‘Forest’ exhibit celebrates Robin Day’s Centenary
V&A installation leads trail across London celebrating life and work of design luminary
A ‘forest’ of timber columns designed by Turner Prize nominees Assemble will mark the centenary of the birth of Robin Day as part of the London Design Festival at the V&A.
Robin Day Works in Wood celebrates one of the most significant British furniture designers of the 20th century, displaying some of his most famous furniture designs alongside handmade objects and drawings which have never before been exhibited, and writings that reveal his deep attachment to nature.
The exhibition, curated by Jane Withers, will be on display outside the V&A’s Britain 1500-1900 Galleries from 19th September. The project has been sponsored by John Lewis (Robin Day and his textile designer wife Lucienne Day worked as Design Consultants to the company from 1962 – 1987) and contemporary furniture manufacturer Benchmark.
Robin Day was born on May 25th 1915. His design career spanned nearly seven decades and his prolific body of work included the ground- breaking Polypropylene chair (1963) which sold in tens of millions worldwide. Robin Day grew up among the beechwoods and timber furniture factories of High Wycombe and his understanding and love for wood as a material was expressed both in professional furniture designs and in objects he made for pleasure throughout his life. Supported by The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation, the exhibition will explore this often-overlooked aspect of his work.
Reflecting on the forest as Day’s fundamental site of creative exploration, Assemble’s concept will look at Robin Day’s early life amongst the woodlands and furniture industry of High Wycombe where materials, processes and products were linked with the rhythm of everyday life. From the greenwood bow of Day’s childhood, to his explorations in moulded plywood, the installation will be a conduit for exploring Robin’s relationship with wood, creating a tactile and materially rich exhibition which encompasses the evolution of the timber process and it’s different experiential and structural possibilities.
Jane Withers said: “Wood played a huge part in Day’s life, both as a designer and in his home life, but it is an aspect of his work that few people know much about. Exploring this strand through the archives and Day’s private woodwork not only highlights how he turned wood into an expressive modern material but also his profound attachment to nature as a source of inspiration as well as raw material, an approach that feels immensely relevant today and is brought to life in Assemble’s installation.”
Paula Day, Robin’s daughter and Chair of the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation said: “I remember my father at our cottage in the oak woods of West Sussex, logging for the wood burning stove and making all sorts of things out of wood just for pleasure. He was completely at home with timber – he even seemed to think in wood. So it feels absolutely right to me that we should celebrate the centenary of his birth by exploring these personal aspects of his creativity, as well as his famous industrial designs.”
“As a designer, I greatly enjoy working in timber. Unlike synthetic materials, it has unpredictability, an infinite variety of texture and pattern, smells good when worked and is sympathetic to the touch – it has soul!”
Robin Day, 2001
Part of a series of events to mark Day’s centenary during London Design Festival, Robin Day Works in Wood will form the focus of Day in London – a trail across the Capital linking exhibition venues and key locations for London’s Robin Day heritage.
A Robin Day seminar will be held at the V&A. Speakers will include design journalist Corinne Julius discussing Day’s relationship with the furniture manufacturer Hille. Robin Day’s draughtsman John Simmons and the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation’s furniture technician Amos Marchant will share insights derived from their hands-on work with Robin Day designs. Paula Day, Robin’s daughter and Chair of The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation will talk about setting up the Foundation to care for her parents’ design legacies, and creating the Robin Day 100 Designs centenary poster which celebrates her father’s life’s work.
Case Furniture, the licensed manufacturers of Robin Day’s 675 chair (1952), will host a retrospective in their new Wandsworth showroom, displaying vintage Robin Day pieces on loan from private collectors across the country. Furniture retailer twentytwentyone have collaborated with ten of the country’s foremost designers, including Martino Gamper, Tom Dixon and Margaret Howell, to pay tribute to Robin Day’s Reclining chair (1952) with a special Centenary Edition, which will be on display at the twentytwentyone Clerkenwell showroom and Islington store during London Design Festival.
Margaret Howell, to pay tribute to Robin Day’s Reclining chair (1952) with a special Centenary Edition, which will be on display at the twentytwentyone Clerkenwell showroom and Islington store during London Design Festival.
John Lewis will be dedicating a section of their newly renovated furniture floor in the Oxford Street store to Robin Day designs. As well as the 675 chair, recently awarded a Design Guild Mark Award, the display will feature the famous Polypropylene sidechair (1963) and armchair (1967), re-launched for the Centenary with the original Robin Day frames and in the original Robin Day colours. Following London Design Festival these designs will form part of the John Lewis Design Icons collection.
Royal festival Hall Lounge Chair (1951) ©twentytwentyone, photography by Mark Whitfield
The trail will also highlight Robin Day designs still in everyday use in London’s public spaces, including his auditorium seating for the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Arts Centre, and his Toro and Woodro seating on London Underground platforms across the capital.
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Notes to Editors
About Robin and Lucienne Day
After graduating from the RCA and working in exhibition and graphic design, Robin Day’s big break came when he and fellow design lecturer Clive Latimer won the 1948 International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. This heralded the start of his career in furniture design and his collaboration with the furniture manufacturer Hille. He was commissioned to design all the seating for London’s Royal Festival Hall, which opened at the Festival of Britain in 1951. His prolific work for Hille included the groundbreaking 1963 Polypropylene chair, which sold in tens of millions worldwide. Designs for other clients included televisions and radios for Pye, aircraft interiors for BOAC and seating for the Barbican centre, London. Robin Day was loved for his kindness and humour, and earnestly believed in the power of good design to improve everyone’s lives. 2015 is the centenary of Robin Day’s birth.
Lucienne Day, best known for her textiles, was a virtuoso pattern designer and colourist in a variety of media. Like her husband, she made her career breakthrough at The Festival of Britain when she launched her uncompromisingly modern textile ‘Calyx’. She went on to design over sixty outstanding furnishing fabrics for the seminal British retailer Heal’s, as well as dress fabrics, wallpapers, tea towels, carpets and china tableware for many other companies in Britain and overseas. In the mid-1970s, Day changed direction; developing a new medium she called ‘Silk Mosaics’. These one-off wall-hangings, hand stitched by her assistants in tiny squares of richly coloured silk, were exhibited and sold around the world. Her design style is characterised by a balance of delicacy and strength, and her personal determination and organizational ability underpinned both the Days’ design careers.
Though Robin and Lucienne Day mostly worked separately, John Lewis engaged them as joint Design Consultants. During their 25 years’ relationship with the company they initiated a transformation of every aspect of the house style. Lucienne’s largest silk mosaic ‘Aspects of the Sun’ was designed for a John Lewis coffee shop.
Robin and Lucienne Day were both awarded the OBE and were the first married couple both to be appointed Royal Designer for Industry.
The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation – registered charity number 1147979
Assemble are a collective based in London who work across the fields of art, architecture and design. They began working together in 2010 and are comprised of 18 members. Assemble’s working practice seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative, seeking to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in the on-going realization of the work. For more information please use the contact details below.
About Jane Withers
Jane Withers is a design consultant and curator. As consultants her studio develops design strategies and future visions for leading brands, companies and institutions internationally, and is interested in the way creative intelligence can impact and improve our lives. She has curated numerous critically acclaimed exhibitions, including projects aimed at raising awareness of global water issues and design for a sustainable future.