The Key to Conran Style
Über-stylish and super-prolific father and daughter Terence and Sophie Conran, British design royalty, talk about their inspirations.
British designer, restaurateur and conran shop founder terence Conran has been hugely influential in the food and style worlds—and, not surprisingly, in his five children's choice of careers. His daughter, Sophie—a food and entertaining columnist, cookbook author and creator of an eponymous line of ready-to-eat savory pies—has introduced her first tableware collection for Portmeirion; at around the same time, Terence launched his ceramics for Royal Doulton. Both lines share an earthy aesthetic and oven-to-table practicality. "Her range for Portmeirion is rather excellent, really," says Terence. "I wish I'd done it myself." For Sophie, venturing into tableware design seemed perfectly natural. "Growing up, having the right sort of plate and cup was always important, and as a cook, I want the most easy-to-use pieces," she says. Terence isn't surprised to find her interests mirroring his own so closely: "We share strong genes—the same ambition, the same hardworking streak, the same eye for humor and sauciness;and we both find great pleasure in making things that improve people's lives."
How would you describe your style?
The Conran Shop style has always been eclectic, and this has made modernism more interesting and personal, in my opinion. In the store, we have always sold antique and flea-market furnishings together with the finest and latest modern designs.
What inspired the design of your new tableware?
The collection brings me back to when I was a schoolboy and we were taken on wonderful school trips to grand, stately homes. I always found myself drawn to the kitchen area, where all the practical things were being done, and I'd stand openmouthed and enthralled at how splendid it all was. Ever since, I have been fascinated by solid, simple products.
Tableware has long been the focus of too much attention-seeking and is all too often more colorful and fancy than the food—which, to me, somehow misses the point. This range allows the food to take center stage and complements robust dishes that make you hungry just looking at them. It is strong, dense stoneware that holds heat and can be taken straight from the kitchen to the table. There is nothing more disappointing than tepid food that's meant to be piping hot.
What is your favorite thing to eat at home?
One of my greatest pleasures in life is a tomato fresh from the garden. I hate the kind of food that is considered an art form or an intellectual matter, or chefs who believe they are artists. They should all read Richard Olney and Elizabeth David—they would certainly produce better food if they did.
What are some of your future projects?
We have more than 50 projects on the go at the moment, so there is no rest for the wicked! Skylon, a huge restaurant I designed in the Royal Festival Hall in the center of London, just opened. I'm also involved in a personal project called the Boundary that opens later this year; it's a café, restaurant and rooftop area with bedrooms in East London's Shoreditch neighborhood.
How has your family influenced your work?
My dad gave me lots of books throughout my life. In the front it always said, "For inspiration. Lots and lots of love, Dad." He had his office at home when my brothers and I were growing up, and we'd all sit around the table with the people he was working with and be a party to all of that. Both my parents love nature, and we had a huge garden, which was obviously an inspiration. My mom was always showing us whatever strange fruits she'd found or saying, "Well, what do you think of this? It's just come out of the garden." And there's the passion for food. My dad is a restaurateur, and my mom is a cookery writer, and they've instilled in me a recognition of quality and craftsmanship.
Who are your design icons?
I love Ray and Charles Eames for their energy and the eclectic way in which they lived. I saw an exhibition devoted to just the contents of Ray's drawers. She had a drawer filled with different colored threads, one with different wooden dolls, another with different types of paper.
How does your kitchen reflect your style?
The kitchen is sort of my shed—where I like to tinker about and do experiments and stuff. So it has high energy, and it's shocking pink because it's somewhere to work and be happy. I've got different pots and things that pick out colors—a lovely green jug and bowl, and some yellow pots that make the room ping.
What are the inspirations for your Portmeirion line?
I love Portmeirion's philosophy—the quirky English, slightly eccentric idea. The concept behind my line is that you can still feel that each piece has come from the earth, that it's had somebody's hands on it. I worked with a potter who made all the shapes for me before anything was sent to the factory. I'm a cook, so it's important for me first and foremost that things work, and I also believe that it's important to have nice tools that are pleasing to look at.