A semi-upmarket chain of lifestyle stores across Europe which cater to the desire of the affluent middle classes to fill their dwellings with elegant-looking, understated furniture, crockery and ornamentation without having to go through the tedious and often disappointing process of actually acquiring taste or artistic sensibility, Habitat is full of curvy wire CD holders, low pine coffee tables, pleasantly earthy coffee mugs. Its inventory is a virtual instruction manual in how to make your home seem inviting when actually it is not.

Habitat borrows a lot of its style from IKEA, without some of that chain's more upsetting qualities, such as self-construction of flat-packed bookshelves, or, even worse, low price. They have an outlet in Ireland located in Dublin's prime shopping district near Stephen's Green, and its most frequent browsers are aggressive, fashionably dressed young women with black-rimmed glasses and blonde highlights, and timid, pleasant men with a slightly hunted expression that says "Thousands of generations of racial memory of hunting, living and dying have failed to prepare me for the decisions that seem to be important to me now."

Dreamvirus is a good noder, so I was puzzled when I read his piece (above) I thought Habitat pre-dated IKEA by many years. And I thought they were completely different companies.

I was wrong on both counts (err, about Habitat--not Dreamvirus).

Habitat was created by Terence Conran (now Sir Terence Conran) in the heady days of 1960s London. The first Habitat shop opened on the King's Road in the ultra-fashionable Chelsea area in 1964. More Habitat shops quickly opened across London. Conran, together with his wife, Caroline a former furnishing editor on Queen magazine and businessman, John Mawer, transformed the UK furniture scene.

But I digress. Years later and after the Conrans had left the Habitat group to concentrate on creating a chain of restaurants, Habitat and its associated brands were sold in 1992 to the Stichting Ingka Foundation None other than the owners of the IKEA brand. IKEA, of course, was set up in 1943.

So the upshot is that Habitat now really is a sister company to IKEA and is indeed much younger than its Swedish counterpart. Dreamvirus is right and my picture of the world of furniture retailing was completely wrong. Node what you don't know

However, I still feel this gives a misleading picture of the origins and heritage of the Habitat stores.


Back to London in the swinging sixties

On 11 May, 1964, a new furnishing shop opened on the Fulham Road (in the Chelsea district of London). The store did for furniture what Mary Quant, Biba and the other trend setting stores had done for the London fashion scene. This new store had white-painted walls, trendy spot lamps, high ceilings and very contemporary furniture as well as Indian rugs and other exotica. The name, Habitat, was written in a strong lower-case face, designed to recall Bauhaus design.

All the produce was personally selected by the owner, Terence Conran, or his wife, Caroline, previously the home editor for the magazine, Queen. Conran, a furniture graduate of London's famed Royal College of Art, selected furniture which was modern, stylish and attracted a young clientele who wanted to create homes different from those of their parents.

Following rave reviews of the product range in (surprise) Queen magazine, the concept took off. A year later, Conran had started to sell the Habitat range by mail order to customers who lived too far from the shops. This was a first in British furniture retailing.

Conran opened his second shop in 1966, next door to the hugely fashionable Heal's in London's Tottenham Court Road. By 1969, there were nine shops in the UK and one in Canada, and the company had spread into DIY activities, through a venture called the Homework Shop.

During the 70s, Habitat continued to evolve as a business concept. Ever in touch with fashion, Conran developed products emphasising light wood and natural materials which have, ever since, been one of the habitat trademarks.

The company expanded into France, Belgium and the U.S.A.. The US store was called Conran's and opened in New York in 1976. A year earlier, the company closed the original London store, but re-opened it a few months later as The Conran Shop.

In 1981, Habitat launched on the London Stock Exchange, and subsequently merged with the Mothercare group. In 1983 the combined group bought Heal's. The name morphed several times until, in 1986, it became the Storehouse Group, one of the most powerful names in British retailing. Through all this process of evolution, Conran had maintained tight control over the products sold in Habitat stores. However, as he gained corporate responsibility, he was unable to maintain such close control. He left the group at the end of the 80s to develop a series of restaurant chains.

This led to a period of confusion for the group, and in 1990 The Conran Shop and Heal's were sold off.

In 1992, Habitat UK and Habitat France were sold to the Stichting Ingka Foundation (Which also owns IKEA), and Habitat US was sold to an independent group. Through the next few years, with the backing of the IKEA group, Habitat opened stores in almost every European country, until in 1999 the group restructured as a single European entity.


The following is taken from corporate press information in May 2002:

Habitat facts and figures

In the fiscal year 2000 - 2001, Habitat employed 3300 staff in 78 stores in the UK, France, Germany and Spain, turning over Euros 417 million. In 2000 - 2001, Habitat had 38 stores in the UK, 30 in France, four in Spain and three in Germany.

In the same year, Habitat had franchises in a further six countries: Belgium, Iceland, Luxembourg, Greece, Portugal and Thailand.

Ownership

In 1992 Habitat was sold to the Stichting Ingka Fourndation and IKANO by Storehouse plc and a few years later all shares were sold to the IKANO Group which is owned by the Kamprad family. The Kamprad family includes Ingvar Kamprad the founder of IKEA. The current Habitat management team structure is:

  • Pelle Jacobsen (Chief Executive)
  • Richard Millar (Group Head of Trading and Marketing)
  • Peter Verplanke (Group Head of Product Range Management)
  • Joe de Vriend (Group Head of Finance)

Sources / further information

www.habitat.net

Hab`i*tat (?), n. [L., it dwells, fr. habitare. See Habit, v. t.]

1. Biol.

The natural abode, locality or region of an animal or plant.

2.

Place where anything is commonly found.

This word has its habitat in Oxfordshire. Earle.

 

© Webster 1913.

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