Grand Designs

01st October 2009

We are thrilled to have been featured in Grand Designs' recent article, Tom Dyckhoff attesting that our "home is elegantly no-nonsense":

Born into British design royalty, Sebastian Conran was destined to follow in his father's footsteps. But he has made his own mark with functional, stylish designs for everything from baby products to cars to kitchen utensils - and his home is the perfect backdrop for his own crop of design classics

'Yes, I do like my food’. How could he not? This is Sebastian Conran. The clue's in the surname. How could the eldest son of Sir Terence Conran - who, before Gordon, Jamie and Nigella had lifted their first whisk, practically invented the modern foodie's kitchen with Habitat and an endless run of designer restaurants - not like his food? His uncle is Antonio Carluccio! He was probably weaned on drizzles of organic olive oil. Just imagine if he preferred Pot Noodles and Angel Delight to foccacia and truffles! 'I’d be drummed out of the family: he chuckles.

So, yes, Sebastian knows his way around a kitchen. 'When I first met my wife, Gertie, she was most impressed by my kitchen. It was black, yes, black, quite dark - very different from kitchens of today which have to be light filled and so on - with an Iroko wood worktop: It sounds terrifically Eighties. Fast forward 30 years and his current kitchen at his Notting Hill home (yes, it's one of those gorgeous stuccoed villas you'd imagine he’d live in) is every inch that old cliche, the heart of the house - 'Precisely where every kitchen should be’, says Sebastian.

One way the dining room and garden, the other the living room; stand in the middle and you can see the entire open-plan ground floor. It looks very 2009. Stainless-steel range? Check. Stone worktop? Check. Recessed halogen lights? Yes. Liberally sprinkled with pots, pans and jars designed by the man himself. This is a very personal - and professional - kitchen.

During more than 30 years as a product designer, designing everything from pushchairs to phones and Nissan's Cube car, Sebastian Conran has created more than his fair share of saucepans, taps and whisks, too. Sebastian's the man behind Nigella Lawson's best-selling kitchenware range, Living Kitchen, with its muted colours and nod to Fifties nostalgia. But it's his latest range, Universal Expert, for John Lewis, that's on display here at home. And with good reason. He uses what he designs. This man knows his stuff. There's little about the correct functioning of a utensil holder that he does not know.

'What drives me mad,’ he says, 'is not knowing instantly where all the things are and how they work. I want to be able to reach for a pepper grinder and grind, not have to fumble around, then have to work out how I get pepper out.’ His designs, like him, are elegantly no-nonsense - they look nice, all smooth edges and understated charm, but they work, too; an obvious point, but often a luxury with product design.

'I'm what you might call an old-fashioned designer,’ says Sebastian. 'I like things that function. I like to pull things apart. If you asked me when I was 11 what I wanted to be it would have been an inventor. I was a bit dyslexic, so didn't do as well at school with writing, history and all that as I might, but I was good at physics, metalwork and chemistry. Anything in which I could get my hands a bit dirty.’ Noticing his propensity for tinkering around with things, his father gave him a little workshop. 'Before I could read - which was quite late - I could strip a clock down and reassemble it. I was forever taking things apart: This practicality has stayed with him ever since.

'Do you know the kind of things that keep me up at night? How to design a better cafetiere. I'm not interested at all in designing fancy stuff for spoilt people. I'm interested in the ordinary stuff. I like to put the cheerful into cheap. I'm working on my ninth knife range at the moment, and you think. "How can I reinvent this thing that's been reinvented so many times?" But then you remember form follows failure, form follows fashion, and form follows budget. And you design a better functioning knife, that taps into current fashions, and for different budgets: There are, he thinks, two kinds of design: the starry stuff produced by big names like Ron Arad or Tom Dixon, or the behind the scenes stuff. He's always been interested in the latter. 'I'm not interested in being a design pop star. When you've worked with real pop stars the allure sort of fades.’

Ah yes. I forgot to say. There can't be many product designers for John Lewis who've been a roadie for The Clash. While studying industrial design engineering at Central College of Art and Design in the mid-Seventies, Sebastian, the 'posh punk', was living in a huge, clapped-out house on the edge of Regent's Park. 'So we had a party and The 101'ers [the band Joe Strummer left to form The Clash] came to play: Next thing you know, 'being the only practical sort in the house, you know the only one who could change a plug', Sebastian was on tour with The Clash. He ended up designing singles covers, such as White Riot and Complete Control, and posters and T-shirts.

That rebellious streak has never really left him. His house is dotted with punk memorabilia that cuts an acid streak through a lovely, tasteful home. It's stuffed with design classics - Sari Yanagi's Butterfly Stool. Achille Castiglioni's Area floor lamp, Le Corbusier's chaise longue, Barber Osgerby's Loop coffee table. This is the pad of a posh punk who grew up. Like the man, like his designs, the home is elegantly no-nonsense. 'It's a place for living in: he says. 'But it has to work.’

Which must have made the past five years since moving in particularly gruelling. 'We're about to start really stamping our mark on the place. There have been all these things we've wanted to alter, but somehow the thought of having the builders in ... I've been dreading doing this for years: But the time has come. A man of refined taste can only put up with an ill-fitting towel rail left by the previous owners for so long. Though this redesign is more about function than fanciness. 'I am quite pedantic, yes, but then as a designer you have to be. It drives everyone else potty. You know, "Can you move that two millimetres?". Two millimetres! What's the big deal about two millimetres? But then if you don't do it right, you'll spend a lifetime of regret believe me.’