It’s next to impossible to think of modern design without mentioning Sir Terence Conran in the same breath. The British designer has been leading the way for over 50 years and showing younger generations just how it’s done. His contributions to the design world are legendary, from furniture design, interiors, and architecture, where he has always focused on intelligent design in hopes that it improves people’s lives and makes them happy to come home. He keeps busy running his design firm and a series of retail stores called The Conran Shop that he founded in 1974, and his longevity has paid off—The Design Museum honored his 80th year by holding a retrospective of his work a few years ago. Just recently Conran introduced a line of affordable furniture and accessories as part of a collaboration with JCPenney that brings his easy living aesthetic to the masses. This week’s Friday Five gives us a look at his design favorites.
1. Thomas Heatherwick
Thomas Heatherwick is an absolute inspiration to me, he crosses boundaries between disciplines effortlessly and makes the impossible seem easy. He has a unique ability to think laterally and his vision and creativity allows us all to dream and gives a glimpse of a better world. Several years ago I rather grandly described Tom as a contemporary Leonardo da Vinci. Some people said I was getting carried away but I can honestly say nothing I have seen since has changed my mind.
2. Glass collections
I collect many things and always have—I suppose you could say it is part of my DNA as a designer and I surround myself with collections of my favorite things. But perhaps my favourite collection is glass, in its many guises, which I use as sculpture because I love its transparency and lightness, often in surprising and beautiful shapes. I have an extraordinary Jacobean Rose goblet that has been handed down in my family for generations.
3. The Millau Viaduct
The Millau Viaduct by Norman Foster and the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux is a spectacular combination of sublime architecture and engineering. It spans the Tarn Gorge in France at a height of nearly 250-metres and Norman described it as a “bridge that would march across a valley in the most elegant, economical light, modular fashion” and it certainly does that. I have always found bridges inspiring—the Golden Gate, the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, the Forth Rail Bridge—but the Millau Viaduct is on another level. When I first drove across it I felt like I was on the world’s biggest, most elegant liner.
Outside the Design Museum in London there is a spectacular bronze sculpture by my dear friend Eduardo Paolozzi called the Head of Invention. On the base is a quote from da Vinci that I have always found inspiring and perfectly relevant to my design work: “Though human genius in its various inventions with various instruments answer the same end, it will never find an invention more beautiful or more simple or direct than nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing superfluous.”
So it is not only mankind who makes beautiful and useful objects—on a shelf in my office is an empty hornet’s nest I retrieved at some great risk many years ago because I found the structure so interesting. If you are interested in design, you look for inspiration in the strangest of places.
5. Benchmark Tool Cabinet
As a small child, I remember my favorite present was a bag of wooden off cuts, nails, and a pretty basic tool kit. There is no doubt this was the point where I first began to develop the curious mind of a designer. Fast forward 70 years or so to a recent birthday and, among the many wonderful presents I received—I was left speechless by the most exquisite tool cabinet made just for me by the skilled workers at my furniture making company, Benchmark. Such a thoughtful present, filled with the very best tools imaginable and everything a passionate craftsman could possibly need. It truly is a thing of beauty and I can feel the same tingle in my fingers I got as a young boy—itching to get in the workshop and make things.