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In praise of… Habitat in the early 70s

30 March 2014
Ben Pentreath
46 Comments

It’s nine o’ clock and I can’t believe where the evening has gone. Well, that’s what happens when the clocks change. But it’s also what happens when you’ve had a rather shorter weekend than usual. Today, Lucy and I zoomed out of London bright and early to go down to our project in Wiltshire, at Conock. On a Sunday? To be fair… our client had just flown in from Hong Kong so we couldn’t really complain too much. I’m very much looking forward, in a few weeks, I hope, to be able to share a few photographs of some of the decoration projects that have been in the works in the office for rather a long time now – exciting times. For now, it was a question of a final tweaks meeting. You know the sort of thing. One of my rules in life is that it takes 20% of the time to get about 80% of the way; and 80% of the time to finish up. Do you agree?

So anyway, aside from quite intentionally doing nothing all day yesterday, except pottering down Lambs Conduit Street, and having Will, Maggie and Maria over for supper… (incidentally, god it’s boring not drinking, or should that be addressed “God, it’s really boring not drinking”, just in case he’s a subscriber to the blog…) well, apart from that, nothing.

I did write an email to Bridie saying ‘you know Bridie please read the comments I think we might need a blog every week….’  What a fantastic response, and dear reader, I will do my best to encourage. We will have to be patient for a little while but look out regularly for more mid-week treats.

So for inspiration this week I’m turning to something that I genuinely turn to rather often. My habitat catalogues from 1971, 72 & 73. Perfection on a plate (a phrase I am known to write from time to time on this blog, but this time it’s really true).

habitat01

You see what I mean? I guess I’m not the coolest thing to have been made in 1971, it turns out, after all.

Habitat will need no introduction to readers in the UK, but for those from across the pond, and just in case you don’t already know, we are talking about the revolutionary high-street chain founded by Terence Conran in 1964.  Terence is probably my absolute all-time design hero; I love the way he touches every part of our world, from buildings to furniture to branding to finding just the right cooking pot. It’s very exciting that his son Jasper is now at the helm at the Conran Shops, and haven’t you noticed the superb new happenings over there?

But back to Habitat. In 1970 Conran launched the Habitat Catalogue. I think I found mine on ebay. Keep an eye open for them. I just had a scan over there and couldn’t spot any. Important to get the early ones… the late 70s saw something of a drop off in taste, I would say, and the 80s were a disaster, a decade of strange mergers and acquisitions for the Conran group that led to some rather questionable taste decisions (or perhaps give it another 10 years and I’ll be changing my tune on that one… do you think things need to go through a 40 year cycle to look at their best again?).

Here’s 1972 and 73.

habitat02 habitat03 habitat04 habitat05The dresser on the back of 72 is basically my idea of heaven. I think, although I’m not sure without checking, that it’s Terence’s kitchen in London.

habitat06You can’t go wrong with a letter like that.

habitat07Strangely (others will know better) I think this might have been a Terence kitchen as well. In his Suffolk cottage?

habitat08 habitat09Beautiful enamelware. When it was rare, not ubiquitous.

I love everything on this page, with a passion:habitat10

One of my clients is suddenly going to find their kitchen installed with a white marble countertop and navy blue tiles:

habitat11

habitat12A brilliant layout from 71.

habitat13And another.  Here’s the coffee spread from 71. Very nice:

habitat14

habitat15Thorne Shaded font. I want those oven gloves, and those tea towels, please.

habitat16 habitat17

 

Across the page, the most beautiful everyday cutlery I have ever seen. Please would someone put this in production today?

habitat19

The famous Magistretti chairs in blue, and red. I’ve just bought a set of plain beech ones.  I’ve just broken my golden rule: I have no idea where they are going to live in my life, but I’m sure we’ll find somewhere.

habitat20 habitat21 habitat22

I love Magistretti chairs almost as much as I love the coloured Thonet bentwoods.

Or these trays:habitat23

And these mirrors:habitat24

Or these clocks and calendars:habitat25

Lighting is another whole rich seam. Remember we are still in 1971.habitat26 habitat27

It would give me great pleasure to reintroduce a simple range of square and turned fittings like these with simple coloured cotton shades.

