Robin Day’s 675 chair is one of the most recognised designs of the 20th century, and has now been exclusively reimagined by Case with Mourne Check upholstery in three heritage colourways. Distinguished by its undisguised structure and curved, walnut-veneered plywood back, the Special Edition 675 is accented with beautiful upholstery impeccably produced on original hand looms from the 1950s – and available only at The Conran Shop.
Produced under licence from the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation, this year also marks Lucienne Day’s centenary – a fitting time to produce this exclusive edition of the remarkable 675 design.
We caught up with Mario Sierra, grandson of Mourne Textiles founder Gerd Hay-Edie to talk more about why the handwoven Mourne Check is the perfect way to finish this iconic chair, and Paul Newman from Case on the iconic status of the 675.
Tell us a little bit about your role at Mourne.
MS: Ever since I left school I have wanted to bring the workshop back to life, fill our yarn store full of beautiful yarns like it was when I was a child and get the looms weaving again. I have always been fascinated by the structure of the tweeds, furnishing fabrics and rugs woven on our looms. Wool, in all its various forms spun and unspun has been a huge part of my childhood. There is nowhere I feel more at home than in the workshop surrounded by the wooden looms.
When I’m back at the workshop I work closely with my mother developing the designs from the archives; we have needed to source new yarn suppliers, dyers and finishers as those originally used by my grandmother have since stopped trading. There is also the constant need for loom maintenance and upgrades. The technology used in our workshop you would regularly find in museums; it is a full-time job keeping it all running smoothly.
When at our studio in London my role is more PR, marketing and managing, and overseeing the business as a whole, all the while planning future projects and collaborations and coordinating current ones. There are so many jobs to think about, and although hugely enjoyable, at times it can become slightly overwhelming. The response to what we are doing has been fantastic and it’s always a pleasure giving people an insight into the workshop. My partner, Tara Fisher, is a professional photographer and takes practically all of the images seen on our website and social media accounts. Together we have been very involved in the style and design of our image.
I think it is very important for me to be involved in both the production and the promotional sides of the business. I know during my grandmother’s era she made many trips to London to show her designs, meet retailers and generate orders. [During one visit, Hay-Edie visited Terence Conran, promising to design a unique Conran fabric. The fabric design for Conran became known as The Blazer Design.] I think especially with the handwoven cloths, it is important for people to understand the passion and craftsmanship that has gone into producing the fabrics. There is an added depth to the textiles that I feel people really appreciate. My grandmother would describe her tweeds as being alive.
Where do you start when considering upholstery options for something as iconic as the Robin Day 675 Chair?
MS: From the moment I heard about the project I knew that our handwoven ‘Mourne Check’ furnishing fabric would be perfect. When this chair was first manufactured by Hille, my grandmother and a small team of handweavers wove this same design on the same looms that we use today. My mother and I now run the workshop and we have endeavoured to remain as true to the original design as possible, having the yarns custom spun and the colours match dyed to original samples found in our archives.
Looking back through our press archives I found this quote from my grandmother: ‘I like to think that the materials sing out ‘Mrs Hay-Edie’ to anyone looking at them’. When I was 18 years old, before beginning my textiles degree I spent a summer learning how to hand-weave Mourne Check for a private commission. I had my grandmother keeping a careful eye on me making sure that I wove it correctly. For this reason I feel like I have an emotional attachment to this design. It makes me very happy to know that it will once again be used to cover the Robin Day 675 chair and that my grandmother’s fabric can live again on such a classic design. To me this fabric definitely sings out her name.
What makes Mourne Textiles unique?
MS: The workshop was set up by my grandmother in the early 1950s, combining elements from home industries and factory industries so that they effectively complemented each other. We use warping machines and bobbin winders powered by motors allowing speed and efficiency, and traditional wooden looms producing fabrics and rugs woven by hand. The weavers will feed the shuttles with bobbins and the action of hand weaving the finished cloth gives our fabrics an organic feel. The slight imperfections and at times irregular appearance, I feel, brings the textiles alive.
Currently, we have four full-time apprentice weavers. We are also very proud to have two of the original weavers who used to work for my grandmother in the 1960s and 1970s back at the workshop. It’s fantastic to have this crossover from the old to the new.
