This is the centenary year of Lucienne Day’s birth – one of the most influential textile designers in Britain in the last century. Her Calyx fabric designed for the Festival of Britain in 1951 made her name and introduced a fresh, modern and even democratic approach to interior textiles.
Taking her inspiration from nature, the colourful abstract Calyx, with its mushroom caps and stalks floating on a plain background, is like a modernist painting by the European greats Kandinsky or Miro.
The original colourway was zingy orange and yellow, black and white on an olive green background – what became regarded as a typical 1950s colour palette – but it was soon available in other options.
A pair of Calyx curtains became a common feature in homes throughout Britain – like an art piece bringing fun, colour and optimism to a glum post-war society, neatly fulfilling one of the aims of the Festival of Britain. She loved that sense of democratising design.
The “contemporary” room in which it featured in the festival was designed by Robin Day – her husband – a hugely important figure in post-war furniture design. Calyx was made by Heal’s Fabrics who paid her £20 for the design – somewhat reluctantly, it was paid in two tranches as they were not initially convinced it would be a commercial success.
Calyx quickly won a gold medal at the Milan Triennale and the international award of the American Institute of Decorators.
It was printed in bulk production and so was relatively affordable but Day, ever conscious that some people might still not be able to afford it, designed “Flotilla” the following year for the Ideal Homes exhibition.
It was printed on rayon instead of linen for “people who like Calyx but have smaller windows and purses”.
She continued developing her style long into her working life – she died age 93 – and her many designs appeared on everything for the home from ceramics to wallpapers.