Or, for that matter, to start using Chesterfield sofas upholstered with William Morris linens:
habitat28

I adore this little red coffee table:habitat29

This page of fabric by the yard (another perfect font):habitat30

And really what I need at the Parsonage is an entire set of wicker garden furniture.habitat31

1972 catches my eye with this incredible sofa. Be warned, next decoration client. We are going to design a very long, very low, very deep, very square sofa with a crazy upholstered print. The “Country House 4-5 seater”. I LOVE IT.
habitat32

Floor cushions are due a revival.habitat33

I wonder if a new art director was at work in ’72?  I love these full-size printed double-page spreads:
habitat34

Or the stack of chairs:habitat35

Seagrass squares on the kitchen floor. It’s a funny thing about seagrass squares. I adore them and one of the things that I get most pleasure of all about seagrass squares is that we were able to track down a supplier and reintroduce them to the world.  Anyone who had them in the 70s gives a little shudder when they hear the word. Perhaps not the ideal floorcovering for your kitchen, but I think you cannot go wrong with a seagrass square carpet. habitat36

A perfect welsh blanket or checked bedspread. The following year, the check appears as a tablecloth.habitat37

I want a set of multi-coloured saucepans, and a red t-shirt, and basically to live in a world where a dish of spaghetti and tomato sauce was the height of cool: habitat38

Incidentally, for the world’s perfect tomato sauce recipe, you need travel no further than Valentina’s website Many Kitchens. I’ve just had a good look all over Val’s site for that recipe (little hint: Val, time to set up an archive page for the blogs…) and boy oh boy there are some nice photos over there now. I feel the many kitchens cookbook coming along very nicely. If you are a food publisher may I suggest you take note?

Mention of Val reminds me that her entire house in Italy, where I go every summer, and furnished by her Mum & Dad very simply when they bought the farmhouse (and virtually unchanged since) is basically a 1972 habitat catalogue.  Perfect.

Okay, back on track. The coffee page had got a bit more sophisticated by ’72:

habitat39

As had the white china page:habitat40

Or terracotta and wicker: habitat41

A close up of the world’s perfect cutlery:
habitat42

Half-way through 1972 there is this brilliant Homecare guide, by Elizabeth Good. Elizabeth, I don’t know who you are, but I love your writing:habitat43 habitat44

’72 also branched out into the great outdoors.habitat45

And has this beautiful spread of drinking glasses, which are all basically exactly what I would like to have on my table today but can’t quite find:habitat46 habitat47

Clocks and calendars gets a cool green background:habitat48

And the first great innovation. Which home stores company today is engaging David Hockney, Robin Denny or Peter Blake to produce prints?habitat49 habitat50

Yes:habitat51

Even more yes:habitat52

I really really want a William Morris roller blind now please:habitat53 habitat54

What cool kids had in the 70s. Much more fun than a gameboy.  Needless to say I had a flower press rather than a dartboard.habitat56

I won’t show you too many photographs from 1973, because you’re probably exhausted by now. But check out this beautiful illustrative interior:habitat57

Floor cushions take a leap forward in sophistication:habitat58

The double-page spreads are insane:habitat59

Perfect new rugs are now in stock:habitat60

And as for that orange and brown or pink and orange stripey bedspread, I want several immedaitely:habitat61 habitat62

White and brown china pages get a lovely style:habitat64 habitat65

1973 mugs. Now, if I was the creative director of Habitat today, I’d be calling my mug guys and saying “HERE IS THE NEW DESIGN FOR SUMMER 2014 can we get them in yesterday?!?”habitat66

Well, let’s face it….habitat68 If I was the creative director of habitat, I’d, um, be looking no further at all than re-introducing the entire 1970s Habitat catalogue.  Nothing is not to like.  We’re doing our best at P&H towers, but we’d need a little more space. So, to all over there at Habitat, I really hope you’re reading!

And here’s to longer evenings. Hello spring!

46 comments on this post

Doreen Stewartsays:

I have a chesterfield sofa that I bought in about 1984? It was covered in navy William Morris print – we have had it reupholstered about 4 times, we have had it for 36 years. Every upholsterer remarks on the frame and how it is well built – more to the point, we still love it

Helen Wardsays:

Hello. On the page showing wicker garden furniture for the ‘Parsonage’-bottom left two chairs. I think I have those chairs but they are black with red cushions. Would they be Habitat genuine? Many thanks. Helen

Keith Hsays:

I loved to roam around the Fulham Rd shop. Especially downstairs with the smell if whicker from all the baskets. 60’s were are creative time like no other since WWII. I just completed installing a plaque to commemorate Mary Quant’s BAZAAR boutique on the King’s Rd. (Unveiled 16/Sept/2019) Does anyone have any photos in their shoe boxes from the London 60’s era? Would love to share them. BTW: Those wall hangers with different shaped containers. I can’t quite see the price from the picture. (Red or white) Can anyone see it? Keith kwh101@hotmail.com

Disays:

Like everyone else, your blog brought back very happy memories of my own Habitat shopping days in the Fulham & King’s Road stores. Like many others, I prettywell furnished & outfitted my first flat from Habitat. Simple but stylish design, some of which I use to this day. Pretty amazing when one thinks of the plasticy, planned obsolescence we’re often treated to nowadays!
I saw your blog whilst trying to recall the name of the Habitat 2nds store that sold things like glassware & cutlery, etc, also on the King’s Rd, almost opposite Chelsea Town Hall. I wonder if you know it’s name, please, and could put an old brain out of it’s misery?

