Monthly Archives: April 2012

An all-new Conran Shop

Last night we headed west to Michelin House, to check out The Conran Shop’s new Flagship Collection.

The whole Chelsea store has been redesigned around room sets, painstakingly put together by the Shop’s stylists and interior designers – and stuffed full of new products. It’s great for giving you a sense of how to put pieces together in your own home.

Here are a few snaps from last night – including the gardening area with resident plant potter (the friendliest man in West London)!


Well done to everyone in Chelsea for a great makeover and a great launch party. Head over to the Shop to check it out for yourself – and don’t miss the adorable spring window displays…

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Conran’s picks from the 2012 Milan Salone (Part 2)

Following on from this morning’s post, we  look at the key trends and the best stands in Milan.

Silas Swinstead, Franchise Manager, Conran Shop

Top three installations/stands

1. La Cura by Studio Toogood

La Cura by Studio Toogood at MOST lingers most in my mind. The installation was an enjoyable and memorable sensory experience – plus it was a genuine pleasure to be put in touch with my personal creativity again, even if only for 20 minutes! Faye Toogood’s spade chair was my favourite piece of furniture at the show: beauty in simplicity and remarkably comfortable.

Spade chair by Faye Toogood

2. COS popup shop

The COS foldaway popup shop at Ventura Lambrate was beautiful in its simplicity and utility. It emphasised how the Scandinavian aesthetic remains at the heart of the modern concept of ‘good living’.

3. Tom Dixon’s Stamp Lamp production facility

I know Alice has already picked one of Tom Dixon’s lamps, but I’m afraid my heart was stolen by another. The Stamp Lamp is a metallic ‘snowflake’ which can be bent into a three-dimensional – and quite beautiful – lampshade.

Tom set up an on-site production facility for the lamps – they are created by the metal-stamping machines used in car factories. The steam locomotives decorating the space added plenty of drama!

Here’s a video of the stamping machine:

P.S. I also have to point my guilty pleasure: Lee Broom’s crystal bulb. It’s an ingenious evolution of his Decanter Lights into a usable, replaceable standalone fitting. Well done Lee!

Jared Mankelow, Senior Product Designer, Conran Studio

Top three changes in product design

1. Process

Companies like Kartel and Zanotta strongly featured process – sketches, models, prototypes – as well as finished products. . This is a great way to communicate what goes into developing a product – and perhaps sell more product on that basis.

What’s more, it keeps designers happy! We love to know the development process behind products we see, and we love getting such detailed credit for our own designs.

2&3. Junctions/connections and leg details

This is about high-end manufacturers showing off the build quality of their work – and thereby justifying their price tags.  There was a sharp focus on how different materials butt up against each other and the mechanical fixings and structure behind furniture.

A lot more of the key elements to products are being exposed and manufacturers are finally starting to embrace this. Forms are flush, robust and sturdy with the visual language starting to affect how products look.

Paul Middlemiss & Eleanor Davies, Buying Team, The Conran Shop

Top three big trends

1. Reimagined classics

A lot of the big names were exhibiting redesigns of classic pieces, like Charlotte Perriand’s 50s shelves (by Cassina), Joe Colombo’s 1965 chair, and Richard Scultz’s Petal table (from Kartell).

You could call it celebration of classic design, or lily-livered conservatism – though the pieces were too nice to complain too much.

2. Technology

Whether it was Domus’ The Future in the Making event (complete with canapes 3D-printed from Nutella), or the very placement of Tom Dixon’s MOST show in the Museum of Science and Technology, tech was just about everywhere in Milan.

Dixon punched furniture from sheet metal. Assa Ashuach demoed his Digital Forming software, we may or may not turn traditional product development on its head. Dominic Wilcox raced a 3D printer to make a model of the Duomo (he won, just). Not since the Industrial Revolution has such pride been taken in the manufacturing process itself.

3. Colour

Debate rages on as to whether orange or yellow is the colour of the year (we know what Pantone think), but one thing was clear at Milan: bright is alright.

So there you have it: Milan, via Conran. Anything we missed?

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Filed under Good design, Milan Design Fair 2012, THE CONRAN SHOP, TRADE SHOWS AND EXHIBITIONS

Conran’s picks from the 2012 Milan Salone (Part 1)

Shad Thames was a ghost street last week, as the more fortunate Conranners downed tools and jetted off to Lombardy for the 2012 Salone Internazionale del Mobile (aka the Milan Furniture Fair, or simply Milan Design Week).

