My history hero: Robin Day (1915–2010) and Lucienne Day (1917–2010)

Chosen by Wayne Hemingway, designer

Designer duo, husband and wife Robin and Lucienne Day, 1955. The pair “were perhaps the greatest British man and wife design team there has ever been”, says Wayne Hemingway. (Photo by Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo)

This article was first published in the August 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine

Robin and Lucienne Day were brought together by their love of design. They both studied at the Royal College of Art, which was where they met – at a college dance in 1940. Two years later they married and embarked on their careers.

This article was first published in the August 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine

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Robin and Lucienne Day were brought together by their love of design. They both studied at the Royal College of Art, which was where they met – at a college dance in 1940. Two years later they married and embarked on their careers.

Though they worked side by side as a team, their specialities were in different fields: Robin’s was in interior decoration and furnishings, while Lucienne was an expert in textiles. Both stood out for their innovative approaches and went on to have long, successful relationships with leading manufacturers. One of the highlights of their career together was their hugely successful involvement in the 1951 Festival of Britain.

When did you first hear about Robin and Lucienne?

I think it would have been in the 1980s when my wife and I were selling second-hand clothes around Camden. We started to buy up anything that looked old and vintage including lots of magazines. That’s probably when I first read about them.

What made them heroes?

Robin and Lucienne were perhaps the greatest British man and wife design team there has ever been. When they married, the practice of design was, in Lucienne’s words, “virtually unknown”. They then spent 67 years together building up an acclaimed body of work that will remain forever iconic.

Robin was a great believer that designers shouldn’t be pigeonholed and that drove him on to produce great graphic design, advertising, award-winning furniture, interiors, exhibitions, TVs, public seating for British Rail and the London Underground and even retail stores for John Lewis (where Lucienne joined her husband in almost two decades of productive consultancy with the retailer).

What were their finest hours?

Robin Day will probably best be remembered for the – at the time revolutionary and to become ubiquitous – polypropylene stacking chair. Every village hall, school and waiting room seemed to have one in grey or orange. This was the product that fulfilled his stated aim for great design to be affordable and available to all.

Lucienne was also prolific but like many great designers had one design that was particularly iconic – Calyx. It was a textile and wallpaper, designed to accompany her husband’s room set at the Festival of Britain in 1951, that was both groundbreaking and commercially successful. It still retains its popularity to this day.

What kind of people were Robin and Lucienne?

I got to meet them before they died because they lived near us in Chichester. I didn’t know them very well but they seemed very nice and were still in love at 90-odd, which is great.

Can you see any parallels between their lives and yours?

Yes. Like Robin Day I have spent the bulk of my life living and working day in and day out with my wife, the designer Gerardine Hemingway. As with them, we have a partnership and life underpinned by a shared passion for being creative and a belief that design is a force for good and a tool for lifting spirits.

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Wayne Hemingway is a fashion designer who co-founded the Red or Dead label with Gerardine Hemingway. The couple now run Hemingway Design. They are also the organisers of Vintage, a weekend arts festival marking the Festival of Britain’s 60th anniversary. It runs from 29–31 July at London’s Southbank. Our colleagues at Homes & Antiques have been involved in the project, creating a 1950s living room as part of a Museum of 51. See www.vintagebyhemingway.co.uk for more information.