Robin Day: durable, cost conscious, and comfortable MCM design

Robin Day was one of the most acclaimed British Mid-Century Modern designers. His innovative furniture designs introduced materials such as steel, plywood, and plastic into the modern design world. His commitment to furniture durability and comfort led to mass-market successes like the ubiquitous Polyside and Polyprop chairs.

Bio

Born in 1915 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, a historic centre of the furniture trade. After studying at the local art school, he worked as a draughtsman in a furniture factory, where he learnt first-hand the key techniques of the furniture manufacturing processes.Day began his career by winning a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art. His first success was due to a partnership with designer Clive Latimer: In 1948, the duo won the MoMA award at the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture design. This distinction got him the attention of furniture producer S. Hille & Co., which decided to collaborate with Robin Day, forming a partnership that would last thirty years. This alliance enabled him to freely explore new, innovative techniques and materials that reduced the manufacturing cost, making his designs available to all. At a college dance in 1940 he met Lucienne Conradi, a young textile student. They married two years later and began of a lifelong partnership influencing each other’s work like the American designers Charles and Ray Eames. Robin Day died in 2010 at the age of 95.

Style

Day was very committed to designing furniture with durability and comfort in mind. He was therefore very interested in public seating furniture: his designs have been used in many public locations like the 1990s Toro and Woodro seating on the London Underground, as well as for airports, sports stadiums or theaters. Some estimate that – to date – over 50 mllion of his chairs have been sold worldwide. Its strength, lightness, versatility and cheapness made it popular even in remote communities. A famous anecdote narrates that when he was visiting Botswana, Robin was flattered to find that his polyprop chairs were adapted for seating in canoes.

Toro bench
Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, Toro bench, 1990, CC BY-SA 4.0

“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, and by experimenting with materials such as molded plywood and tubular steel, Day has developed unique techniques that allowed him to design durable and economical furniture, let’s discover some of them.

Masterpieces

THE POLYSIDE CHAIR became quickly a global success selling hundreds of thousands of units over just the first few years.

Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, Orange polyprop chairs
Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, Orange polyprop chairs, CC BY-SA 2.0

THE POLYPROP stacking CHAIR was designed in 1963 and was immediately considered “the most important British mass production chair design since the war” by the Architects’ Journal.

Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, Polypropylene side chairs, 1964, CC BY-SA 4.0
Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, Polypropylene side chairs, 1964, CC BY-SA 4.0

THE ARMCHAIR 675 Robin Day succeeded in designing a molded chair with armrests by elegantly bending a single piece so that it fulfills both functions of seatback and arms.

Robin Day: Armchair 675
Robin Day: Armchair 675