Crichton was born in Bombay in 1917 and moved to England as a child. He studied at Birmingham College of Art. During World War Two, he became an official war photographer, assigned to the Fourteenth Army in Burma.
He moved to New Zealand in 1949, establishing John Crichton Limited, a business and shop located on Kitchener Street in Auckland. He offered interior design services and designed and sold furniture. According to Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Crichton “can lay claim to being the father of the modern New Zealand interior…” showing New Zealanders “how to blend a fascination with the materials and textures of the Pacific with the international vision of modern design.”