Tessa Wilsonsays:

Thank you for sharing this, Ben! I still have my willow dining chairs bought in 1973. Looking through the catalogue brings back so many happy memories. I remember knowing people who worked in the very first shop in the Fulham Road in the 60s. This catalogue would still be perfect today, wouldn’t it? i’ve tried to put a picture of my chairs for all to see but it doesn’t work 🙁 Happy Days and thanks again x

John Weaversays:

I bought ( and still have) a Habitat Metro chair from 1972, it us shown in the 1962 catalogue
Had it recovered about 5 years ago
It is as new, comfortable, stylish and still looks cutting edge. It is living Art.
Probably the only one left I imagine. It is absolutely brilliant even to look at. I live it.

Pauline Mitchellsays:

We had habitat furniture and coffee table. In the 1980s I bought some packaged items which contained all necessary elements for a French Boulangerie, An Apothercary store, a Georgian Townhouse and others which I cannot remember now.

I never got around to making them up and they are somewhere safe, still completely packaged and unused, I believe in the loft. They had instructions but no glue etc. and the houses and bakeries etc. had some thin plastic which when put in place
looked like windows.

Does anyone else remember these?

Tim Littlesays:

I worked in TCR from ’67 to about ’71 Great days. Leaving was probably the worst decision of my life!!!
Never lost the empathy and still have the odd thing in my home/garage
I appeared in a promotional film once, anyone have any idea how I can trace it?
Hello anyone who remembers me

Yurisays:

Hi There,

Would love to find out were I could get a copy, even if digital copies, of the 1972 catalogue with the white kitchen cupboard with the pumkin in the middle of the page.

Yuri

Cressidasays:

Habitat was my bible after I married in 1971, our whole house was full of these beautiful designs. We bought them piece by piece, as we could afford them. I so wish we could find them today. In my opinion they have never been surpassed. I still own the Hanitat 1973 cataloge, the only one I kept as it had an insert on how to make curtains and blinds, so useful and easy to follow using the wonderful Habitat materials. My son had their Gloucester Gladiator material made into curtains and Roman blinds and we had Hadji curtains and matching duvet covers in our bedroom. I felt very clever!

Jayne Ealessays:

Anyone want to buy my 1980,s early habitat tulip tablecloth and 4 napkins, also complete Kristina habitat coffee set with coffee jug, cream jug, sugar bowl, coffee cups and saucers and plates. 4 place setting, mint condition?

Carol W.says:

Thank you soooo much for posting this. I lived in the U.K. from 1972-1975. Habitat, Liberty of London and Laura Ashley became my coming of age design ethos. I spent many Saturdays in Manchester’s Habitat, near St. Anne’s Square-Heaven!!! I saved my Habitat (and Conran’s catalogs) when we returned to USA. Alas, I finally pitched them about five years ago, in a big war against clutter. Bad move. I see a few of these old catalogs on Etsy and Ebay for up to $175! I knew then they were special but somehow thought that design influence would always be with us. How unique and special that time was. Again, thank you for the next best thing, memory lane online. Ikea is a super cheap version of Habitat.

I really enjoyed that. I remember the 1971 catalogue as a child, and the smell of those fresh wicker chairs and matting in the Habitat shop. All the lovely coloured pans and huge pepper pots. I was actually looking for my Mum’s orange floral Habitat oven mitt. It’s probably on the internet somewhere…

Patsays:

My late husband worked for Terence Conran during the 70’s.. He was part of the team designing the catalogues. Great memories of those days, I’ve just been Looking through his collection of Habitat, Conran and Heals catalogues and related info while sitting on our Cushy Mk11 sofa from 1974 , as I look through the catalogues I realise we still have a lots of items from those times !

Flashbacks to hours spent as a small child flicking through these amazing catalogues. As the daughter of architects (who has grown up to be a mere interior designer) I can see where so much of their and my inspiration has come from….plus I recognise more than a few items from our classic 1970’s London home. Love it.

What a lovely blast from the past. I’ve always been a fan of Conran and his work and it was so great to see all of the catalogues you have. Being a young interior design student in the late 80s was such fun to be able to sources pieces from Habitat and Heals on the Tottenham Court Road and into the 90s when I was earning a little more I would love to dine at Quaglinos or the Blue Bird. Thanks Ben!