To make sure they didn’t have too much fun, we set them some homework: to report back on their ‘top threes’ from Milan.

So, here goes: an esoteric tour of the best of Milan, in two installments, brought to you by Conran’s design and retail experts. First up,  Conran & Company gave us their favourites.

Jill Webb, Brand Development Director, Conran & Company

Top three new designers/brands to watch

1. La Chance

La Chance is a new furniture and lighting company which debuted at MOST, Tom Dixon’s five-floor extravaganza in the National Museum of Science and Technology.

Jean-Baptiste Souletie and Louise Breguet, the designers behind the startup, say that La Chance “epitomises their vision of French design”. The people they’ve worked with, though, are defiantly global: 11 designers representing 7 countries.

The collection, Jekyll and Hyde, present two executions of each piece: an understated ‘Jekyll’ version in oiled wood, neutral tones and softly-brushed metal, and a Technicolor Hyde alternative.

French or not, it’s a playful and eye-catching collection – fortunately backed up by great design. Check out the Borghese sofa by Noé Duchaufour Lawrance, for example.

The sober Dr. Jekyll…

…and the eye-catching Mr. Hyde.

2. Objekten

Next up was Objekten, also over at MOST (definitely the place to be).  “Powered by influential new media entrepreneurs and innovative designers” they may claim to be, but their designs were much better than their copy.

3. Y’a Pas Le Feu Au Lac

Y’a Pas Le Feu Au Lac – a French expression meaning ‘no need to rush’ – was born of a collaboration between Grégory and Marie Bodel and design house FX Balléry in 2011.

Their new collection consists of a range of small, simple, functional wooden objects. Each piece feels like it has been plucked straight out of a dolls house – and they are all uncommonly beautiful.

Alice Walsh, Designer, Conran & Company

Top three new product ranges

1. CAST 001 by Sally Makereth

Like most of Milan’s highlights, Sally Makareth’s CAST 001 collection was found at Tom Dixon’s MOST.

Sally is an award-winning British architect, and CAST 001 consists of a range very sculptural outdoor furniture.

The pieces are made of reconstructed stone with patinated metallic finishes, lending them an unusual, semi-reflective quality.

2. Tom Dixon’s lamps

As Steve Carrell puts it, ‘I love lamp’. Tom Dixon was master curator in Milan, and his own designs didn’t disappoint, either.

His Etch Web lampshade is a wonderful, geometrical thing made from digitally-etched, copper-anodised aluminium. It comprises 60 irregular pentagons which throw savage, spiky shadows in every direction.

3. 1616 by Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings

Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings teamed up to create my Milan highlight: 1616, a colourful range of tableware for Japanese brand Arita.

Clean, simple shapes let colour do the talking: great swathes of pastel and dashes of bright yellow and orange.

Lovely stuff.

The Conran Shop‘s beady-eyed buyers will be unpicking the big trends and the best stands in Part 2, later today.

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Filed under Conran & Company, Good design, Milan Design Fair 2012, TRADE SHOWS AND EXHIBITIONS

Move over Milan: the Cheltenham Design Festival is here

So it’s Milan Design Week, the time of year when the more fortunate souls in the design industry jet off to sip Prosecco, wear outsize sunglasses and generally lark about in the sunshine (we can only assume).

Those of us left in London are rattling round with faces black as thunder, drenched to our skins, wincing every time we check Twitter. Ho hum. We’ll have a report from the lucky Conranners in Milan next week.

In the meantime, we shouldn’t be too downhearted, for the last laugh is ours: the inaugural Cheltenham Design Festival kicks off tomorrow, promising all the style – if not the weather – of Milan. There will be talks from industry luminaries, from advertising legend Sir John Hegarty to master graphic design Stefan Sagermeister.

Conran has a showing, too: our CEO, Roger Mavity, will be on stage on Saturday with design critic Stephen Bayley, talking about the art of pitching ideas. You can book tickets here.

We look forward to seeing you there.

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The Green Team

We’re very proud of our architects at Conran today. They have been shortlisted for a Housing Design Award for the Green Man Lane development in Ealing.

The awards are some of the most prestigious in public housing development, supported by the Government, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the National House Building Council.


The view of the community café from Singapore Road

The Green Man Lane estate will comprise over 750 new homes for affordable rental, shared ownership and sale. New community facilities will include an hotel, a low cost gym and a market square with cafes, park and retail space.


