"A good design should fulfil its purpose well, be soundly constructed and should express in its design this purpose and construction."
Robin Day OBE (1915 - 2010) was one of the most acclaimed and significant British furniture designers of the 20th Century. His influential furniture designs introduced materials such as plywood, steel and plastic into the modern design world.
Born in 1915 in High Wycombe, Day grew up surrounded by timber yards and cabinet making workshops. Although his family had no connections with the local industry, the fact that he spent his early years in a town with such strong furniture links was significant in his choice of future career. Day won a scholarship to his local art school in the early 1930’s and worked for a brief period in a local furniture factory before going to the Royal College of Art after receiving a Royal Exhibition Scholarship. After graduating the RCA in 1938, there were no suitable openings in the furniture industry so he took up a teaching post at Beckenham School of Art, where he developed an innovative course in 3-D design. Day met his future wife, Lucienne in 1940 at the RCA, where she was studying printed textile design.
In partnership with Clive Latimer, Day won the first prize in the New York Museum of Modern Art International Competition for the design of low cost furniture. In 1950 he began work for the manufacturer Hille, helping to take the company to new heights as its design consultant. In 1951 he designed the Festival of Britain Homes and Garden display and the Royal Festival Hall auditorium seating, which is still in place, a testament to the quality of the design. He rose to fame during the Festival of Britain where he won the Chartered Society of Designer’s Minerva Medal, the highest tribute the Society offers and was awarded for a lifetime achievement in the field of design.
Robin Day dedicated himself to designing low-cost, ‘high tech’, mass produced furniture, believing in the power of modern furniture and design to make the world a better place. “I think it's important that things endure. There's this very vulnerable planet of ours with finite resources. Architects and designers have, I think, a fair responsibility for conserving energy and materials, and making things durable”, said the British designer.
Day always designed furniture with durability and comfort in mind, which explains his interest in public seating. His designs have been used in many prestigious locations including auditorium seating for the Barbican Art Centre and Royal Festival Hall in London, the Gatwick Bench in the Tate Britain, and 1990s Toro and Woodro seating on the London Underground, as well as for theatres, airports, stations and sports stadiums worldwide.
In 1983 he was awarded his OBE and was appointed a senior fellow at the Royal College of Art an Honorary fellow of the RIBA.
Robin and Lucienne Day
Together, Robin and Lucienne Day transformed British design after World War II with striking furniture and textiles that signalled a new era of modernist sensibilities for everyday living. Robin’s revolutionary furniture designs introduced materials such as plastic, steel and plywood to homes, offices and schools. His stacking polypropylene chair endures as an icon and now graces a Royal Mail postage stamp. Lucienne’s abstract textile designs brought accessible elegance into the homes of postwar British consumers.
The Days’ fresh design approaches, including their contributions to the Royal Festival Hall in 1951, helped fuel the artistic and commercial awakening that led Britain out of the devastation of World War II.
The video above traces the Days’ personal and professional progression over the course of their careers, spanning more than seventy years – from their days at the Royal College of the Arts in the 1930s, through their long heyday at the forefront of British design, to their recent rediscovery by new generations of design aficionados.
Robin Day born
Studied design at the Royal College of Art.
Taught at the School of Architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic.
Robin Day and Clive Latimer win the storage section of the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design organised by MOMA, New York.
Hille commissions Robin to design furniture for mass-production. Over the next 44 years he creates more than 150 designs for domestic and office furniture and public seating.
Designs the furniture for the Royal Festival Hall and two room settings for the Homes and Gardens Pavilion at the Festival of Britain.
The Days move to 49 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.
Designs televisions, radios and stereograms for Pye.
The Days act as design consultants to BOAC and develop an interior scheme for the Super VC10 and a refreshment tray for Boeing 707.
The Days design furniture and furnishings for Churchill College, Cambridge.
The John Lewis Partnership employs the Days as design consultants to develop a new house style and to design interiors for John Lewis stores and Waitrose supermarkets.
Robin designs the Polypropylene chair for Hille, which becomes one of the best-selling chairs of all time.
Employed as a consultant for the Barbican Arts Centre, London.
Robin designs Series E school chairs for Hille.
The exhibition Hille: 75 Years of British Furniture is held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
After the sale of Hiller, Robin specialises in public seating for sports stadiums and auditoriums such as the 1984 RD seating for NHS waiting rooms and the 190-91 Toro and Woodro project for the London Underground.
A retrospective exhibition, Robin and Lucienne Day: Pioneers of Contemporary Design, is held at the Barbican Art Gallery, London.
Robin designs the Sussex bench for Magis.
First prize, International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design - Museum of Modern Art in New York
Gold Medal at the Milan Triennale for his 'Home and Gardens' pavilion design
Best reissue, Wallpaper* Design Awards - Reclining chair for TwentyTwentyOne
675 chair awarded the Design Guild Mark by The Furniture Makers’ Company
675 Chair, 1952
Whereas 1930’s furniture had been heavy and ponderous, Day’s post-war designs were light on their feet and economical in their use of materials. A minimalist frame was also adopted for the 675 Chair, a dining chair with a slender moulded plywood seat back. Robin Day overcame the difficulty of forming a single moulded plywood chair with armrests, by creating a fluid shape using a singular curve. In close collaboration with the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation, Case revisited the original design and faithfully reinstated, in the 2014 chair, the element and detail of the 1952 original.
“Case have been willing to go the extra mile to develop a product which is very close to my father’s actual 1952 design. The result is startlingly fresh and authoritative; one glance is enough to convince that this is the real Robin Day 675 design, vigorous, poised and finely proportioned. Like all his chairs, it is also very comfortable.”- Paula Day, daughter of Robin & Lucienne Day.
The 675 Chair was awarded the acclaimed Design Guild Mark Award in 2015.