With the only UK outpost of Danish design mecca, Hay, right here in Bath, we chat to co-founder Mette Hay about the brand, her inspirations and the products closest to her heart
We couldn’t believe our luck when Hay first opened its doors in a former bank on Milsom Street in 2014. The contemporary design and furniture company, globally renowned for its principle of great design at accessible prices, is home to everything from covetable kitchenalia, like the Italian ice-cream cup featured on our cover, to modern minimalist furniture. We’re most likely to be found in the stationery department, eyeing up colourful notebooks, pen pots and paper cubes, stroking Richard Woods’ tree trunk vases, or musing over which artist poster to add to our collection, but it’s safe to say we want everything. Hay’s design-led products are simple, practical, and surprisingly affordable if you start small. So what’s the secret formula for having it all? We pose a few questions to Mette Hay to find out. . .
How do you describe Hay to people?
Unpretentious, playful simplicity for everyday life. We try to create thoughtful products focused on everyday use.
Tell us a little about how the business came about.
I grew up in my parent’s design store and I always knew I wanted to work in that field and with products – I was always passionate about objects. So, after I finished school I went to work for the design company Gubi, where I met my husband Rolf. Not long after, Rolf met Troels [Holch Povlsen, the third partner behind the brand] and we started Hay in 2003.
And what did you first set out to do?
Hay was very inspired to create contemporary furniture for modern living using industrial manufacturing and the latest technology. We wanted to supply as many people as possible with design products. So, we focused on making high-quality products with the best designers in the world.
Which Hay products are particularly special to you? The About A Chair, the Pinocchio carpet and the Kaleido trays were some of the first extremely popular products and they are very special to me, but in general, all of them. I can have the same excitement for making a new pushpin as a toothbrush or a new piece of furniture – size doesn’t matter to me.
Who or what are your biggest influences and design inspirations?
I take inspiration from my everyday life and the places and people I visit and meet. I like looking at everyday objects and seeing how I can improve them or make them more fun.
What factors do you look for when working with new designers, and can you tell us about the process?
When we select designers to work with, it is a lot of instinct. There are many things in life I feel insecure about, but when it comes to choosing things for Hay, I feel extremely confident and I know 100 per cent what we want. It took us five years to define the DNA of Hay, and that was really tough, but now it’s not such a struggle.
We work with different products and designers in different ways; we might start with a brief or a designer might contact us with a product. We also have an in-house group of designers and together we develop and produce new products. A lot of the people in our design team have been with us for over eight years, but for us it is very important to work with both external designers and internal designers so we have a balance.
Talk us through the role of colour and material in your design process? No two products are the same in terms of colours and materials when we design for the Hay collection. I believe each object has its own set of colours; I couldn’t use the same colours for a new chair as I could for a toothbrush or a piece of porcelain, but they can all still live and look nice together.
How important is sustainability in your work?
We want our products to be sustainable, so our work focuses strongly on quality materials, and construction. Part of our philosophy from the establishment of Hay has been to offer products with exceptional quality for the right price. We believe it is crucial in the future to consume less and buy better quality so products last longer.
What was the draw of Bath?
As the first Hay store in the UK, Bath is really well placed and easily accessible for customers travelling from across the country. It is a very beautiful and relatively small city, which has enabled us to build a strong local customer base. Plus, we have a significant number of day visitors and international tourists each week, which gives us the opportunity to introduce the brand to a diverse range of new customers.
The building once housed a bank so there are original old vaults and safes in the basement and the classic Georgian details. We’ve been working on an extensive renovation project in the store over the course of the last 18 months to restore many of the building’s original features on the upper three floors, which is now very nearly complete.
Finally, do you have any advice for designers trying to get their work noticed?
Designers really need to not be afraid to do something different and head out in their own direction. The world is changing quickly and they need to be in tune with change and looking at what people need today.