Last week we profiled the founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius. We write about a new designer from mid-century modern lore every Tuesday!
Mr. Robin Day, OBE, and a Fellow of the British Royal Chartered Society of Designers, was born in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England in 1915.
Along with his wife, Lucienne Day (a renowned British textile designer) he created modern pieces of furniture that helped Britain get into the mid-century modernist craze.
High Wycombe was already famous as a furniture-production town many decades before Day was born. Much like what (ironically) High Point in North Carolina is today for the office furniture industry, or what Detroit means for the overall design industry, thanks to the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Background and first designs
Day’s drawing skills really shined at the High Wycombe School of Art in 1931, along with many skills that he had learned at the junior Wycombe Technical Institute, which had close ties to the town’s furniture industry.
He received a scholarship to study design at the Royal College of Art in London in 1934, and he graduated with honors in 1938. However, Day didn’t find any practical job openings right away, like many of his European colleagues did. He settled for a number of teaching jobs (which were very important, nonetheless), and married Désirée Lucienne Conradi in 1940.
The war made it difficult for both designers to get their projects started, so their professional career in furniture started roughly around 1946, when Day was an interior design teacher at the Regent Street Polytechnic (which is now the University of Westminster). At Regent Street, Day met and partnered with architect Peter Moro, and later with industrial designer Clive Latimer.
In 1948, Latimer and Day won the First Prize at the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design (headed by the American MoMA), and his subsequent success allowed him to start pursuing his furniture design career, along with Lucienne.
Robin Day’s furniture work and legacy
Day’s furniture work started with S. Hille & Co. in 1949. He was not a hired designer, but rather a sort of consultant. He did, however, heavily influence that company’s product line and helped transform it into the leading modern furniture maker in England.
Most of Hille’s designs are actually Day’s, and they encompass the bulk of innovative furniture design in Britain from that period. Day was greatly concerned with mass-production and affordability, like many of his mid-century colleagues. That approach led him to create the first polypropylene chair in 1963, the mother of every ISO/stacking chair the world has ever seen.
Day’s design is the basis for most plastic, mass-produced chairs, including those found in sport stadiums, airports, and schools. Day was also influential in designing benches for public use, beginning with his (1990) Toro Bench for the London Underground.
Even though he is most known for giving us these two pieces of general-use furniture, he also produced many luxurious designs, such as his 1962 upholstered Club armchair. His work with Hille & Co. led him to create a large number of reclining chairs, many of which influenced later furniture designers around the world.
The upholstery and frame were designed in conjunction with the textile work of Lucienne Day. He believed that modern furniture had a power to change the world for the better, as long as it was imbued with a “low-cost, high-tech” philosophy. He passed away in 2010, the same year as Lucienne.