The whole site from above

The houses will achieve Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, and will utilise rainwater collectors and water-saving technology.

The project is headed up by Paul Zara, Director of Conran & Partners.

“We want this to be outstanding architecture that raises the spirits of those who live there. Our aim is to set new standards in Ealing and create a place where people will be proud to be a resident.” 

Being shortlisted for a Housing Design Award seems like to a good start to us, Paul.

You can read more about the 2012 Housing Design Awards here.

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Getting Real

Last week, we talked about our support for Michelle Ogundehin’s Equal Rights For Design campaign. The cause is gaining momentum, with James Dyson and Mary Portas – as well as our very own Terence Conran – showing their support.

The Conran Shop – a long-time advocate of better protection for British designs – decided actions speak louder than words, and set about bringing the campaign to life over at their Marylebone store. Michelle and the Conran team spent last week cathartically tearing up cheap fakes of classic designs (one of which broke before it even arrived at the store).

Michelle Ogundehin, showing us just what she thinks of design fakes

You can see the difference for yourself by heading over to the Marylebone store and checking out the Get Real window displays.

The Get Real window displays at The Conran Shop, Marylebone

The campaign stepped up another notch last night, with a bloggers’ event in Marylebone. There was a great turnout, and a palpable sense that it’s about time someone raised the issue.

The Get Real event at The Conran Shop last night

We heard a broad range of opinions on the campaign. Several attendees noted that, whilst they believe in the protection of design classics, the line between taking inspiration and ripping off isn’t an easy one to draw. Design is ultimately about selling product, and in a free market, fakes will always propagate.

It’s certainly true that design is more overtly commercial than other artistic disciplines; the closest parallel is probably fashion. But in fashion, as Michelle noted in her Times interview, there is a greater sense of shame in buying fakes – and most people know how to spot them. That’s less true in the design world. Many consumers would feel duped if they found out their Eames chair was a fake – just as they would if their Mulberry handbag turned out to be.

In fact, the issue is even more acute in the design world. A fashion fake may serve its purpose if it lasts a season, but with knock-off furniture – cheaply made and hastily thrown together – this lack of longevity is more problematic. Design classics are all but indestructible, and hold their value as the years rack up. Fakes may be cheaper – but they are seldom better value.

That’s why we’re pushing Get Real. So, head on over to Marylebone High Street, and find out how you can stay savvy.


Filed under Good design, Retail, THE CONRAN SHOP

The Grok Organogram

We have a hunch that the word ‘grok’ – a sci-fi term which means, to quote the OED, “to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes the observed” – is unlikely to find an audience away from the free-loving streets of San Francisco.

The broader idea it describes, however – the mingling of minds, and the cross-pollination of ideas – is already catching on, not least in the design world. Practically, it means deep collaboration between the design department and other parts of the business, and so developing products in a design-led way.

Baking designers into the heart of product development seems sensible enough, but it jars with usual company structures, where market and business analysts tell designers what their new product will be. However, some companies – not least a little upstart from Cupertino by the name of Apple – are demonstrating the value in rethinking that traditional approach.

Grok design was the topic of a talk last night at The Book Club, Shoreditch, part of the Future Human series of lectures and discussions. We learnt about the history of grok – with special reference to Apple – and we discussed how grok can inform design processes.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the distinction between designer, maker and retailer didn’t exist. There was only the artisan, and his work naturally took into consideration form, function and market opportunity. Grokking is a way of replicating that in modern industry, and ameliorating the downsides of division of labour.

The late Steve Jobs loved grok, and his ideas about ‘grokking’ were central to the way Apple’s product design process worked. Just as Google venerates its coders and engineers, Apple venerates designers. Jonathan Ive and his team are seen not as hired hands to prettify a product, but central to product development. They are given generous R&D budgets, direct access to the CEO, and rare latitude to experiment. They work alongside the business development teams, the salespeople, the marketeers. Thus the elegant gestalt products, the marriage of form and function – and, perhaps, the eye-watering revenues.

It’s easy to make a cult of Apple – a point made by Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum, who noted that Jobs’ corporate structure – with just about everyone reporting directly to him – had as much to do with his megalomania as his business philosophy. But the basic intuitiveness of grokking design processes is hard to ignore.

In the end, James Moed, a business designer at IDEO London, came through with the take home messages. Firstly, anything can be designed – from coffee cups to sales teams to human resources departments. It behoves big companies to stop thinking about design as a siloed process, or even to think of designers as a discrete category of employees. We can all design things.

