"He resisted the lure of fashion, disapproving of designers who worked on purely superficial stylistic lines." Lesley Jackson
Born in 1915 in Buckinghamshire, 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. Although best known as a furniture designer, Day has worked in many fields including graphics, exhibition, interior design, radio and television receivers, carpet and vinyl design, passenger aircraft interior design – notably for the Super VC10.
In partnership with Clive Latimer, he won the first prize in the New York Museum of Modern Art International Competition for the design of low cost furniture. In 1950 Day began work for Hille, helping to take the company to new heights as its design consultant. In 1951 Day 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.
Over the last 50 years Day designed furniture for many important buildings in the UK and abroad, notably for concert halls and theatres, airports, stations and sports stadiums. He pioneered development of injection moulding plastic one-piece chairs of which tens of millions have been sold 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 signaled 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.
The 60-minute film was created by Design Onscreen, with award-winning Scottish Director Murray Grigor and Cinematographer Hamid Shams. You can buy the DVD here.
Festival of Britain, 1951
The Festival of Britain took place in the summer of 1951 and celebrated the nation’s recovery after the second World War.
The most important festival site was on the Thames’ south bank, where The Royal Festival Hall was the first modern public building to be erected in London after the war. Peter Moro, the architect responsible for the interiors, a close friend and colleague of Robin’s, asked him to design all the seating. Robin rose to the challenge, designing innovatory auditorium seating engineered using materials and techniques associated with the car industry, which is still in use today. His Royal Festival Hall orchestra, dining and lounge chairs form a distinctive family of designs, their curved plywood backs appearing to float above the ground on spindly steel rod legs.
Robin Day also designed graphics, signage and outdoor furniture for the Festival. His room settings for the Homes and Gardens Pavilion displayed all three Festival Hall chair designs in domestic spaces, along with Lucienne’s wallpapers and her ground breaking textile ‘Calyx’. These radical Contemporary designs were in tune with the forward-looking spirit of the Festival, which celebrated new developments in science and technology, and introduced many Londoners to the new medium of television.
Robin Day born at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
Désirée Lucienne Conradi born at Coulsden, Surrey.
Robin studies design at the Royal College of Art, specialising in furniture and interior design.
Lucienne studies design at the Royal College of Art, specialising in printed textiles and meets Robin at an RCA dance in 1940.
The couple marry and set up home in a maisonette at 33 Markham Square, Chelsea. During the war they teach at Beckenham School of Art.
Lucienne designs dress fabrics for companies, including Stevenson & Son, Mark & Spencer and Horrockses, and furnishing fabrics for Cavendish Textiles (John Lewis), Morton Sundour and Edinburgh Weavers.
Robin teaches at the School of Architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic, where he meets the architect Peter Moro. They collaborate on a series of exhibitions, mainly for the Central Office of Information. Robin continues to design exhibition stands for ICI and Ekco until the early 1960s.
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.
Heals Fabrics commissions Lucienne to design Fluellin. Their partnership continues for 25 years, resulting in over 70 designs.
Robin designs the furniture for the Royal Festival Hall and two room settings for the Homes and Gardens Pavilion at the Festival of Britain featuring his furniture and Lucienne's textiles and wallpapers. Lucienne's Calyx printed furnishing fabric for Heals is created for this display.
The Days move to 49 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, which they refurbish in the 'Contemporary' style.
As well as designing up to six printed textiles a year for Heals, Lucienne creates furnishing and fashion fabrics, carpets, ceramics and table linen, as well as joining the Rosenthal international designers' panel.
Robin 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 He designs the seating for the foyer, bar and five auditoria.
Robin designs Series E school chairs for Hille.
Lucienne produces over 144 silk mosaics, including 1990's Aspects of the Sun for the John Lewis department store at Kingston-on-Thames.
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 stadia and auditoria such as the 1984 RD seating for NHS waiting rooms and the 190-91 Toro and Woodro project for the London Underground.
The exhibition Lucienne Day: A Career in Design is held at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.
Habitat reissues the Polypropylene chair in new colours, and a duvet featuring an enlarged version of Lucienne's Black Leaf tea towel pattern.
Robin is invited to design furniture for twentytwentyone and SCP.
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. Several of Lucienne's early patterns are digitally reprinted by Glasgow School of Art.
30 January, Lucienne Day dies.
9 November, Robin Day dies.
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, 1953
Whereas 1930s furniture had been heavy and ponderous, Day’s post-war designs were light on their feet and economical in their use of materials. His Reclining Chair (1952), for example, had a slim angular upholstered seat, floating wooden armrests and U-shaped steel rod legs. A minimalist frame was also adopted for the 675 Chair (1953), a dining chair with a slender floating moulded plywood seat back. In the Q Stak Chair (1954), Day’s first one-piece moulded plywood shell chair, the number of components was reduced to the bare minimum in order to keep costs down.
Polyprop chair, 1963
Robin Day is best known for his injection-moulded Polypropylene Chair, originally designed in 1963 for the firm of S. Hille & Co. and still in production today by its successor Hille Educational Products.
The first mass-produced injection-moulded polypropylene shell chair in the world, it represented a major breakthrough in furniture design and technology. Originally created as a stacking chair, it was adapted for a variety of applications, ranging from airports to sports stadia. Tens of millions of Polypropylene Chairs have been produced over the last 50 years. In 2009 it was selected by Royal Mail to appear on a postage stamp as one of eight designs in a 2009 series celebrating “British Design Classics”.
Robin Day OBE FSCD
25 May 1915, High Wycombe, England
9 November 2010, England
Royal College of Art
High Wycombe School of Art
Hille, Royal Festival Hall, BOAC, Pye Ltd., London Underground, Barbican Centre, Case Furniture, John Lewis, Ercol et al
Polypropylene chair by Hille, 1963 (14 million+ sold to date)
Lucienne Day (1917-2010)
Paula Day (born 1954)
Supermodels – Robin Day’s Polyprop chair production video
The seat is made from polypropylene which is inexpensive, durable, lightweight, easy to clean thermoplastic. A single injection mould can produce 4000 seat shells per week. From 1963 to the present day over 14 million chairs have been sold.