How we work and learn

According to legend, the following scene took place in the 1920s or ’30s in Copenhagen. Two design pioneers meet each other in a small café. At one point Alvar, the more sociable of the two, tries to break the ice and starts a conversation by asking: ‘And Kaare, what are you doing nowadays?’ ‘Hmm,’ Kaare shrugs, ‘I’m designing a chair.’ Some three years later, Kaare and Alvar cross paths again in the same place in Copenhagen. Curiously, Aalto asks: ‘Kaare, what are you doing now?’ Kaare resolutely answers: ‘I already told you!’

[Laughs] In lectures and also in talks with my staff I often revive this small anecdote about a meeting between Kaare Klint, grandfather of Danish design, and his Finnish colleague Alvar Aalto. What I’m trying to illustrate is the lack of process, or rather, how crafts dominated the creation of furniture from the early days of Klint, in the beginning of the 20th century, up until the era of Hans Wegner somewhere in the mid-1950s.


Industrial design in Denmark really started with Jacobson, but the main focus in Danish design – in the art schools, in magazines – always underlined the craft connection. Of course Danish design is a brand on its own, and in theory that might prove helpful. But in reality, when I started the company some 20 years ago, this image really limited us. And look at it even today: on websites like 1stdibs or in the books and catalogues on Danish vintage or design history, you’ll quickly notice that the traditional perception relates to crafts – wood, natural materials and subdued colours. So we had to communicate like crazy to overcome the typecasting. On the other hand, this helped to invent and formulate a fresh brand identity. Today, Hay is perceived by the general public and consumers less as a typical Danish brand and more as a contemporary international collection of quality furniture for the home and office. We try to amplify that position, not because we have to, but because we want to uphold a broad perspective. We develop mostly through working with interesting, contemporary designers like Stefan Diez and Scholten & Baijings. In my experience the company actually benefits a lot from cooperating with creative people, each and every one adding new ideas, new processes, techniques or cultural insights. 


Early this year in Cologne, for his overview ‘Full House’ at the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst, we celebrated our close relationship with Stefan Diez by adapting our New Order Workspace elements to build a presentation environment that meets the specific requirements of an exhibition system: climate, lighting, different modular sizes and heights. We invested real money in that, but it’s an exemplary case of cooperation and exploring new possibilities and inroads. That’s how we work and learn at Hay. At this Salone we launched a special project with Ahrend, a large player in the Dutch market for project furniture that has been one of our partners for many years. It so happens that I personally am a fan of post-war Dutch designer Friso Kramer and have collected some of his Result chairs around our dinner table at home. One time, after a meeting with Ahrend CEO Eugène Sterken, we started talking about this somehow, nothing serious at that stage. Then I teased Eugène by remarking: ‘The only thing wrong with that chair is that it’s not a Hay chair! [Laughs] This notion somehow appealed to Eugène, and he said: ‘Okay, let’s discuss and explore this idea in a next meeting.’ Eventually, we became a bit more serious. And then I also visited Friso Kramer to see how he felt about a project that would include Result in the Hay collection.


Kramer was born in 1922, but still has a very bright mind. I was relieved that he consented. It’s a type of cooperation that really fits his ideas and principles, you know. Both Kramer and his colleague Wim Rietveld at Ahrend were firmly rooted in post-war functionalism. Practice was driven by a belief in the industry and the notion that design could help to improve the wellbeing of many people through the production of good furniture in large amounts at a reasonable price. It sounds almost utopian. The Result was meant to be a highly democratic model. And it was. Many Dutch people remember the chair from their schooldays, sports canteens and homes. It was a classic for generations when in the 1990s a re-edition, with an update of the plastic seat and colours, made it a popular chair once again. So I feel proud to say we have acquired the rights and Hay, together with Ahrend, will start selling and distributing this great icon all over the world. Somehow it’s a victory of crafts. Not of the woodcarving type, in which Kaare Klint excelled, but the art of modelling, tooling and machine-driven ingenuity.

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