Q&A – Mette Hay

HAY co-founder and creative director, Mette Hay answers questions about the difference between art and design, and her personal relationship to art.

HAY co-founder and creative director, Mette Hay

Photo by Tine Bek

Your design company is run on the principles that everything we make draws from three primary sources of inspiration: Art, architecture, and fashion. What is the difference, for you, between art and design?

For me, art doesn’t always have a direct purpose while our designs are always created out of a need or demand.

Can good design be useless and good art be useful?

This is a very good question. My answer is yes, it can. Just as much as good design can be useful and good art can be useless.

How do your briefs and expectations differ when you collaborate with an artist rather than a designer?

When we work with an industrial designer, for example, the design process tends to be slightly more open in the sense that we can influence details such as size, the choice of materials and color, or shape, more easily. A piece of art would most often feel more definite. That being said, any designer’s and artist’s approach to their work is highly individual and so are their approaches to collaborating with us. During the past 20 years, we have been lucky to have had very close relationships with many different designers, the creative process being of a highly collaborative and reciprocal character. There’s no blueprint procedure, though, so I cannot tell you in advance in which cases I would feel the need to make adjustments and in which ones I’d consider as more or less definite. That’s the beauty of it, too.

Just as much as good design can be useful and good art can be useless.

Mette Hay

How do you feel about owning art? Do you see yourself as an art collector?

Both my husband and I like to surround ourselves with beautiful things in our home, including art. I don’t see myself as an art collector, though – when I think of an art collector, I think of someone who purchases art more strategically, which is something I definitely don’t do.

Does the art you own need to harmonise at home in the way a design object would? Or can it be awkward, outspoken, difficult, oppositional?

In my work at HAY, I always approach each project individually, without thinking of its compatibility with our existing collection as such. Even though our products often do match within the bigger HAY universe, it’s not intentional to an extent where it is something we factor in during the creation process. It’s similar in our home: We would always select a piece, be it design or art, individually. At the same time there is probably a subconscious read thread regardless, as all pieces have one thing in common, and that is that they are chosen by Rolf [Mette's husband] and I.

Does art at home serve a different purpose to art in a public context, in a museum, or a gallery?

Another good and complex question. I can only speak for myself here obviously, but I definitely perceive different purposes of art depending on its context. Public spaces often offer a completely different scope and scale than most homes, and I like that art can unfold differently there. For example, an art installation is temporary, and it has different elements in it than any other type of art you could have at home, so it would serve a different purpose by nature, offering something that can’t be transferred to the home. Another thing is that sometimes, art in public spaces would intentionally invoke strong feelings – most people probably wouldn’t want to install these feelings in their homes permanently. So yes, I think the purpose of art is influenced by the context it is linked to.

About Mette Hjort Hay

Born in 1978 in Herning, Denmark, Mette Hay co-founded HAY with her husband Rolf Hay and their partner Troels Holch Povlsen, in 2002.

Mette grew up immersed in the design industry, as her parents ran one of Denmark’s first contemporary design stores, and she was only 23 when HAY was founded. Today, as Creative Director of HAY Accessories, she works alongside her internal team of designers and product developers to collaborate with international designers including Clara Von Zweigbergk, Shane Schneck, Inga Sempe, Bertjan Pott, Big-Game, and Scholten and Baijings, among many others.

Mette has a highly concept-driven process, developing a complete vision for each product and an infrastructure for her collections. At Milan Design Week 2014, she launched the HAY Mini Market, a supermarket-inspired, in-store experience featuring small HAY objects and other merchandise hand-picked from around the world. A pop-up café she conceived with Copenhagen chef Frederik Bille Brahe at Milan 2016 led to an ongoing collaboration, and in 2017, they debuted their HAY Kitchen Market at the MoMA Design Store in New York.

Driven by a passion for everyday objects, Mette is continuously pushing HAY Accessories in new directions. She has integrated items as diverse as toothbrushes, tea towels, desk accessories, and throw blankets into the collection, and has collaborated with Cos, IKEA, Sonos, and others. Her vision remains one-half of the force that shapes the company, working in partnership with Rolf’s.