Day was very much a post-war designer, bringing the optimism of this time period to his work and believing great design could make the world a better place. Having experienced the rationing of war time, he had also learned to be frugal with materials – something that is evident throughout his designs, which are incredibly economical whilst still offering beautiful shapes and exceptional function.
During the 1930s, Day studied at the Royal College of Art in London, where he met his future wife, Lucienne Conradi – a student who would go on to become a highly regarded fabric designer in her own right. Graduating in 1938, Day married Lucienne in 1942 and the pair went on to open a design office together in 1948.
It was during this period that Day refined and perfected his designs, growing in strength and maturity as he worked as a freelance graphic designer. In 1949 he won first prize in the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design, held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for his highly original tubular storage units. However, it was during the 1951 Festival of Britain that his furniture designs found true acclaim, and here Day won the Gold Medal at the Milan Triennale for his ‘Home and Gardens’ pavilion design.
In 1963 he realised his dream of creating the ultimate hardwearing furniture when he began experimenting with polypropylene. This tough, yet light-weight material had never been used before in furniture design due to the technical problems of moulding curved, solid shapes with it. However, Day worked hard to overcome these difficulties and created the solid polypropylene shell that would become the basis of the world-famous polypropylene stacking chair. The techniques used to create this simple, lightweight product transformed mass furniture design by introducing ‘injection moulding’ – a brand-new process at the time.
Throughout his career, Day remained dedicated to creating economical furniture that was strong and extremely hardwearing – the sort of furniture that could withstand decades of wear.
Indeed, Day is considered by some to be one of the first ‘eco’ designers, using only the materials necessary to make beautiful, function objects and creating manufacturing processes that minimised waste. For example, the ‘Q-stak’ chair – created in 1953 – was composed of a simple curved wooden seat and slim metal legs, and required the bare minimum of components to assemble.
All Day’s furniture was designed to allow lots of light to flow around it, as Day’s aim was to design for the modern, average home and he wanted to create pieces that would fit into ‘today’s small rooms’. But to this light-weight look he added even more practicality: all his furniture was comfortable and suited the ergonomics of the body, whilst also being very hardwearing.
A minimalist in the true sense of the word, Day was a master at creating comfort, practicality and beauty with the fewest materials possible. Rightly revered as one of the greatest designers of the 20th century, Day’s furniture designs are probably some of the most prolific in the world.