April 22 2011
Lucia van der Post
It was John Kasmin, the art dealer and former owner of The Kasmin Gallery, the gallerist who first brought David Hockney to my attention, who said, “The trouble with Terence Conran is that he just wants the whole world to have a beautifully designed salad bowl.” Lovely notion, of course, but the problem was that the whole world didn’t share Terence Conran’s understated yet sophisticated view of the world. Many of them scarcely knew what salad was, for a start.
Nevertheless, what I admire is his persistence. Here he is, in his 80th year, still determinedly bringing us products that he loves and admires. He’s always had a soft spot for what you might call “downstairs” as opposed to “upstairs” design – things such as serviceable cupboards for holding china, simple stripped pine dressers, cabinets designed to hold haberdashery – and now, in the spring of 2011, he is sticking to his last, launching a range called Utility, which is essentially more than 100 objects of the sort that belong much more “downstairs” than in grand Belgravia drawing rooms.
I, too, have a soft spot for the tradition of making those things that we are all really need – such as dusters and tea towels, boot scrapers and dustpans – as beautifully as it’s possible to do. And apart from anything else, these things are alarmingly difficult to find. There’s a mini-skirt and a funky pair of boots on every high street, but if you want to buy a button or a dustpan, it’s not so easy.
So should you be in need of any of these truly useful household products, it’s well worth making the trek to The Conran Shop or checking into it online. Here you will find the loveliest of milk-bottle carriers, perfectly traditionally shaped to hold six milk bottles but here given a little bit of oomph by being painted scarlet (fourth picture, £19.95) – and how it would it brighten up the doorstep. There’s also a charming red-enamelled metal lunch box (second picture) for £35. As for the feather duster: it is hand-stitched leather on a hand-crafted wooden shaft, a plume of gorgeous black and white ostrich feathers at the end (£28).
Look, too, for things such as beautiful hand-made Kobo chests with leather straps (first picture) which could be used for picnics, laundry, for magazines, for storing sweaters (£250 for a pair, one smaller than the other). And every home, town or country, needs an old-fashioned boot-scraper with a bootjack that is sturdily and honestly made (£135), while the bleached rattan carpet-beater is a thing of such beauty that even those who have never been known to beat a carpet might consider buying for its aesthetic appeal alone (third picture, £12.95).
Clearly the idea here is that we all need dustpans and brushes, tea towels and dusters and so Sir Terence’s mission is to give them to us in as noble a form as possible. A pretty fine ambition, it seems to me.