Blog archive March 2012
what the conran exhibition at the design musuem reveals is that conran is really rather conservative and a bit boring. he is often written up as the man who brought modern design to the british mass market - but the exhibition suggests that the strongest thread in his work is nostalgia. the bedrock of habitat from the start was country cottage victoriana and mediterranean rusticity - homely tradition with less ornament, old-fashioned teapots and tin mugs, wicker and stripped pine. even the modernism was nostalgic - the breuer chairs were a 20s-30s revival in sync with biba. the exhibition has a section for conran's 1990s-2000s restaurant career - each restaurant represented by a chair and a place setting. with one exception these all reference the late 19th-early 20th centuries, moderne and art deco - nostalgic again.
of course this was shrewd retailing - the mixture was perfect for baby-boom suburbanites just back from a greek holiday, sitting in their stripped pine kitchen dreaming of the good life. the first habitat shop also sold some braun products, which now seems strange because they represent a much more rigorous and technological modernity.
conran's breakthrough was in packaging - the whole look for your home in one place, down to the small details, room sets and the catalogue to show you how to put it together, piled high and flatpacked to take away. what ikea would do cheaper 20 years later [and kill habitat]. much of it was expensive, but there were plenty of cheap[ish] pieces which would turn up in everybody's home [a 'noguchi' lampshade, a chicken brick, a teapot]. by such osmosis the british were introduced to the duvet - maybe conran's biggest achievement is in changing how the british sleep. it's fair to say that half of the stuff in the catalogues was plain and rather dull, which represented conran's idea of simple good taste but doesn't have the wow factor that leads to revivals.
on wednesday our other local nuclear power station at oldbury was shut down after 45 years. while berkeley, which closed in 1989, was industrial, oldbury was a showpiece with visitor centre and nice shiny reactor faces, and famously featured in doctor who.
and so you might say the 60s, local version, will finally pass into history. we are due a new nuclear power station close to oldbury, and BAe, Airbus and Rolls Royce engines will continue to build in Filton, but two very conspicuous physical landmarks of an era will go [apart from the oldbury reactor cores, which will be with us until 2109 at least].
meanwhile, nimbyish opposition is reported to proposals for wind farms, and new housing on the airfield, which would have been welcomed as signs of progress and prosperity 40 years ago. many of the nimbys no doubt came here, in their youth, because of nuclear power, aerospace and new housing estates.