Sir Terence Conran founded Habitat in London in 1964, opening his own store to market his Summa range of furniture. The first store was opened in Fulham Road in Chelsea by Conran, his then wife Caroline, Philip Pollock and the model Pagan Taylor. This store became the Habitat template, with its quarry tiled floor, whitewashed brick walls, white-painted wooden-slatted ceilings and spotlights creating a feeling of space and focusing attention on the product. Conran has said the main reason for the shop's initial success was that Habitat was one of the few places that sold cheap pasta storage jars just as the market for dried pasta took off in the UK.
The business expanded quickly in the UK throughout the 1960s and internationally with the first overseas store opening in 1973 in Paris. Habitat also published a catalogue that showed a range of products grouped together in pleasant surroundings.
In 1968 Habitat merged with the stationery retailer Ryman to form Ryman Conran. The following year it purchased the business of Lupton Morton, which mostly supplied furniture to offices and corporations but also made pieces by other designers, and in 1970 acquired the retail chain Straker-Bedser.
By 1970 the turnover of the group had doubled since the merger with Habitat. Terence Conran however was disappointed that Habitat itself had not been expanded and offered to purchase Habitat from Ryman Conran along with Conran Associates and the remains of Lupton Morton. Ryman Conran did not highly value the Habitat chain and apparently thought it was making a loss, so agreed to the sale. Ryman Conran retained Habitat's original factory in Thetford along with Conran Design Group.
In 1981, the company's shares were floated on the London Stock Exchange and in 1982 it merged with Mothercare Group to form Habitat Mothercare Group plc. The now-listed company bought the furniture retailer Heal's and the Richard Shops fashion chain in 1983. In 1986, the company merged with British Home Stores to form Storehouse plc.
In 1992 Habitat was purchased from Storehouse by Ikano. In October 2009, following several years of trading losses, the Kamprad family, which owns Ikano, put the company up for sale, and it was sold to Hilco, a restructuring specialist, in December 2009 with the Kamprad family writing off the debts of the company and providing €50 million (£45 million) of working capital while Hilco paid about €15m.
On 24 June 2011 Hilco, which had owned Habitat UK Ltd since December 2009, announced that it was putting the company into administration. Home Retail Group (owner of Argos and Homebase) purchased the Habitat brand, three central London stores and the UK website. The UK business was registered under the name Habitat Retail Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Home Retail Group. Home Retail Group retained about 100 staff at the London stores and around 50 in head office, including many of Habitat's in-house designers, buyers and merchandisers.
Cafom, a company registered in France, purchased Habitat's European businesses. By 11 September 2011, all other Habitat stores in the UK had been closed by Hilco with around 750 employees being made redundant.
Home Retail Group acquisition
The Home Retail Group acquired the three London stores in Tottenham Court Road, King's Road and Finchley Road and the transactional website. It then introduced mini Habitat stores within Homebase branches nationwide, beginning with Ruislip in October 2012, followed by Solihull, Ewell, Battersea, Horsham, Orpington, Leeds, Bracknell and Truro. By the end of 2013 Habitat said there would be 14 mini Habitat stores across the UK. Habitat had also begun to offer a selection of Habitat products in 200 Homebase and Argos stores nationwide and on the Argos and Homebase websites.
Habitat turns 50
To mark its 50th birthday in 2014, Habitat commissioned five past designers - Aaron Probyn, Simon Pengelly, Claire Norcross, Sarah Campbell & Shin Azumi - from its design studio to create a collection of celebratory products, as well as contemporary graphic artist James Joyce to create a one-off celebratory logo.
Purchase by Sainsbury's
In April 2016, Home Retail Group agreed to a £1.4bn takeover by UK retailer Sainsbury's. The deal included the sale of brands Argos and Habitat. The acquisition completed on 2 September 2016. Before the acquisition Home Retail Group sold the Homebase brand to the Australian brand Wesfarmers and all Habitat branches within Homebase stores were subsequently closed.