Three generations of the legendary Conran lifestyle dynasty – Sophie Conran, her mother Caroline and her daughter Coco – all meet us at the door of beautiful Salthrop House. On the edge of the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire, set in lush gardens and surrounded by woods and meadows, Sophie’s Georgian manor is, unsurprisingly, the place where the three women most love to spend time together.
Sophie, 58, is the daughter of the late Sir Terence Conran, the design guru who transformed the way we live with his interiors store Habitat, revolutionised the restaurant scene with a string of glamorous venues and founded London’s Design Museum. During her marriage to Sir Terence, Caroline, 84, became famous herself, as the food writer who gave British home cooking a whole new flavour.
Sophie credits both her parents for the success she’s achieved in her own career, showcased in her online home and gardens company sophieconran.com. As for 27-year-old Coco, she has taken up the fashion mantle of her uncle, Sophie’s brother Jasper Conran, who was among the favourite couturiers of Diana, Princess of Wales. She launched her own sustainable womenswear brand, Coco Conran, in 2019.
With Sophie’s son Felix and brothers Sebastian, Tom and Ned all following in her father’s footsteps – Felix and Sebastian as product designers, Tom and Ned as restaurateurs – it’s easy to see how the Conran family have made an indelible mark on House provides a perfect example of their irresistible style.
Sophie, how long have you lived here?
“I bought the house around ten years ago. It’s been both a joyous and, at times, stressful journey to turn it into the haven it is today.”
What made you decide to buy it?
“It just felt right when I first walked through the door. Its history, natural setting and proportions are all amazing and it’s full of light.”
Do you spend a lot of time here?
!Yes, as much as I can; it’s where my soul recharges and my dreams come to life. I take long strolls through the garden with my very bouncy dogs, collecting flowers, vegetables and herbs, and perhaps do a bit of sketching or painting, work in my study and entertain friends.
“Depending on the season, we eat outside in the garden or enjoy cosy moments by the fire. I play Scrabble with Mum or cook with Felix and Coco. It is truly a slice of heaven – home in the true sense and where I feel most myself.”
What was it like growing up in a talented family?
“It was an immense privilege. I see all the incredible experiences I had as a lesson in the love of natural beauty, form and, of course, family, friends and food. They’re what shaped me.
“I’d like to think I’ve been able to inherit some of the excellent qualities of both my gorgeous, extraordinary, inspiring parents, while remaining very much my own person.”
What did Habitat mean to your family?
“It was launched only 20 years after theSecond World War, when life in the UK was pretty grim for a lot of people, so there was a spirit of trying to do something good.
“My parents wanted to reignite a universal love for home with good design, new ways of doing things – like the duvet – and good craftsmanship. Everything was practical and, of course, comfortable, bringing back joy in the little things. All of that had its centre at our kitchen table.”
Do you feel proud of or daunted by your father’s legacy?
“It’s a source of immense pride. My father changed the way people live, and although he received countless awards, I think he was most proud when the Design Museum opened in London. It brings an appreciation of great design to millions of people, making it accessible and enjoyable for everyone. That mission was at the heart of everything he did.”
Do you think your family’s success in the creative sector is down to nature or nurture?
“The air in our home was alive with creativity. We were all taught to really look at things and encouraged to have our own tastes and thoughts, to forge our own journeys.”
What are you working on at the moment?
“I’m designing, cooking and working on many projects, but my main focus is a range of beautiful handmade sofas that I’m absolutely thrilled about. Every project I take on is done with love. I try to do things that will create special moments every day.”
Caroline, you have had a huge influence on Britain’s food culture. How did that come about?
“My foodie world was turned upside down in the 1970s, when I was asked to translate books written by the leaders of the innovative new wave of French chefs. What a fantastic job – I became one of the midwives of nouvelle cuisine.
“I also had the idea of writing a new version of British cooking bible Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published more than 100 years earlier. It took four or five years, ending up as The Conran Cookbook.
“Then Terence and I were astonished as it appeared in one language after another, selling more than a million copies.”
You were married to Sir Terence for more than 30 years. What memories can you share of family life?
“Terence already had two sons – my adorable stepchildren Sebastian and Jasper – and in a way, they prepared me for being a mother.
“Tom, my first baby, arrived in 1964, a month before we opened our first Habitat store. Soon there were Habitats popping up like mushrooms and Sophie had joined Tom. It was a lot of fun. We did all the photoshoots for the catalogues and publicity at home.
“Ned came along in 1971, so then there were usually five children, plus friends, in the house. We loved parties. I was in charge of the enormous garden and kitchen garden, and managed the hens, chickens, geese, pigs and sheep. It was a very full life and we lived it to the full.”
You were writing throughout, and you’ve never stopped, have you?
“I’ve come to the end of my cook- books, but recently I published a children’s thriller, Robbie or How to be a Detective Detective, about a kind boy with more , about a kind boy with more than his share of curiosity. I’m now finishing the second Robbie novel.”
How about cooking?
“I still take a lot of pleasure in it. Supper is a happy part of my day; at six o’clock, it’s time for a glass of wine and some vegetable chopping.
“I make everything from scratch – no bought sauces or shortcuts. I don’t trust packet food or prepared meals.”
Coco, how did your passion for fashion develop?
“I’ve loved clothes for as long as I can remember. When I was four, I would spend hours cutting things out of magazines, collecting little fabric swatches and making collages.
“I trained as a pattern-cutter at the London College of Fashion – I love the precision and creativity of turning a flat pattern into a 3D garment. I also worked on and off for my uncle Jasper from my early teens, and he taught me a huge amount.”
What can you tell us about your designs?
“They’re for all types of women, aged from their 20s to their 70s. I offer a range of sizes from UK 4 to 30, as well as bespoke sizing, and all of the dresses are customisable, with a range of natural fabrics to choose from.
“My bridal collection is aimed at the modern bride who doesn’t want to break the bank buying her dress and is interested in practicality. That’s why my gowns can have pockets.”
You founded your eponymous brand, Coco Conran, in 2019. How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect the launch?
“It enabled me to really focus on my business, giving me time to plan and gain confidence in my sewing skills.
“At the start of lockdown, I ordered 100 metres of white cotton poplin and turned it into my first made-to-order collection.
“I made all of the dresses in white cotton with white cotton thread and then dyed them different colours in the washing machine in my flat. Everything grew from there.”
INTERVIEW & PRODUCTION: ANA FERNANDEZ DE CORDOBA & CRISTINA LORA
PHOTOS: FERNANDA & PALOMA ATCOUCHE STUDIO
HAIR & MAKE-UP: WROUGHTON
STYLING: COCO CONRAN
Visit sophieconran.com. For Coco’s dresses, visit cococonran.com or her Covent Garden studio (by appointment) at 15 Maiden Lane, London.