The Hays Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj and Hay
The Hays Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj and Hay


Having a HAYday

He’s passionate about furniture and construction. She loves small and beautiful design objects. Together, they have founded HAY, the Danish furniture and design company taking the world by storm.

All eyes are on HAY these days. Last year, the design company crossed the Atlantic to set up shop in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) store and in April this year, they had one of the most talked-about exhibitions at the Milan furniture fair.

The news of HAY’s upcoming collection for IKEA nearly broke the internet, with the photo of Mette Hay’s version of the classic Frakta carrier bag being retweeted at the speed of light. The collection, which will be launched in 2017, includes everything from small household accessories to furniture.

“IKEA was totally transparent from the first minute,” says Rolf Hay. “We were invited to see the factories and there were no secrets at all.”

Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj and Hay

This openness created a strong platform for collaboration, something the duo sees as important. “You end up with a poor result if you think you can do everything yourself. The opportunity to work with people from different cultures can only provide value on both sides,” says Rolf, as he takes a sip of coffee from a HAY Paper Porcelain mug. The set is made by Scholten & Baijings, one of many design companies HAY has worked with in recent years. They have also collaborated with fashion brand COS.

After meeting at the Danish design company Gubi, Rolf and Mette Hay founded their own company in 2002, along with Troels Holch Povlsen. Mette had long been interested in design having worked at her parents’ furniture store after school and joining them at fairs. Rolf, however, didn’t have design on the radar at all growing up.

“When I started, I didn’t even know who Arne Jacobsen was. I had never heard of him,” he says.

In the 1990s, Rolf got a job representing Danish furniture brands in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Despite being a total newcomer to the industry, in just a few weeks, it was clear that furniture was going to be his lifelong passion.

“It was always like that with me. When I was young and played handball, that was the only thing, and now, since 1993, furniture has been the one thing in my life,” he says.

He worked in Germany for four years and took every opportunity to travel and soak up new knowledge Mette Hay was 23 when HAY was founded. Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj and Haywhile starting to dream of creating his own furniture company. Mette, ten years younger than Rolf, was only 23 when they started HAY, which was founded on the common love of the same design language that they both shared.

“We were both very much inspired by the Italian company Cappellini and the way Giorgio Cappellini curated the collections: the colors, materials and way they picked out really young designers,” Mette says.

But, she adds, while it was clear that a young and design conscious crowd loved these styles, few could afford them. The HAY vision was therefore clear from the start – to work with the best designers in the world and create affordable products of good quality.

HAY launched its first furniture collection within a year and it now has stores around the world. These include the flagship store in Copenhagen and others in Berlin, Amsterdam, Shanghai and Sydney. The company has also worked with global designers such as Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Jakob Wagner and Iskos-Berlin.

HAY continues to command international attention. In April this year, Rolf and Mette realized a long-held dream of unveiling the company’s latest furniture and homeware collection at the huge La Pelota event space in Milan. More people showed up on the first day than they had expected for the entire week. And they kept coming back.

“It was so nice to meet someone and then see them back again three hours later shopping at the mini market or having a coffee outside,” Mette says.

The HAY Mini Market, an in-store concept featuring accessories such as textiles, stationery and glassware, was launched two years ago. It is now available at the MOMA stores in New York, Selfridges in London and at HAY House at Strøget in Copenhagen.

Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj and Hay

Small objects truly make Mette’s heart skip a beat. She says that HAY’s signature mix of furniture and accessories is inspired by her parents’ shop.

“There is definitely more respect for smaller things today compared to 12 years ago,” she says. “It is not every week that we have a new sofa or chair, or that a customer needs it again. But we feel that people enjoy coming back for our smaller objects, because there is always something new.”

Different aspects of design take up almost every inch of Mette and Rolf’s daily lives. Luckily, they enjoy it a lot. “I love going to flea markets to find things and get inspired and I would go to the same places whether I work with HAY or not. It is my hobby to look at things,” she says.

Rolf is more interested in how things are made, which is also why he very much enjoyed working on the IKEA project in which he learned more about the supply chain and production.

He shows us a cabinet with a folding door. The construction is inspired by the way airplane bathrooms open and he admits that there is a nice ring to saying he came up with the idea in the air. Uninterrupted time to think is just one of many perks of traveling for work.

“It takes us away from the daily business and creates a platform where you can get inspired,” he says. “Today, we’re in the position that if we get a good idea, we can do something and that is a big privilege.”

Mette agrees. “I love traveling so much and I feel lucky to meet local people and see new things. I’d rather go on a business trip to India than to go only for a holiday. If I can combine the two, that’s perfect,” she says, adding that a global network is also a gift for their kids, who are age 7 and 12, if they want to go abroad in the future. “It is so fortunate that Rolf and I know people almost everywhere in the world today.”


Text: Ellinor Thunberg 

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