Don’t call them Britain’s answer to the Eameses—while Robin and Lucienne Day were a celebrated power couple in Britain’s post-war design scene, they carved individual careers and paths in product design.
Robin Day (1915–2010) earned his stripes making British furniture modern. In 1948, he and Clive Latimer nabbed an award from MoMA’s Low-Cost Furniture Design competition for their modular storage unit crafted from plywood, which was lauded for its “style and convenience, which represent an unusual achievement in their price range.” The museum called out the peaceful horizontal lines of its drawer faces, the tubular brass supports, and how the piece tapers from a wider bottom to a narrower top to offer stability while occupying less space visually. This piece, along with 99 others, is featured on a poster issued by the British furniture boutique twentytwentyone to celebrate Day’s centenary this year.
Material experimentation was the hallmark of Day’s career. He’s perhaps best known for his polypropylene stacking chairs, which have sold an astounding 50 million units since their 1963 launch. Used not only in offices and interiors, the chairs also provided seating in the 1968 Olympic stadium in Mexico City. They have even been fitted in canoes in Botswana.
“A good design must fulfill its purpose well, be soundly constructed, and should express in its design this purpose and construction,” Day said in 1962.
Having worked through wartime, Day was versed in the language of economy. After he and Lucienne married in 1943, he crafted a dining room table for their apartment out of a linoleum-covered door; he used iron gas pipes clad with copper tubes for the legs. For the chairs, he bent plywood by hand, using steam from a kettle.
After WWII, furniture manufacturers sought to ramp up production, but were still working with limited means. Day’s cleverness and ingenuity proved invaluable as he designed products that used inexpensive materials, few components, and simple construction—tailored to the mechanics of mass production. For example, his Hillestack chairs, Q Stack chairs, and the seating he created for the Royal Festival Hall of Britain represent this ethos of restrained design.
A polymath, Day designed interiors, electronics, accessories, signage, and more, but chairs were his ongoing obsession—public seating, in particular. Case in point: his Series E school chairs used in numerous classrooms, and the common Toro benches that dot London Underground platforms.
Lucienne Day (1917–2010) also thrived in post-war Britain. She focused on textiles and created vibrant, abstract patterns that captured the attention of consumers looking for fabrics that symbolized peacetime optimism. Lucienne displayed her work at the 1951 Festival of Britain and created textiles and wallpapers for a pavilion that also featured Robin’s furniture. There, she exhibited her Calyx pattern that riffed on the English tradition of working with floral motifs but she added a contemporary twist by abstracting the forms. The large-scale project introduced her work to a massive audience. Companies like Heals, John Lewis, and Rosenthal sought her out to design fabrics, wall-coverings, carpets, and ceramics with her signature sensibility informed by modernist painting.
Now, how about a poster of Lucienne’s designs? There’s plenty of time to do one before her centenary in 2017.