HAY: Contemporary Mid-Century Design

As Salone del Mobile 2016 draws to a close, Rolf and Mette Hay reflect on the success of their eponymous brand and how they deal with the heritage of Danish design

At this year’s Salone, HAY transformed a vast former sports hall into ten individually designed rooms
At this year’s Salone, HAY transformed a vast former sports hall into ten individually designed rooms

HAY, the Danish design brand founded in 2002 by the husband and wife team Rolf and Mette Hay, has grown rapidly since they presented their first collection at the International Furniture Fair in Cologne. With the launch of the now well-established HAY Mini Market accessories line in 2005, and, more recently, establishing a co-brand, Wrong for HAY, HAY has expanded to produce a wide range of high-end furniture, textiles and smaller items, sold through over 30 stores around the world.

Working with some of the most respected names in product design, such as the French brothers Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, HAY’s success can be partly attributed to its ability to translate the enduring popularity of Danish design – a clean, minimal and functional aesthetic – into the 21st century. Although Rolf and Mette do not constrain themselves to producing recognisably Danish objects, their approach has done much to reverse the dependence of the Scandinavian design industry on reissuing classic products from the heyday of the 1950s and 60s.

As is clear from the brand’s exhibition at the Salone de Mobile in Milan this year – housed in La Pelota, a spacious former sports arena that HAY has divided into rooms – their collections are not restricted to a particular Danish vernacular of design but attempt to reimagine Danish design in an international context. Here, on the last day of the Salone, Rolf and Mette reflect on how their brand has evolved over the past 14 years, the influence Danish design has played in their work and how they maintain the same approach despite producing such a wide range of products.

How has HAY evolved since you began in 2002? 

Rolf: HAY has certainly grown considerably since we started and the idea of evolving is important to us; it is not our intention to have the same style in 10 years. We are very fortunate to work with many great and talented designers, like Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec and Stefan Diez, that are just as aware of the needs and wants of our times as we are.

Our world is constantly changing and with that our habits and lifestyles, as well as the design we choose to fit those needs. We continue to strive towards making products that are straightforward and functional with some of the world’s most talented designers.

HAY Milan 2016 13

How do you choose the designers you work with?

Rolf: There is not one specific way we choose to work with a designer but often we like to work with people we have a strong connection with, or those we admire. But more importantly for us, we have always focused on making a great products. We are not interested in where designers come from, we are interested in what they create.

How much does the heritage of Danish design inform your work? 

Rolf: HAY is Danish because we are based in Denmark and it is what we both grew up with, but we work with designers from all over the world. We believe we create universal design that is not specific to a country. We truly believe design is a global language.


What is exciting you most about your new collection?

Rolf: There are so many different things happening right now and we are extremely proud of all the products we have launched in Milan this year. The new CAN Sofa by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec has been a great project to work on, though. At the moment, HAY is in a great place to move forward into new markets and continue to make strong products that can last a long time.

What is the idea behind the HAY Mini Market?

Mette: The idea was inspired by the small markets you find in India, Turkey, Thailand and China… places where you can buy everything from toothpaste to kitchenware and chewing gum. I’ve always had a dream to create my own market, filled with all products I would want to buy.


You produce and sell such a wide variety of objects. Is there a guiding principle that runs through everything? 

Mette: We are extremely fortunate to be able to offer everything from sofas to toothbrushes. The creation of the HAY Mini Market has allowed for us to offer all sorts of smaller items that make up a home, and having the right place to sell the items is equally important. But, when it comes to design, we have the same approach to producing a toothbrush as we do for a sofa or a chair.