All in a Day’s work – Robin & Lucienne Day: Britain’s great design duo.

Posted on February 22, 2010


It’s no exaggeration to say that Robin Day is one of Britain’s greatest designers of the Twentieth Century, and his contribution to furniture design should not be underestimated.

Robin & Lucienne's living room.

It all started back in 1940, when Robin Day met Lucienne, a fellow student at the Royal Academy of Art, at a dance. She was specialising in printed textiles, whilst Robin was specialising in furniture and interior design. They fell in love, and two years later they were married. They went on to become two of the most celebrated designers of the age.

Whilst Lucienne was designing fabrics and textiles for the likes of Stevenson & Son and Marks & Spencer, Robin was teaching at the School of Architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic. However, when he entered MoMA’s International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture with Clive Latimer in 1948, they won the first prize in the storage section with their radical, multi-function storage system.

This achievement brought him to the attention of Hille, the British furniture manufacturer. At that time Hille specialised in cumbersome, period furniture, but were keen to modernise and reinvigorate their business. They saw Day as the perfect designer to bring life to their company and to help usher it into the new era. Day recognised that they had the manufacturing infrastructure he needed if he were to mass-produce his designs, and he jumped at the opportunity to work with them.

Right from the very start, Day was interested in utilising modern, low-cost production techniques and materials, and this is evidenced by the designs he created for Hille, which were manufactured using the latest techniques, and formed from materials such as moulded plywood and tubular steel. His approach was to use the minimal amount of components, paring down the use of materials to the absolute minimum. This was quite a departure from the furniture Hille had been producing up until that point. However, his economical approach paid off, and the result was a series of light, efficient and low-cost furnishings.

Day’s philosophy was to create furnishings that were practical, efficient and functional, but the final products were a triumph of form following function. A prime example of this is the Hillestack chair, which he designed in 1950; a simple piece of furniture made from moulded plywood, and designed to stack. These chairs not only looked beautiful on their own, but they were a practical and cheap seating solution for institutions such as schools. Indeed, in the years that followed, Day was to produce chairs that were primarily designed for schools, offices, or public seating.

1951 was to be a big year for Robin Day. It was in this year that he was commissioned by The Royal Festival Hall to design their restaurant and foyer furniture, auditorium seating and orchestra chairs. This was a huge undertaking, with each chair needing to meet specific demands, however, this project produced some of his finest work.

In that same year, Day also exhibited, along with his wife, Lucienne, at the Festival of Britain, furnishing two rooms in the House and Gardens Pavilion.

His work continued on into the next decade, and in 1967 he designed the Polypropylene Chair, produced by Hille. Polypropylene really wasn’t a material that was being used in furniture manufacture at that time. There were technical difficulties in effectively molding it and producing it to the required shape, however, Day recognised its potential as a material for use in mass-produced furniture. This seat was sold in the millions, and is arguably the best selling chair of all time. Day went on to produce a series of polypropylene chairs for use in schools and other institutions. The chances are that you’ve sat in one of them.

There is little doubt that both Robin Day and his wife Lucienne helped to shape the course of modern British design. Their furniture and textiles can still be seen in some of the most contemporary of modern homes, whilst Robin’s chairs will continue to be used in schools, offices and public spaces for many years to come.