Robin Day, the ‘grandmaster’ of furniture design, has died aged 95
Best known for his mass-produced, injection-moulded polypropylene stacking chair, Day and his wife Lucienne were pioneers of British design after World War II
The pair rose to prominence during the 1951 Festival of Britain and were often compared to US design stars and contemporaries, Charles and Ray Eames, although Robin and his wife usually worked independently and in separate fields - Lucienne focusing on textile design.
Since creating the design in 1963, more than 20 million of the so-called Robin Day chairs have been produced in forty countries around the world.
The one-piece stacking chair was chosen as one of eight designs in a 2009 series of stamps showcasing British Design Classics.
Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum, said: ‘Robin Day’s Polypropylene chair is one of those exceptional objects that can genuinely carry the burden of being labelled a humble masterpiece.
‘Made in its millions, it civilised the school and the workplace, and demonstrated the democratic potential of mass production. Day was a remarkable designer, who in his long career, mostly working alongside his wife, the gifted textile design Lucienne Day, never ran out of energy.
‘His curiosity in the world around him made him as relevant competing with Charles Eames for prizes at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1940s, as he was in the context of the London of the present day.’
Lucienne died earlier this year aged 93.
Robin Day’s furniture for the Royal Festival Hall
An appreciation by Diane Haigh (then of Allies and Morrison)
‘Designing the furniture for the new Royal Festival Hall was the first major commission that Robin received. He developed not only the seats for the auditorium, but also a range of casual chairs and tables for the foyers and cafés. Working alongside Peter Moro, he designed furniture that exactly complemented the architectural vision.
‘More than 50 years later, it was a huge pleasure to be able to involve Robin in the refurbishment project with Allies and Morrison. He advised us on the original design concept, as well as helping to achieve the radical restructuring of the auditorium seats to achieve greater comfort and better acoustic performance. His memory of the original ‘lemon grey’ cut moquette upholstery led the search for new fabrics and helped to define the new colour balance for the auditorium.
‘For the foyers, the idea of recreating his elegant lounge chairs was briefly entertained. Robin was enthusiastic about developing new prototypes, but sadly the window of opportunity was lost. However, the idea that the foyers are for relaxation and enjoyment has been reinstated by the introduction of casual furniture.
‘Robin and Lucienne Day were brilliant champions of good design in all forms. They took great delight in working once again with the RFH and attended both an acoustic test concert and the press launch in early 2007. Their enthusiasm and support for the revival of the building was a huge inspiration to the team. I think their whole-hearted involvement brought them great satisfaction.’
Greg Lomas, of Foster Lomas who was working as a designer for Habitat when the company re-released designs by the Days
‘Robin Day’s death is very sad news, especially since Lucienne passed away in January. Robin was a very influential figure in furniture design and his appreciation of architecture and the designs he created with Lucienne for projects like the Festival Hall completed the vision of architects like Leslie Martin, creating a synergy between the architecture and interior design.
‘The other striking thing about some of Day’s designs was the technical aspect of his work, in both materials and ergonomics which mirrored the advances Charles and Ray Eames were making in the States.
‘There is also the ubiquitous nature of his designs, the vast majority of people in the UK will have sat on one of his chairs while at school without even realising they had been designed by one of our greatest furniture designers, in a similar way to his contemporary David Mellor’s designs for traffic lights and street furniture. Robin Day will be missed but he has provided the design world with an incredible legacy.’