iz­a­beth II for his con­tri­bu­tions to de­sign.

I call that a full life. His lat­est ac­com­plish­ment, a new edi­tion of one of his clas­sic books “Plain, Sim­ple, Use­ful: The Essence of Con­ran Style,” ar­rives next week, cour­tesy of Con­ran Oc­to­pus Pub­lish­ing.

Given that I stand trans­fixed at the in­ter­sec­tion of beau­ti­ful liv­ing and pru­dent spend­ing, I ap­pre­ci­ate know­ing that, de­spite his im­mense wealth, Con­ran is de­lib­er­ately un­pre­ten­tious. His home and this book re­flect Quaker-like re­straint.

“[O]bjects — and sur­round­ings — that are plain, sim­ple and use­ful are the keys to easy liv­ing,” writes Con­ran in his in­tro­duc­tion. “By ground­ing us in re­al­ity and per­form­ing well over time, they are as much the an­ti­dote to point­less com­plex­ity and su­per­fi­cial styling as they are to the shoddy and sec­ond-rate.”

Loaded with de­sign ba­sics, and punc­tu­ated with charm­ing di­gres­sions on prod­ucts he fa­vors and their prove­nance (The Kil­ner jar, Du­ralex glasses, The Tres­tle ta­ble) “Plain, Use­ful, Sim­ple” holds forth on ev­ery room in the house, as well as the yard. Here’s a taste:

■ On kitchens: An ap­pli­ance that takes longer to clean and re­assem­ble than it does to op­er­ate … is of­ten more trou­ble than it’s worth … What­ever you dis­play should ideally be

used on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

■ On work ar­eas: If util­ity ar­eas are not scruffy af­ter­thoughts, daily chores will seem less of an im­po­si­tion. Even the small­est work­ing ar­eas, such as broom cup­boards and linen clos­ets, can have a cer­tain down-to-earth charm if they are fit­ted out with care.

■ On bed­rooms: Noth­ing should stand be­tween you and a good night’s sleep — no dis­tract­ing clut­ter, no over­flow­ing wardrobes, no dust-catching knick­knacks … [C]on­cen­trate on get­ting the ba­sics right: the qual­ity of light and air, the bed linen that goes next to your skin, and the bed it­self.

Be­cause I had ques­tions that went be­yond the pages of this book, I reached Con­ran at his home in the English coun­try­side, where, with the help of his long-time as­sis­tant, he fielded my cu­riosi­ties via email.

Marni: Why this book now?

Sir Ter­ence: Homes and our re­la­tion­ship with them are changing all the time, and I felt the time was right to cre­ate some­thing use­ful and fresh for con­tem­po­rary liv­ing. To peo­ple of a cer­tain age I am per­haps best known for “The House Book,” but that was an in-depth, al­most en­cy­clo­pe­dic man­ual for liv­ing, ap­pro­pri­ate for that time. Here, I wanted to cre­ate some­thing more in­for­mal — a house book for re­laxed mod­ern liv­ing. We have also in­cluded a ter­rific sec­tion on out­door liv­ing, which sur­pris­ingly I haven’t re­ally cov­ered too much in my pre­vi­ous books, which is crazy re­ally as peo­ple love to live their lives in the fresh air as much as pos­si­ble.

Marni: What do you wish more peo­ple un­der­stood about bet­ter liv­ing?

Sir T: I have always be­lieved that most peo­ple crave sim­plic­ity, and don’t want to live in com­plex, overly de­signed homes. That theme runs through­out my book, and is more im­por­tant now than ever in these quite de­mented times we live in. If I close my eyes and imag­ine my dream room right now, I’d be sat on a com­fort­able, well-used sofa with plump cush­ions, linen cur­tains flut­ter­ing in the breeze from open win­dows over­look­ing a wild meadow. Noth­ing com­pli­cated, you don’t have to spend vast sums to live a com­fort­able, happy life.

Marni: You have left such a big im­pres­sion on the de­sign world. What do you hope your legacy will ul­ti­mately be?

Sir T: Noth­ing grand re­ally, that I was a good de­signer of plain, sim­ple and some­times beau­ti­ful prod­ucts. I also hope that through my de­signs, The Con­ran Shop and The De­sign Mu­seum I have demon­strated that de­sign can have a pro­foundly pos­i­tive and long-last­ing in­flu­ence on the way we live.

Marni: I love to re­mind read­ers that you don’t have to be rich to live well. You echo this in your book. What are your top tips for liv­ing beau­ti­fully with­out spend­ing much?

Sir T: I am a child of the Sec­ond World War and the sub­se­quent years of ra­tioning, so I am nat­u­rally thrifty. Na­ture will always be gen­er­ous with her gifts. If you look hard enough, cut­tings from the gar­den will pro­vide flow­ers for your home most of the year and give you an even greater plea­sure than flow­ers from a store. Like­wise, grow­ing your own fruit, veg­eta­bles and herbs is tremen­dously sat­is­fy­ing.

Nat­u­ral light is ab­so­lutely free, so think of sim­ple ways of flood­ing a room with it. Can­dle­light is also very se­duc­tive.

Keep­ing a room tidy, clean and free of clut­ter is also a free, if time-con­sum­ing, way to make any in­te­rior more pleas­ant. The key to this is be­ing or­ga­nized and un­der­stand­ing your home and how it works. Spend­ing time on this will give you an up­lift­ing sense of breath­ing space.

Marni: What is your fa­vorite room in the home and why?

Sir T: I have always said the kitchen, al­though I have a ter­rif­i­cally painful back in­jury at the minute, so the bath­room and the lux­ury of a hot, deep and sooth­ing bath runs a very close sec­ond. The kitchen though is a ter­rif­i­cally so­cial place at the heart of fam­ily life where the joys of cook­ing, en­ter­tain­ing, drink­ing and eat­ing can all hap­pily merge.


You don’t need to spend a for­tune to cre­ate a kitchen that works well” says de­signer Ter­ence Con­ran in his new book, “Plain, Sim­ple Use­ful: The Essence of Con­ran Style.”

Marni Jame­son

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