Ideal Home

01st June 2015

We are excited to have been featured in Ideal Home's recent article, where we had a chance to talk about one key element of our design philosophy, that is 'to design products that end in flea markets and not landfills':

As a member of the Conran design dynasty, some would say it was inevitable that Sebastian Conran, the eldest son of Sir Terence and Shirly Conran, would become a designer, but no one could have predicted the success he’s had creating award-winning products for Mothercare, John Lewis, Belling, Sainsbury’s and Nigella Lawson, to name just a few. His latest homeware collection, Universal Expert, has been developed with an emphasis on ingenious design, combining style and practicality with new ideas.

Function, innovation and simplicity are the key elements of Sebastian’s design philosophy and he takes great pride in ensuring his products not only look beautiful but work efficiently, too. ‘I try to design timeless products,’ he says. ‘A while ago, I was at a flea market in Brooklyn and found a candlestick I designed in 1992, which cost about a dollar to make originally, being sold for 20 dollars. I remember thinking, “I want to design products that will end up in flea markets, not landfill”. I think it’s important we take responsibility for what we produce, how things are used, and what happened to them.’

‘As a child, I loved making things,’ says Sebastian. ‘I enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together again, and my dad encouraged me. Then, when I was 11, I read a book called Professor Branestawm and decided I wanted to be an inventor.’

Sebastian went on to study Industrial Design Engineering at Central Saint Martins in London, where, as the Student Union treasurer, he gave the Sex Pistols their first gig and designed record covers, posters and T-shirts for The Clash. ‘You could say I studied industrial design, but graduated in rock’n’roll!’ he says. After college, Sebastian went to work at his dad’s studio for a year, then, in 1978, he was offered a job at brand consultancy Wolff Olins. ‘That’s when I really learnt how to be a designer’, he says. ‘I learnt about corporate identity, how to present, how to think conceptually, and how business works. It’s where I as first taken seriously as a designer.’

Three years later, Sir Terence bought Mothercare and approached Sebastian to run the product design studio. ‘It was my first break,’ he says. ‘We worked closely together. I was about 25 and we started winning awards for our pushchair designs. It was fantastic.’

After this success, he set up his own studio, Sebastian Conran Associates, in 1986, and was joined by Tom Dixon in 1991. Then, in the late Nineties, Sir Terence asked him to run the Conran Group. ‘Dad said, “I’m 67 now and my business associates say I need to find a successor and I think it should be you.” He convinced me to join him and I was very successful, but after a while, it was clear to me that I wanted to be a designer – I didn’t want to run shops and restaurants. Jasper has taken over now and I’m delighted! He can do a far better job than me; he’s a genius.’

Now, Sebastian runs his own design consultancy again, producing a wide range of products, from homeware and furniture do 3dprinters, embracing the digital age. ‘We’re working on how we can use this fantastic digital world we live in to make our analogue lives better,’ he explains.

‘I think it’s important to surround yourself with things that have personal meaning. A home should look lived-in. I don’t like walking into a house that’s full of brand-new stuff, as it can look too contrived.’