60 years old, the Polyside Chair, Robin Day, 1963.

19 April 2023
In the late 1950s, furniture manufacturer Hille approached Robin Day with the idea of producing a one-piece chair shell to add to their range. Up to that point, there were a limited number of materials that could achieve such a design, such as pressed metal, structural ply or glass-reinforced plastic, the latter very successfully utilised by Charles and Ray Eames. However, the invention of polypropylene in 1954 changed everything.
Sketches for the Polypropylene chair.
Image credit: House and Garden, 1982, p. 129.

Commercially available from 1957, this new plastic material was lightweight, durable, had high flex and fatigue resistance and could easily be injection moulded. Day realised its potential for a low-cost, mass-produced chair that could be mounted on a variety of bases. Hille gave him the brief to create a comfortable seat using a minimum amount of material in order to enable a quick moulding cycle.
Product development.
Image credit: https://www.hille.co.uk/robin-day-polyside-and-armchair

Hille invested £6000 in moulding tools (equivalent today to just over £175,000), with product development taking three years as prototypes had to be created by hand and testing only being possible once the chair had been made. The first design resulted in the back being too thin and overly flexible, so Day added rolled edges and deep curves for additional strength.

Robin Day with his Polyside Chair on three different bases.
Image credit: https://minimauk.com/product/polypropylene-side-chair-chromed-legs/

With the design finalised, Hille launched the chair in 1963 through a marketing campaign that sent out 600 samples to architects, designers, furniture buyers and journalists, accompanied by a survey form to gather feedback. They realised that the structural changes that had been necessary to improve the seat’s rigidity had compromised on its overall comfort, so the design was altered, becoming slightly wider with the edges further enhanced.

35,000 Polyside chairs used as stadium
seatingfor the Mexican Olympics in 1968.
Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/

The Mark II was released the following year and became an immediate success as orders flooded in. 4000 chairs were being moulded every week, each shell taking only 1.5 minutes to produce, initially mounted on a stacking frame. Different bases and colours followed along with variations including a tub armchair in 1967, the popular educational E Series Chair in 1971 (refer image below) and the indoor/outdoor Polo chair in 1972. 
The E Series Chair, AIBDC : 007008
Image credit: MoDiP

In a 1999 interview, Day said:
"In my long years of designing, the thing that has always interested me is the social context of design and designing things that are good quality that most people can afford. In those days, and to some extent still today, furniture in the high-street shops was not only not cheap, but it was also boring, conventional, semi-period and backward-looking. It was always my mission to mass-produce low-cost seating, because I do think that clarity and what we call 'good design' is a social force that can enhance people's environments.”
(Abrahams, 1999).

The polypropylene chair has been in constant production over the past sixty years with millions being sold to date and licensees in over 30 countries. It was the first mass-produced, injection-moulded, polypropylene chair, and has been widely copied.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer


Abrahams, C. (1999). The people’s chair. The Guardian. 13 March (online). Available from https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/1999/mar/13/weekend7.weekend2. (Accessed 24 March 2023).

House and Garden. (1982). The most ubiquitous chair in modern Britain. House and Garden. September. P.128-129.