For The Couple Behind Danish Powerhouse HAY, Marriage Is an Act of Design

The Rolf and Mette Hay are keeping up a long tradition of successful partnerships that cross the boundary between professional and personal.

Mette and Rolf Hay/Photo Osma Harvilahti courtesy HAY

Charles and Ray. Jeanne-Claude and Christo. Yves and Pierre. Design, art, and fashion all have their share of collaborations that just so happened to also be roman tic partnerships. Certainly that’s been the case for Mette and Rolf Hay, the married cofounders and creative forces behind their eponymous brand.

When Rolf, a journeyman designer, and Mette, who essentially grew up in her parents’ design store, met while working at a Danish company that represented Cappellini in 2000, collaboration quickly turned into companionship. By the time Rolf and billionaire entrepreneur Troels Holch Povlsen decided to launch HAY two years later, the Hays had become a package deal.

“I think the timing of our meeting was very opportune,” Rolf says. “From the onset of our relationship we both agreed that we wanted to do contemporary furniture and accessories in an affordable context.”

It was shared desire borne out of a clear market need and personal experience. “At the time, Scandinavian design was very centered around the ‘50s and ‘60s, which, while interesting, was just too expensive for my generation,” Rolf says. Moreover, there simply wasn’t a mid-priced outlet for the rising European stars, even though general knowledge of their higher-end works was growing wider and deeper thanks to a new internet- fueled groundswell. “If we could attract talented designers and produce high-quality products geared towards modern living at an accessible price point,” Rolf says, “now was our chance. We had to get clever to meet this challenge, and that challenge remains our motivation today.”

Rolf Hay and HAY contributor Stefan Diaz/Photo Courtesy HAY

After a self-directed crash course in the Danish modernist masters—Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen—the duo headed to the 2003 IMM Cologne with a collection that held up their homeland’s ideals of simplicity, functionality, and respect for materiality without being a sentimental midmod retread—an earned first success for a brand with lofty ambitions.

What followed was a steady, well-considered retail surge—ecommerce and brick-and-mortar both—paired with rewarding partnerships with established names like Inga Sempé, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, BIG-GAME, Stefan Diez, and many more. “We like to work with designers who we admire,” Rolf says. “People who share our values, other wise it’s nearly impossible to create a product that fits into the ethos of the HAY collection. It’s fantastic that everywhere we travel in the world, we have a network to say hello to.”

That network has yielded strong results from the Bouroullec’s simple, smart Palissade line of outdoor, bent steel benches and chairs to GamFratesi’s sharp but inviting Silhouette sofa to Clara von Zweigbergk’s charming, popular line of simple polygonal trays. It’s a diverse range that, under the direction of the Hays, still manages to retain the brand’s DNA.

But it was far more than creating these considered partnerships or maintaining attractive price points that has helped HAY extend its reach across the globe (the brand now has 29 stores from Shanghai to Costa Mesa). As much as Rolf has broken ground through his work on the furniture and lighting sides of the business, it was Mette’s home wares approach that has made the brand a full lifestyle proposition.

HAY collaborators Elric Petit, Augustin Scott de Martinville, and Grégoire Jeanmonod of BIG-GAME with Mette Hay/Photo courtesy HAY

“We both bring a different skill set and creative approach to the table, and that bene fits the growth and capabilities of HAY,” Rolf Says. “I envision my work through the lens of architecture and art, while Mette favors fashion and art.”

It’s a division of duties that has allowed the brand to offer an aspirational, 360-degree approach to living at a lower-priced entry point that many competitors in the space do not. Not only did Mette conceive a line of accessories crafted out of leftover textiles from furniture production introduced 2005, but her development of the HAY Mini Market popup allowed them to reach customers at different price points and through different means, converting new crops of devotees.

“I feel inspired by her daily,” says Rolf of the woman with whom he shares a business, a life, and two children. “We bounce creative ideas off of one another and encourage each other to take risks—even when the work day has ended. Our successes come from the distinction of our respective roles.” He continues, “We’re both creatives by nature and that propels our relationship. We are always continuing to learn. We love to learn from our designers, our partners, and one another.”

Citing a great design and domestic partnership of yore, Rolf adds, “I love the quote by Charles Eames: ‘Any time one or more things are consciously put together in a way that they can accomplish something better than they could have accomplished individually, this is an act of design.’” Certainly, the young Hays have already accomplished quite a lot, hand in hand.

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