All the looms in our workshop are shuttle looms, giving the fabrics a woven selvedge. We use my grandmother’s designs from the 1950s, 60s and 70s which, although from the past, I feel still have a contemporary aesthetic today.
My mother and I delve into her archives, working out designs from her handwritten notes, custom spinning and dying yarns in keeping with her specifications. The tweeds and furnishing fabrics have been evolving, learning with each warp what works and what doesn’t, with some pleasant surprises along the way.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been adding looms to the workshop, picking up where my grandmother stopped in the mid-eighties. The most notable additions have been the Hattersley shuttle looms; these looms, some almost 100 years old, are powered by small motors, yet weave a tweed much like a handloom with a woven selvedge. The weaver still needs to wind bobbins and stand over the loom feeding the shuttles. They are capable of a slightly narrower width than the handlooms that makes them ideal for children’s blankets and scarves.
Our designs are mostly woven using a plain weave, with the fabric design happening through a combination of the different textural qualities found in the yarns.
What would you say is the best feature of the Mourne Check fabric?
MS: Personally, I love the simplicity of this check design. I feel that my grandmother managed to achieve a perfect balance between the yarns used to construct the cloth. We have sourced and commission spun the yarns, so as to keep this balance and stay true to her original design.
Our ‘Mourne Check’ furnishing fabric is handwoven using wool, cotton and linen – each yarn having a different weight, lustre, sheen and tension that, when woven together, creates a firm, hard wearing textured cloth.
We also chatted to Paul Newman of prestigious manufacturer Case, on the exclusive re-edition of the 675 Chair:
Tell us a little bit about Case and what you do.
PN: Case works with accomplished designers to create functional and attractive furniture. In working to a clear brief that incorporates an understanding of the market combined with good technical understanding of production, Case is able to marry all these elements to create great products that are good value. In relation to Robin Day, he designed several products for us late in his career and was keen for us to take over production of the 675 chair, which we did.
What should we consider when investing in furniture for our home?
PN: I think your question has the answer. If we are “investing” we need durability both in terms of structure and design. So good materials, good design.
What is your favourite detail of the Robin Day 675 Chair?
PN: I think it’s a combination of all the details that make it appealing. In 1952 the formed plywood back was advanced and many designers of that period such as Charles and Ray Eames were experimenting with it. Our version of the 675 is very true to the original, as over the years it had been altered – the feet are now as they were in the 1952 original. Modern manufacturing techniques have meant that we can hide the welds and also incorporate a moulded nylon foot which is much more durable than the felt original.
The Robin Day 675 Chair was originally designed in 1952. What makes a design withstand the test of time so well?
PN: It looks great, is very comfortable and the design is unique, so it both blends in and stands out.
Robin Day set out to create understated, functional forms in modern materials with a clearly formulated structure. Commercially successful and creatively definitive, his furniture not only appealed to interior enthusiasts but was also critically acclaimed by the Council of Industrial Design. Throughout the 1950s, Day developed an iconic collection of designs: from utilitarian stacking chairs and tables, to easy chairs and bed settees, to modular storage units and desks all with a signature angular aesthetic.
The iconic 675 chair, first designed by Robin Day in 1952, is one of the most recognised chairs of the 20th century, winning the acclaimed Design Guild Mark Award in 2015. Reverted to its more compact, original dimensions by the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation in collaboration with Case, the 675 chair was made famous by its curved molded plywood back and armrests. Day overcame the difficulty of forming a single moulded plywood chair with adjoining armrests by innovatively bending one piece to perform the two functions. From this, the inimitable, mid-century essence of the 675 chair was born, balancing sculptural beauty with superior comfort and support. With its modernist form and innovative structure, the Robin Day 675 chair is a design that has certainly stood the test of time.
The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation was founded in 2012, a charity which aims to promote knowledge and appreciation of the nation’s design heritage, encourage provision of public access to the design legacies of Robin and Lucienne Day, and provide opportunity for students of design to further their study, in the democratic spirit of the renowned design duo.
The Special Edition Robin Day 675 Chair is exclusively available at The Conran Shop, in-store and online, with a limited collection of just 50 of each colourway available. Shop the collection here.