The sought-after product and interior designer talks about her latest designs
Sophie Conran frequently finds herself preoccupied by everyday things. The humble chopping board is a case in point. ‘I collect them,’ she says, cheerfully. ‘I’ve got lots – they are like old friends.’ Most of us give scant thought to this little kitchen workhorse, but Sophie’s creative brain has now transformed it into a must-have accessory. In all, she has designed 15 new versions for T&G Woodware, which launched in February. The collection comprises five different shapes, their sides painted with blue or soft neutrals, or boards engraved with numbers or quotes, including ‘Made with love’. These homely designs are pretty enough for a table centerpiece, and are anything but boring.
That should be no surprise. Sophie has been designing in one shape or form for her whole life, and as well as being a sought after product designer, she is also a cookery writer. Her parentage needs no introduction: her father is Sir Terence Conran and her mother Caroline Conran. But Sophie, just like her Conran siblings, has risen in the design world by dint of clear talent. She has successfully designed everything from carpets to china, wallpaper to ceramic lights. But does she actively follow trends? ‘Of course I keep one eye on the Zeitgeist,’ she says. ‘But I hope people feel confident in my taste, too.’ And 2014 is choc-a-bloc with fresh launches including a bed linen and bath collection, ceramic-coated pots and pans for Portmeirion, and new wallpapers for Arthouse.
One might expect a mix of design styles given such a broad sweep of products, but even under scrutiny, Sophie’s designs exhibit a clear blueprint. The look is crisp and clean, the colours are soft and the mood is easy living. Does she consciously imbue each new product with the Sophie Conran signature? ‘Adding colour does give a fresh twist,’ she says, thoughtfully. ‘But when I design something afresh, it’s more about creating a purity of line, creating a piece a piece that is both beautiful and practical.’
As keen shoppers will know, Sophie has created products for a variety of manufacturers. There have been charming ceramics for Portmeirion (her range for them launched in 2006), hand-cut crystal glasses for Royal Worcester, cutlery for Arthur Price, to name but a few. Now, for the first time, she has gathered all the products under one ‘roof’. Her online store, Sophie Conran Shop, launched at the end of 2013. The entire project has taken two years, and she is delighted the shop is now up and running. ‘It hasn’t been easy,’ she says. ‘It is like learning a new language!’ She has deliberately started small to grow steadily (the feedback has been excellent), and plans to expand her own-brand designs. Would she like a ‘real’ shop one day? ‘I would love one,’ she says. ‘I’m a potterer, I can’t think of anything nicer than creating a shop full of lovely things.’
Now fans of her relaxed homewares can choose according to category, from Candles to Textiles, Garden to Pots & Pans. The China section is helpfully divided into colour groups, tempting-sounding white, celadon, pink and forget me not blue. Like the chopping boards, her textiles have been an exercise in taking everyday kitchen accessories and redefining them. ‘I love kitchen textiles, so I set out to create the perfect tea towel and the perfect apron,’ she says. Oven gloves, napkins and place mats got the same treatment. The current range, launched last year, comes in easy raspberry pink, blue or white linen, specifically designed to soften and fade. Sophie’s new range, offering soft cottons in peachy tones, launches this month.
Sophie may have a busy schedule, but she happily shuttles between her London offices in Paddington and her new 18th century home near Marlborough in Wiltshire. She has two teenage children and a recently acquired dog. ‘It is a deerhound, so I’m learning about puppies right now,’ she says, cheerfully. Has she worked her magic at the country house? ‘We have only just moved in so it is early days,’ she says. ‘I love the process of decorating, rather than the end point.’ She may have put down country roots, but she still enjoys London. ‘In Chelsea, I love everything: the architecture, the atmosphere, the Chelsea Flower Show,’ she says. And she often drops into The Conran Shop now her brother Jasper has taken the reins. ‘He has done an amazing job there.’
As for designing, she is at her most creative at the kitchen table in the flat adjoining her London offices. Every project, she says, begins with ‘lots and lots of ideas’. She enjoys collaborating with other companies. ‘We look at many different materials and start a creative conversation, going back and forth, until we hone designs down and everyone is happy.’ For her own designs, she has carte blanche. What is she most excited about right now? ‘My collection of tissue paper,’ she says, with clear enthusiasm. With her expert eye, she has selected two packs: Bright colours, featuring Pansy, Iris, Sky Blue, Turquoise, Blue and Amethyst, or Grey Shades, with Cool Grey, Light Grey, Slate Gray, White and Silver. Only a designer like Sophie Conran could do this with such understated style; and we can’t wait to see what she’ll produce next.
Sophie Conran wallpaper available from arthouse.com