Robin Day’s furniture designs were a direct rejection of the solid and ponderous form of pre-war furniture. His inventive response to technology reflected the positive, forward- looking mood of the early post-war era: and his sparing use of materials and economical approach to construction stemmed from the enforced austerity of the war years, when materials and labour were in short supply. These habits became deeply ingrained in his design psyche– eventually finding their logical conclusion in the multi-million selling 1963 polypropylene chair.
His first breakthrough came in 1948 when, in collaboration with another young designer, Clive Latimer, he won first prize for storage furniture in a high-profile international competition organised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Robin's success brought him to the attention of a British manufacturer, Hille, which had specialised in period furniture, but was eager to modernise.
Seizing this opportunity, he designed a series of simple, functional chairs, tables, desks and storage units that harnessed the latest wood and metal-working techniques. Many of his designs were low-cost, such as the beech-framed 1950 Hillestak chair with its moulded plywood seat. At the Festival of Britain in 1951, Robin Day created the dining-chair version, with flipper arms and steel-rod legs, included here in the show.
Functionality, comfort and good design were also evident in his early designs for public seating. A pioneer of ergonomics long before the term was invented, his designs invariably combine practicality with durability and much of his public seating was used for decades after its original installation. This exhibition includes key examples of his early designs such as the British Rail bench from 1956, and his 1980s auditorium seating for the Barbican Art Centre.
We are grateful to Lesley Jackson for permission to draw on her research in this information.