Directly ahead of the Windsors
British designer Robin Day, trained in furniture making at a technical high school and a graduate
of the Royal College of Art, was one of the people responsible for creating a mid-century British style.
His graphics and his furniture, obviously inspired by, among others, the work of the Eames, adhered to the modernist philosophy that well designed pieces, mass produced and sold at affordable prices, would improve the quality of life and bolster the optimism of a nation recovering from World War II.
Working in close collaboration with his wife Lucienne, an award winning textile designer, Day gave England an international reputation as, if not one of the major centers of design, at least an environment in which good design was born and appreciated.
Day got his start as an exhibition designer and graphic artist, opening his own office in 1948.
The next year he entered a series of modular storage units, made in plywood with aluminum frames, into the Low Cost Furniture competition at the MoMA in New York. He was awarded first prize for storage design and recognition for the form of the pieces as well as for his exceptional use of new materials.
With his international reputation starting to develop, he was approached by the British company Hille to design a dining room set for the upcoming British Industry Fair. He became their Design Director in 1950 and would continue to work with them as a designer and consultant for the rest of his career.
As Director, Day began constructing their modern corporate image in the spirit of American companies Knoll and Herman Miller. The image and personalities of the Days themselves appealed to the public as well, and they were featured in advertisements and write-ups about their home in contemporary shelter magazines. The instantly popular 1950 "Hillestak" chair became a ubiquitous icon of the emerging British style. It had a one-piece seat and back made in bent plywood supported by a tubular steel base.
At the 1951 Milan Triennial Day won a gold medal for an interior in which he designed cabinets, chairs and a desk. Lucienne won a gold medal as well, for the textiles featured in their space.
In the late 1950s his chairs were portrayed on Enid Seeney's "Homemaker" dinnerware which featured brief sketches of the furniture of the times.
Tracing the usual trajectory from bentwood to plastic, Day's 1963 stacking "Polyprop" chair became, worldwide, one of the most successful pieces made during the period. The simple injection molded polypropylene seat could be made so quickly and cheaply that the Hille company was able to create their own buzz by sending out 600 complimentary samples to people in the industry.
Other popular chairs for Hille were the 1962 "Mark I," and the "Mark II" which followed a year later.
Day’s work for other companies included radios and televisions for the Pye Company, and the redesigned interiors and food service equipment for BOAC airplanes. He completed public seating projects for the Barbican Arts Center in London and for the Royal Festival Hall.