While I was in Copenhagen for new design show Northmodern, I finally made it to Danish design Mecca, Hay House – and even had the privilege of talking to co-founder Mette Hay while I was there.
Just 24 when she co-founded Hay with husband Rolf, and with two young children at home, Mette now looks after all the brand’s accessories arm and takes control of styling their increasing number of stores and pop-up shops across the globe.
We talked about how she selects designers to work with. “It’s just gut instinct,” she said. “There are many things in life I feel insecure about, but when it comes to selecting things for Hay, I feel extremely confident. I know a hundred percent what I want. It took Rolf and me five years to define the DNA of Hay, and that was really tough, but having done that, today it’s not such a struggle. It comes really really naturally.”
As well as their permanent stores, Hay has had a number of pop-up ‘Mini Markets’, the first during Milan Design Week last year, and the second in London’s Selfridges. “I think sometimes designers are sitting on a nice little idea, but feel they cannot show it to a manufacturer because it’s just something small,” Mette told me. “I hope the Mini Markets will make people come to us with a brilliant little idea, because our customers love small ideas. I love products with a function, or with a clever little twist.”
Hay works with both established and new designers, but are perhaps most well-known for bringing the likes of Scholten & Baijings to the attention of the mainstream. Mette told me about how that particular relationship began: “I can’t remember where I first saw their work, but I do remember being on a holiday and swimming in the pool when Rolf said to me ‘Stop talking about them – I will call them!’ He called there and then from the poolside. Carole and Stefan came to see us and we had a very good chemistry. We asked them to propose 10 products and two and half months later, we started work on five of them.”
Hay’s investment in new designers extends to a competition launched in Denmark last year for which they received over 700 applications. 40 were eventually invited to show their work as part of an exhibition that included little wooden houses for them to stay in to help them build the sort of network that Mette and Rolf have taken years to build and now rely on. “It’s fantastic that everywhere Rolf and I go in the world, we have someone to call to say, ‘Hi I’m in town,’ and young graduates need that too.”
Over the decade of hard work it’s taken to establish such a well loved brand, her enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled. “In the office, we love it when new prototypes come in,” she said. “It’s like Christmas Eve. Rolf and I often say that if this feeling goes away, we should do something else, because that energy is so important.”
Ultimate for Mette, it’s all about relationships. She said, “We are extremely proud to be able to work with so many wonderful people. I’m proud of the designers we work with and I really love and appreciate meeting the people behind the product. That’s really special.”