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Robin Day is one of the most important British designers of the postwar period and is best known for his polypropylene stacking chair, which has been in constant production since its launch in 1963. The Polyside, as it is often called, has sold some 14m to date and was the first successful mass-produced injection-moulded chair of its type. Polypropylene was invented in 1954 but this was the first time it had been used in the manufacture of furniture.
Leslie Julius, of the Hille furniture company, contacted Day in 1949 after the latter (with Clive Latimer) won first prize in the storage section of the International Competition for Low-cost Furniture, organised by MoMA. Day designed nearly all of Hille’s products for the next 20 years as well as their logo, letterhead and vehicle livery. That logo has remained almost unchanged for over 60 years.
From the start, Day was given free rein to design what he wanted and, more importantly, to create the prototypes. The Polyside required an investment of £6,000 for the moulding tool. It was a prolific seller, says Nigel Punshon, sales director at Hille. “It comes in four main colours: black, blue, orange and green, but we can create any colour you like over a hundred units.
“Robin was an incredible guy. He designed hundreds of products for us and, unlike many other designers, he was always aware of cost, impact on the environment, efficiency and speed of manufacture. Others would say they wanted their product to look a specific way and not consider those factors.”
Day (1915-2010) was married to the textile designer Lucienne, who created designs for Heal’s, many of which are also still in production today. Unlike Charles and Ray Eames, with whom they are often compared, the couple tended not to work together and are regarded as important figures each in their own right.
Day, who also designed the furniture for the Royal Festival Hall and seating at the Barbican, said: “A good design must fulfil its purpose well, be soundly constructed and should express in its design this purpose and construction.”
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