Sophie Conran, 53, is a homeware designer and cook. The only daughter of the designer and restaurateur Sir Terence Conran and cookery writer Caroline Herbert, she started her career making pies but has since expanded her repertoire to ceramics, cutlery, garden equipment and bed linens, as well as the occasional bespoke project, such as her bathroom designs for Drummonds’ London showroom. She also designed the interiors of some of her father’s restaurants.
How did you come to start in design?
I started doing it before I realised I was. I had two dolls’ houses and was quite industrious in decorating them. I grew up on a building site — my parents bought an old school building when I was about seven. It was completely run-down and filled with partitions.
Plus, there were always people visiting, pieces of design arriving, and conversations about moving them into the school while they made it into a home, or not. We were thrown into the mix.
How much has your family had an influence on your aesthetics?
We’re all very different. There is an ease in what I do with interiors because of all the brothers [designer Jasper Conran, restaurateur Tom Conran, product designer Sebastian Conran and artist Edmund Conran] and parents doing it and having their own style. A friend of mine once said that a family is a bit like a car park: the first car comes in and takes one of the spaces, and the next car has to find another space. You must assert your characteristics.
How would you characterise your style?
Comfortable, colourful and slightly eclectic. I like to have fun and play with scale. But every project is unique.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Stately homes and old buildings, antiques shops and my mother. She is an amazing cook and gardener, and has an ethereal quality to her. Everything is done with a gentle kindness and is very authentic.
What has been your favourite project?
It’s always the one I’m working on at the moment, because you become so engaged with it. We are just starting my autumn/winter 2019 collection and trying to bring the smells and feelings of autumn to it. I’m also working on new bed linen collections, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Laying your head on the pillow is one of those important little touch points in the day, like having a cup of tea.
What is the secret to confidence in styling an interior?
I always do a storyboard. Start with your favourite image and start putting things with it. Add little bits of textiles, maybe a floor you’re thinking of, lighting ideas, and build it into layers. Then you’ll have a strong idea. But you have to start with something you really love, then throw the net wide.
Is there anyone you particularly admire?
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
Better to have an open mind: never say never.
What do you look for in a client?
Honesty, an open mind and somebody who I can collaborate and have fun with. I’ve been working with Portmeirion for nearly 12 years with a guy called Julian [Teed, Portmeirion creative director]. We meet once a month when he brings an enormous suitcase of samples from Stoke-on-Trent to my flat. We have cups of tea and tell rude jokes and draw and have ideas. He’s a friend.
What do you start with when designing a piece?
I try and look at it from every angle: what’s on the playing field at the time, historical influences, time, place. For example, when I was asked to design cutlery for Arthur Price, I looked at Sheffield. Arthur Price is based in Staffordshire, but Sheffield is the heart of the UK’s cutlery industry. There are five rivers that run through the city and they were the power to the cutlery industry. I became obsessed with that and drew it into the designs.
What makes a room complete?
Always the people!
Which of your bespoke projects are you most proud of?
When my kids were tiny I worked on a lot of projects accessorising my dad’s restaurants. At Chop House in Butler’s Wharf I hunted down English kitchenalia from the 18th and 19th centuries and for Pont de La Tour I found the most incredible antique toy Tower Bridge about two metres long which ended up in the middle of the restaurant. For Orrery, I made dyed plaster sculptures in still lifes in the style of [20th-century Italian painter Giorgio] Morandi.
What do you see as the overriding trend in your field at the moment (even if you don’t subscribe to it)?
There seems to be a reinvigorated interest in art, which I think is wonderful. And a craft element that’s coming through. There’s a purity and an honesty to it.
Photographs: Mark Scott