Secondly, design at its best is interdisciplinary. Good design comes when product designers, industrial designers, interface designers, graphic designers, ideas people, marketeers, thinkers and strategists work together, with eyes firmly on the bigger picture.

It’s something that’s at the forefront of our minds at Conran, too. We’ve found that when we work together, across traditional design disciplines, we are usually more than the sum of our parts. It’s what we did with Boundary, a restaurant bar and hotel complex in Redchurch Street that came of a collaboration between our architects, interior designers, furniture designers and brand strategists. Increasingly, we see this as the model for how we should work.


The Boundary’s rooftop bar

Whether it’s Apple’s super-designers or Google’s 10% time, the world’s most successful companies are finding ways to turn the soil – and watching their revenues grow. We can all take something from that.

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Filed under Conran digital, Conran Singh, Good design, Uncategorized, Where do you find design inspiration?

Brightening Hove

New architectural projects often involve difficult choices – especially in Britain.  We live in a crowded country: there are 660 of us squeezed into every square mile of land we have, versus 83 Americans, or 295 Frenchmen. This puts developable land at a high premium.

Demolition of the crumbling Granada cinema on Portland Road, Hove, is now underway. The site is being redeveloped by Conran and Partners‘ Brighton office, and will encompass 35 flats, a GP surgery, a pharmacy and a separate leisure space.

It is a controversial project: undoubtedly, the loss of a 1930s art deco cinema, even if derelict, is notable. The local community has been divided on the project: many have mourned the loss of an historic cinema; others note that the dilapidated state of the building does little for Hove’s image, and that new housing is badly needed in the town.

Gala bingo hall © Jim Stephenson / clickclickjim

The derelict cinema building

We’ve led restoration projects throughout our existence: Terence Conran teamed up with Paul Hamlyn to save Michelin House, and our recent Boundary development resides in a sensitively-restored Victorian warehouse. Sadly, the Granada cinema was beyond saving.

The new building will have high sustainability credentials, and will include 14 affordable units. The flats will have roof terraces with sea views, and a shared garden to the rear. In a nod to the site’s heritage, the corner of the building will be clad in multi-coloured Roman bricks, Additionally, an artist is being commissioned for an installation in the stairwell, which will be inspired by the memory of the cinema, or perhaps of Diana Dors, who opened the building as a bingo hall in the 70s.

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Patriotism and British design

Patriotism is well and truly back in vogue. It started with a murmur last year – the Royal wedding and a brief flutter of flags kickstarted Southbank’s reprisal of the 1951 Festival of Britain; a neat row of bright pastel sheds and a crescent of sand brought the charm of the British seaside resort to the Thames.

That murmur has amplified into an almightily scream of Union Jack cushions, Tube Map teatowels and ‘Keep Calm’ posters. This ‘sentiment’ trend – a nostalgia for the Britain of yore – will wax at least until the Royal Jubilee and the London Olympics are long in the memory, and perhaps until our economy gets onto a firmer footing (there is comfort in nostalgia, after all).

The currency of British iconography has never been stronger, but this is a superficial patriotism. What about modern British design – objects beautiful in form and function, designed in Britain?

At Conran, we’re passionate about it. Few could knock Britain’s design heritage – from William Morris to James Dyson, British designers have always been a force to be reckoned with. But we’re also passionate about our design future – giving British designers the chance to thrive.

One thing we could do to secure that future is better-protect our designers. ELLE Decoration UK has launched an e-petition to reform copyright protection for designers.

As things stand, works of literature, drama, music and film are protected for 70 years from the death of creator, whereas designs are only protected for 25 years from their date of invention. Michelle Ogundehin, Editor in Chief of ELLE Decoration UK and V&A Trustee, argues that this disparity harms the profitability of designing in Britain – and fosters a market for cheap fakes of classic designs.

The Conran Shop has already thrown its weight behind the ‘Fight the Fakes’ campaign, currently blowing up across the web. So too has Terence Conran, who teamed up with Michelle for a Times feature on the initiative (sadly paywalled). Terence noted that the fakes industry has “grown hugely” in the past decade, and implored the Government to look after Britain’s young designers.

The Times interview

Our Chancellor envisages “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”. In that light, isn’t it time we start championing not just the design classics of the past, but also those of the future?

Let us know what you think, and check out ELLE Decoration UK’s Equal Rights For Design Facebook campaign.