In May 1964, Habitat opened its doors for the first time. A press release was sent out saying that of the 2,000 items available in store there was one pervasive theme: good practical design. Elizabeth Good, a journalist on The Sunday Times, wrote of the new shop: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Habitat, or its campaign to make shopping fun is not eventually going to affect you.”
True words indeed. Habitat is part of the fabric of our nation. I remember clearly as a child being taken to visit the Cheltenham branch every once in a while. At Christmas there would be a huge table near the front with lots of small toys and fun things to browse through. My mother would wander off to buy saucepans or those tall glass jars for storing spaghetti (a new and luxurious foodstuff in the 1970s) and I would happily browse that table. I remember buying a pair of kitchen scissors for 15p (that’s how old I am).
Then one Christmas, I remember coming downstairs to find a duvet (or continental quilt as it was often called back then) under the tree. They had only recently arrived in the UK (read how Terence Conran discovered them after a fling with a Swedish girl here) and my mother had bought one for herself a few months before Christmas. Hers was filled with feathers though. Mine was synthetic “in case you’re sick on it or something”.
The duvet was just one of the new items that Habitat found for its customers; the wok and the chicken brick were others. Both of which came with instruction manuals and recipe guides.
In his book Conran and the Habitat story, Barty Phillips wrote: “People were enraptured by Habitat – so stark and brash and breaking all the rules of conventional furniture shops. Gone was the chintz and linoleum, the rows of sofas and reproduction furniture – here was a bright emporium for the home.”
The staff all wore fashionable Mary Quant outfits and had their hair styled in the fashionable Vidal Sassoon bob and soon this previously down at heel part of Chelsea was swinging. Film stars, rock stars and nobility all wanted to see what this new upstart brand was about.
“The Duke of Kent got his foot stuck in a fish kettle… Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard did their courting in the basement; David Niven was found fighting to get in one day as the doors closed,” wrote Phillips. And when the Rolling Stones visited, the store was mobbed by fans and they had to hide in the rug department.
Today, 50 years on, Habitat is still in the game, it has had to reinvent itself and there was a moment when we thought it was going to disappear, but it’s back and as strong as ever.
To celebrate that Mad About The House is thrilled to run a competition offering an armchair worth £350. I know! Great prize isn’t it? To enter just follow the instructions