Sir Terence Conran looked out at the Manhattan skyline from the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and was understandably drawn to a Norman Foster-designed tower on the Upper East Side.
Conran's intellectual curiousity is undiminished after a 56-year career as a designer, retailer, writer and restaurateur. He believes in the power of design to make people's lives better.
On Tuesday night, Conran even endured a United Nations General Assembly-induced 90-minute taxi ride to check out his friend Ian Schrager's Gramercy Park Hotel. He also used the stopover in New York to promote his latest book, "Design: Intelligence Made Visible," written with Stephen Bayley, as an opportunity to give his recently remodeled Manhattan store the once-over.
There are eight Conran stores around the world, hotels, more than 30 restaurants and, of course, books. His architectural and design practice, Conran & Partners, is developing buildings for athletes and back-office staff for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Conran & Partners is also redeveloping Greenwich Pier to create restaurants, a cruise terminal and public space in time for the Games.
In addition, Conran, who was redesigning the Concorde's interior before the supersonic jet was grounded for good, is sprucing up Alitalia's business-class cabin. He is also lobbying with the Save Concorde Group to bring the plane out of retirement for the 2012 Olympics' opening ceremony.
Asked about any unmet challenges, Conran was blunt.
"I'm quite eager to see what dying is like — the final exit,'' he said. "I'm 76 years old next week [Oct. 4]. When you have a back as bad as mine, you have to think, 'It can't be that long now.' It makes you think of so many things that you want to achieve. I'm not in any way in a despondent state. I want to cram in as much as I can before the inevitable happens. I've got a very interesting solution to the final goodbye to my friends. It's to give a great party in all my restaurants along the Thames and to have the most fantastic fireworks display with my ashes going up inside the biggest, noisiest fireworks."
Meanwhile, there is much to do. His own boutique hotel, The Boundary Room, will launch in April in London's East End, and there are six hotels being built in India, including Calcutta. "The construction is fast [in India] but they usually have to redo it three times,'' he said. "But they do it without any incrimination — there might be a bit of a sigh, but there are no battles."
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