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OPENER / ANDREW TUCK

Sofa, so good

London’s Tottenham Court Road starts in the West End with a theatrical flourish – the bright lights of the Dominion Theatre. But it quickly wipes off its stage make-up to become an uninspiring retail strip with just one or two remnants left from what, 20 years ago, were shoulder-to-shoulder camera, computer and discount technology stores. However, as you continue north, the shop selection changes again and you now find yourself in a soft-furnishings strip where couples come to bounce their bums on beds, stare at sofas as they wonder if they will fit through their front doors and disagree over what rug to buy. At least, in normal times, that is what you would see.The reason that this street has a reputation for being such a plump-cushioned nirvana is because of the furniture shop Heal & Son – known to all as Heal’s – which has been trading on the street since 1818 and in the current site since 1840. It is no doubt also why a fresh-faced Terence Conran would have headed here in the 1960s to nab the shop next door to Heal’s for his fledgling Habitat brand.Habitat in Tottenham Court Road opened its doors to customers in 1966 but this week the current owners of the brand, the supermarket group Sainsbury’s, announced that it will close the shop in the coming months – the press release had all the usual talk of challenging times, changing demand and so on. You’ll still be able to buy Habitat products online and even in the supermarket chain’s aisles, just not here.Look, there’s no doubt the market has changed. If you wanted to make your home look modern and feel young, then in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, you would quite likely go to Habitat. White plates, bright duvet covers, good basic sofas: it was all there waiting for people anxious to move on from the aesthetics of their parents’ homes. Then came Ikea and Muji and design was democratised at a pace that left Habitat less special than before. Less sure of its self-worth. Still, there’s something sad about the closure of this shop that’s housed in one of those pieces of 1960s architecture that wears its modernity with the sharp-edged elegance of a Vidal Sassoon bob, thanks to architect Fitzroy Robinson & Partners.The upper reaches of furniture retail are home to numerous great stores in cities across the world. But it’s striking how the middle remains often uninspiring and also free of any sensibility for a bland but hard-to-avoid word: “lifestyle”. Today, if you want to buy a bed, you can of course navigate to a website that will give you 67 pages of styles to choose from. But there’s no feeling, no sense that you are being pulled into a world that you want to be part of. And that’s what, at its prime, this Habitat store achieved. There was something about the building, the location and the stock that seemed to offer a break from the past and a confidence about the future. Perhaps that’s why it seemed to have such a dedicated young fan base: it was not about sticking with things as you found them.Sir Terence Conran, who died in September, understood the desires and hopes that go into making a home (or, picking a sofa) and there’s a need for new retail visionaries in this nicely padded, comfy-to-sit-on, homewares space. People who love brands. People who know that a shop can be a beacon; a lesson in how to live your life in a better way. And if they are out there, I know a very nice shop space that will be free in the new year.

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