UK furniture industry will benefit from shared vision

Good news for furniture design is that the new venture between Conran & Associates and mass-market manufacturer Christie-Tyler (DW 5 December 2002) is proving a big hit with high street retailers.

Good news for furniture design is that the new venture between Conran & Associates and mass-market manufacturer Christie-Tyler (DW 5 December 2002) is proving a big hit with high street retailers.

Among those showing keen interest when the Content by Conran range was launched at the Birmingham Furniture Fair this week were Selfridges boss Vittorio Radice, soon to head up the homewares side of Marks & Spencer, and another major department store group. If, as expected, a series of deals follows, the 70-strong product range will soon be available to British consumers, offering good design and quality craftsmanship at affordable prices.

Content by Conran is not an earth-shattering collection of the sort you might expect from the avant-garde element at international furniture showcases such as Milan’s spring furniture extravaganza and last week’s fair in Cologne, to be reviewed next week. It is not intended as such. But its elegant, roomy furniture and tasteful textiles offer customers a design choice to a market flooded with traditional ‘looks’ the British furniture industry is loathe to change.

The Conran range stood out at the Birmingham show amid a sea of reproduction dark wood cabinet-making and squashy sofas upholstered with porridge-coloured weave, brocade or leather. It offered a welcome oasis to anyone with an interest in design and simplicity.

The key to its apparent success is two-fold. On the one hand, it is the product of a shared vision. It was born, over only nine months from concept to completion, of the coming together of two entrepreneurs who are both committed to quality – Terence Conran and Christie-Tyler chief executive James Benfield. On the other, it is right for its market. Conran has an intuitive insight into the retail market, honed over many years in the business, while as head of the UK’s biggest furniture manufacturer, Benfield is well positioned to perceive the gap in the mass market, a step up from the flat-pack approach that the likes of Ikea have to offer.

Underpinning it all is good design, and that is where Content by Conran could benefit new generations of British designers. The range is not as innovative as the Habitat collections, which marked Conran’s first big high street venture almost 40 years ago. Nor is it as niche as most Conran Shop offerings. But it potentially opens up a new customer base for design, and where one traditional manufacturer leads, others might follow.

The UK is a growing market for well designed furniture and domestic accessories, but, Habitat apart, the best has generally only been available at premium prices and from overseas suppliers. Content by Conran and its successors could change all that.

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