Rosiesays:

As a teenager in the 70’s I remember frequenting the Kingston store, it was seriously cool. when I went off to uni in1976 I had all habitat stuff, I still possess the red/orange storage tins to the great amusement of my teenage children. Thanks for the memories.

Petrasays:

My god, what beautiful catalogues these were! I had no idea these existed but what a fabulous window they are on mid-century design. We had a Habitat store in Toronto, Canada in the early 70’s and as a new bride, I loved going there for inspiration. We didn’t have much money and I mostly only looked but learned so much about great design from that store. I think growing up in the fifties and sixties in a very traditional contemporary home, Habitat (as well as Bauhaus and Marimekko, etc) and the 70’s brought an exciting lifestyle that is still relevant today. They were so inspirational and timeless. Thank you, Ben, for a great blog post!

MTSSsays:

Bliss, absolute bliss. Ben, I wonder whether you anticipated what a response this week’s blog would cause. Such strong memories were stirred for so many people. Working at University College London in Bloomsbury in the late 70s, I can remember spending so many lunch hours in Tottenham Court Rd branch wandering around both Heals and Habitat. I think this era was Habitat at its very best, so much nicer than the ghastly later patch that probably led to its demise. Thank you for evoking such happy memories for us Brits. Your poor readers from other countries must wonder what on earth we’re all going on about (unless they too were lucky enough to also be wandering around Bloomsbury in the 70s in which case, they will understand completely.)

Susan Baldwinsays:

I now realise where my love of interior detail came from!! Off to work with a pounding
heart
Big thanks!!

Stephen Archibaldsays:

Joy. I used to have those catalogues but now only have the 1973 Winter Supplement (happy to send it on to others). I arrived in UK from Canada in 1971 and Habitat was a revelation. Loved my navy/turquoise sheets and red/gold pillow cases. If you want to add a sonic element to your catalogue gazing I recall shopping in the Tottenham Court branch in November 1971 while this Leon Russell cut played: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6dFeBZ7Nlg

maisiesays:

Ha ha! Spent my childhood being shouted at to keep my feet off those bentwood and wicker chairs.

Deborahsays:

I left England before Habitat came into being. In the US, in the 80s as now, Crate & Barrel was the equivalent. But before them all came Ben Thompson, an architect frustrated by the lack of furnishings for his modern houses. His Design Research store opened in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1954 and lifestyle retailing was born.

deb millersays:

Love, love this blog . . . just seeing that 1972 cover made me so nostalgic. In 1974 I moved into a cottage on a hill and Habitat was my style bible in every sense of the word, loved those type fonts. I have some great photos of us sitting on a Habitat couch romping with the puppy that got his teeth into my Somerset County Library’s copy of Terence Conran’s The House Book. I ended up having to buy it and today have sitting in my living room in Vancouver amongst my oh so trendy floor cushions.

Dianasays:

Oh Ben ! – thank you for such a wonderful trip down Habitat Memory Lane. Trawling through the King’s Road store was a bit of a Saturday morning ritual, and torture when you didn’t have much money. I still have their beautiful classic blue and white striped butcher’s apron, but the wooden fork – one of the most used things in my kitchen – sadly fell to bits a few years ago. So much is still covetable today.

Rossays:

I recently bought the original, 1971 drawing for Richard Smith’s “Sun Curtain” print from the Habitat 1972 catalogue so was suprised to see the print there as I had completely forgotten it was reproduced in this way. I loved Richard Smith then but, as a poor art student, could not afford even the print let alone he original!

Joyce Morrissays:

Oh my, that was delicious. What I wouldn’t give for a trip to a Habitat shop again, complete joy. I have had that cutlery for years, in daily use and it’s still amazing.

Glad to know it is still appreciated! I was the first non-furniture buyer for Habitat in 1967.I married Elizabeth Good (good that Ben appreciated her faultless writing). I have written a memoir of Habitat named ‘A History in Sundry Objects’ with all the back stories but I can’t find a publisher for it. dbp

Nicolasays:

Have bought many things from Habitat from the early 1980s onwards, mostly ceramics, textiles, small furniture, and Christmas decorations, and they’re still going strong, if a bit faded. Sadly, the local Oxford and latterly Exeter branches closed that I used to frequent. Good to see that the early 1970s wasn’t totally the ghastly sea of orange and brown clunkiness that sticks in the memory. Am drinking from a Yuto porcelain mug as I write (circa 2009).

