It’s the end of an era, Habitat, the high street store is no more. For all of us of a certain age, the creation of Habitat meant that we could aspire to have homes that looked different from the houses of our parents; all of a sudden there was an alternative to three-piece suites, teak sideboards and heavy, dark cabinets.
It was a revolution of sorts when a young furniture designer called Terence Conran brought colour, smooth lines and contemporary design into Britain’s homes. Conran had been struggling to get his designs into shops so, in 1964; he opened his own store in an unfashionable stretch of Fulham Road in west London. Products were displayed in mocked-up living rooms and kitchens, giving customers’ ideas how to piece together furniture, lighting, vases and mirrors. For the first time we had something which was affordable with a contemporary design aesthetic – and we loved it!
Design critic Stephen Bayley said during Habitat’s best years – which he believes were from 1964 to 1990 – the shop was inseparable from Sir Terence’s personality.
“Conran wanted to bring an element of optimism, cheerfulness to the British High Street and he succeeded in that. Conran found it to be true, and happy Habitat customers found it to be true, that your life can be enhanced by having a better teapot.”
And not just teapots, there were salad bowls, beanbags and cheap storage jars for pasta, not to mention the ubiquitous Japanese paper lampshade (£1.99 and very cool at the time ) Stores soon started opening up across Europe, in France, Spain and Germany and in the 1980s, the company merged first with Mothercare, and then British Home Stores.
But Habitat was to fall victim to its own success. Having persuaded British shoppers that good design was affordable for all; many shops copied the idea and priced Habitat out of the market. Among them was Sweden’s Ikea, sellers of flat-pack stylised furniture from giant out-of-town stores at a fraction of Habitat’s prices. In 1992, Habitat was bought by the Ikano Group, the company founded by the Kamprad family, owners of Ikea. In 2007-8, Habitat lost more than £13.4m. A year later, private equity group Hilco bought the debt-laden chain and finally on Friday, it was announced that all but three of Habitat’s UK stores are being put into administration.
The brand will survive as will the three London stores bought by Home Retail Group, owner of Argos and Homebase, for £24.5m in cash.
Read more here : Habitat jobs under threat as Home Retail Group buys UK rights