Robin Day’s designs in wood celebrated at the V&A with “a forest”

Assemble has worked with curator Jane Withers on exhibition Robin Day Works in Wood which tells the story of how the designer, best known for his work in polypropylene, also loved to work with wood in commercial and personal projects.

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Robin Day with prototypes

Assemble has designed “a forest of timber columns” for a V&A exhibition which celebrates industrial designer Robin Day’s work in wood as part of the upcoming London Design Festival.

Robin Day Works in Wood will be displayed outside the V&A’s Britain 1500-1900 Galleries and marks what would have been the late designer’s 100th year.

Day’s personal works had a “direct and functional simplicity”

Day, who was primarily known for his work in synthetic materials is remembered in this exhibit for commercial work in wood as well as never before seen wooden objects made for his own home that show “a direct and functional simplicity,” according to curator Jane Withers.

Withers was tasked by the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation with curating an exhibition which would form part of the Day in London programme on 19 September.

“While he’s mainly been known for his work in polypropylene I’ve always been interested in his work in wood; it’s much less known and less explored but played a huge part in his work as a designer and in his home life,” says Withers.

“A treasure trove of personal objects” uncovered

Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation chair Paula Day, daughter of Robin, shared a “treasure trove of personal objects” which Withers says were made by Robin Day at his cottage in West Sussex.

They include shoe horns, nest boxes and bird tables according to Withers who says, “It’s intriguing that this rigorous industrial designer was doing this kind of work at weekends.”

The exhibit sets up this juxtaposition and encourages visitors to look at the range of pieces Day produced in wood.

Wither says: “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.”

Haptic, textured wooden columns make up the “forest”.

Assemble was appointed by Withers who says she thought their involvement would help the exhibition have a “contemporary resonance.”

The concept sees Day’s formal and informal work placed on wooden columns which have haptic qualities and surfaces which have been treated in different ways.

It tells the story of Day’s early life growing up among the woodlands and timber furniture factories of High Wycombe where materials, processes and products were intrinsically linked.

Nature as a source of inspiration

The exhibit looks to show how Day could use wood as an expressive modern material but also shows his profound attachment to nature as a source of inspiration as well as a raw material, according to Withers who says, “This approach feels immensely relevant today and is brought to life in Assemble’s installation.”

One of Day’s last designs was a chair made for Ercol, which was part of a project called Onetree where designers were asked to create objects using timber from a single oak tree.

At the time Day said: “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.”

chair
Robin Day Festival Hall Lounge Chair (1951). Photo: Mark Whitfield.
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Robin Day Hillestak chair. C. Twentyonetone

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