The Hays on Affordable Home Design
We met with husband and wife Rolf and Mette Hay at their eponymous design store HAY House in the center of Copenhagen. Their company is producing some of the best work and collaborations in design today and we were curious to learn about their ethos and motivations. Young—Mette is 34 and Rolf is 45—they are chic in a laid-back manner and excited about the brand they started 11 years ago with the founder of Danish brand Bestseller, Troels Holch Povlsen. Rolf runs the furniture division while Mette heads up accessories—all in conversation with one another. Oh, and they’re really nice too. Below, a conversation with the couple.
How did you get started and what was the original vision for Hay?
Mette: We met when we were working together at Gubi… At the time, they represented Cappellini (along with many other brands) in Denmark and we both loved the products, but most of them were out of our reach – too expensive.
Rolf: There were a lot of people who, like us, could understand the design philosophy and universe of the very high-end design brands but could not afford them. And it’s not always the wealthiest people who have a strong feeling for design.
Mette: We wanted to produce design at affordable prices. That was really your [Rolf’s] dream.
Rolf: We are focused on high quality and on products with a strong design profile. Sometimes it’s a very good, innovative idea and sometimes it’s a slight tweak to a design that makes all the difference. These have been our main considerations from the beginning.
We opened a store in Antwerp recently and it was a fantastic night—packed with people. It’s a young crowd and one of the ideas we had originally was to supply our own generation with design products. Our furniture is not inexpensive. You can have a nice vacation for the price you pay for a sofa here. But if good design is a priority, it’s within reach.
As product designers do you find that you want your work put into use and not locked up in an impossibly expensive store or gallery?
Rolf: It’s interesting, the platform for contemporary design—if you go back in time—was the Bauhaus in Germany (where functionalism came from). The core philosophy was to take advantage of new technologies and make products accessible to as many people as possible.
In fact, some of Charles and Ray Eames’ furniture was made for a design competition at MoMA called Low Cost Furniture. Designers like the Eames, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Arne Jacobsen—they were really very concerned with supplying as many people as they could with their designs. Of course, it’s ironic that this furniture ended up being some of the most expensive in the world. It is not in line with their original idea.
We see such great design coming out of Nordic countries. Why are those great Bauhaus principles still alive here more than anywhere else?
Rolf: At the moment there is something in the air, basically in Denmark. When we started 11 years ago, the innovation in Danish design was very weak. The industry relied on the products from the 50’s and 60’s.
I remember Wallpaper did an issue on Danish design and I remember Tyler [Brûlé, the Editor-in-chief at the time] said that the interesting thing about Denmark is that every child on the street knows who Arne Jacobsen is. So this is something that is extremely unique to Denmark.
Mette: I also think you spend a lot of time making your house nice in Scandinavia. You don’t go out as much as people do in other countries. You invite people over instead of inviting them out.
We hear you have a hotel design on the horizon…
Rolf: How did you hear that?…
Yeah, it is a fantastic challenge. We were asked by a Danish hotel chain to do a hotel in the second biggest city in Denmark. It will be ready in July 2014. It’s everything from furniture to textiles to cushions…
When we accepted we were thrilled but it has been a big challenge because we’re not just supplying products, our name is on the hotel in a way. And it’s very much a collaboration between two companies. It’s very specific—down to what we need for the room.
A challenge has been to make the hotel cozy. Honestly, I’ve never been to a chic design hotel where I felt at home. I saw the new Ace Hotel in Shoreditch [London], it’s quite nice. It has something. It’s not easy to get this. For Scandinavian furniture it’s difficult to be cozy—like a razorblade, the simplicity can also be killing in a room. That’s also why textiles and carpets from Marrakesh and India have been so important to us.
You have done so many collaborations with some of today’s most talented designers, was this always part of the plan for HAY? Who are you currently excited to be working with?
Originally, the designs were ours and in collaboration with external designers—mostly Danish. We never had a plan to work exclusively with Scandinavian people but if we had called the Bouroullecs [Erwan and Ronan] 10 years ago and asked them to collaborate, they might have said no.
It’s a matter of how you grow and how you manage things. We have always wanted to work with designers all over the world, and now we are. We’re working with Stefan Diez from Germany, Big Game from Belgium, Lucien Gumy from Switzerland, Inga Sempé from France, Lex Pott from the Netherlands, Clara von Zweigbergk and Shane Schenck from Sweden and Doshi Levien from London, to name a few.
Mette: We are also still working with Scholten & Baijings. When I first saw their work, it was all made by Dutch suppliers and it was so expensive. So, about 4 years ago, I approached them to do something at a lower price. The first products were the bed linen, the tea towels and the two types of rugs we have with them.
I really love doing things with people who continue to surprise me. Sometimes, when I give Carole and Stefan [of Scholten & Baijings] a new approach and I have something in mind, they’ll bring it back tweaked just a little bit more than I expected. It’s so nice to be overwhelmed with something new.
I’m also working with All The Way to Paris, a graphic design agency with an office near us. They just designed a new series of patchwork quilts that we’re going to do with them. I love meeting with them and the chemistry is nice.
Rolf has also been working with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. We collaborated on a chair design for the University of Copenhagen with them and are pleased because it came out so well.
Rolf: We work with the Bouroullecs because they are extremely good at what they do. For us, we consider them to be the most important designers of our time. They are still young but perhaps in 10 or 15 years, they will be on a level with Ray & Charles Eames.
Don’t overestimate the importance of having a famous name attached to a product, though. If it’s a bad product, made by a famous designer, it will not sell. A lot of our customers just buy what they like.
It was and is very important to us that it’s not so much about who you are but about what you do.
Tell us about WRONG for HAY, how are the two brands different?
Mette: We met Sebastian Wrong and really liked him. He’s a nice person and has a great eye for finding designers. So we started talking about doing a series of lights, but our conversation led into a collection of a whole series of things.
Rolf: So now we have two brands. Some thought we’d do a high-end collection together because of all the incredible work he’s done with Established & Sons. It’s not that, because what Sebastian finds so interesting about us is our values – making design accessible.
Mette: Personally, I think there are products that could have been HAY products and there are products that could not have been HAY.
Do you see yourselves as curators?
Rolf: Yeah…that’s nice.