Steven Zicksays:

The Ikea of its day, do you think, or was the quality better? Stephen Calloway examines the importance of Habitat and conran in one of his great books–can’t recall which one, but worth sourcing. I wonder if Jasper’s reactive embrace of Tudor grandeur is a direct result of growing up with the plastic lampshades and zippy patterns?

Alexandrasays:

This really is the world’s most perfect cutlery – I didn’t know it existed, thank you. I have David Mellor English pattern, which I like, a lot, but this would sit perfectly between all worlds of like, and with me there are many. I really hope so very much your message does get through to a manufacturer – please will you tell me if you ever hear it has?

Dorothy Lindsaysays:

Oh, Ben! Yes!
Let’s get a petition going!

I just love all of it. It brings back such happy memories. I was a new bride back in the 1970s and we came down (up?) from Lancashire to live in north London and a friend took me to the Kings Road shop.
I bought a pink and orange striped tablecloth and a huge wicker platter thing to
put fruit on and thought I was in heaven.

Alison Ssays:

Fabulous!!! Like Linda G above I too was 8 in 1973 and would spend hours gaving through Habitat catalogues. A huge influence on me. Ben, will send you a copy of Terence’s new book, Plain Simple Useful, very soon – as inspirational as ever.

Lovely to remember that there was good design in the 1970s – I remember it (very vaguely) as a sea of brown and purple, with William Morris prints, hessian walls, cork tiled floors, Laura Ashley flounces and the return of Victoriana in a deluge of trinkets, silver photo frames, swaggged windows….ah, but I’m straying into the 80s here.

Oh the chicken bricks do you remember them – I still have two vases from Habitat – I loved the basic designs – come back, all is forgiven.

sbwsays:

Good call on the early Habitat, yes many hours inspecting these pages. Also Terrence Conran’s House Book from a little later (red cover). Memories of when I has just graduated and was living in Edinburgh working for the Festival, had no money at all, and would spend my evenings in Morningside Public Library with this book – for hours. Happy days! It all stays in the memory files and is utilised I think, one way or the other. Later, back home in London, trips to Conran, which I would enter in the morning and leave many hours later, spending very little on lovely small items which I still have. It was rather like a gallery of inspiration – bit like your blog. Thanks as ever. sbw

Debbiesays:

Oh wow, such memories for a Monday morning! Me, as a 13 year old, lying in my bed drooling over the Habitat catalogue and planning my bedroom. Was I the only person in the world who chose a dressing table as my present for passing my 11 Plus exam? And the only 13 year old who saved her pocket money for 6 months to buy wallpaper for her room (three walls, blue on white, one wall white on blue)? My favourite Habitat purchase (slightly later, when I was first married) was a set of wicker Toad chairs – lasted for years and eventually disintegrated when I started using them in the garden. I noticed the other day that the Conran shop has reintroduced them! Thank you for bringing it al back!

Linda Gsays:

Great post – brings back so many memories. I was 8 in 1973 and remember insisting that my mother always took me into Habitat when in town. It must be where my love of interiors started. Love the enamelware and white china. Thank you Ben.

P.S. More from Bridie please- lovely to meet her last week x

Amiciasays:

What a wonderful blog. It just shows good design is always GOOD. I was one of the first girls at a boys prep school, Windlesham House, Sussex and the stylish headmistress Mrs. Charles fitted out the staff room in green and purple chairs from Habitat. It was so cool and made an impression on my 11 year old self. I remember her canary yellow tights when we looked round the school in spring 1968.

Gilliansays:

Oh how I miss the 1970s Habitat! We were married in 1972 and spent hours in the shop. We bought a chesterfield which we still have. It has been re-covered and re-upholstered several times and we still love it. There is nothing like it anywhere these days.

Habitat was very inspirational in it’s day. I long harboured an as (yet unfulfilled) desire for a Habitat Chesterfield. Perhaps I might find one of those beauties on ebay? The floor cushions are fabulous – are they due for a revival? The wicker garden furniture pretty damn smart too. Indeed, what’s not to like?
Shame that the creatives at BOTH Habitat and Laura Ashley don’t simply go back to the 1970s. Things are just far too bland on the British High St these days.

oh habitat, oh terence and priscilla c. (the latter never gets enough credit for her contribution to the whole habitat and con ran shop look and feel – my spellcheck won’t let me spell con ran): HOW DO I LOVE THEE ALL?

The Habitat King’s Road cafe was the gayest place in the city until one Saturday they decided it wasn’t and made us very unwelcome! I never bought anything from Habitat thereafter.

Emilysays:

Love. I mean really luuurrrve all of this. Thank you, Ben, for sharing!

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