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10 February 2022
Couple in private and personal life, Yael Mer & Shay Alkalay create functional projects with a refined and at the same time playful style
Playfulness and color are just the tip of the iceberg: Yael and Shay, founders of Raw Edges studio, bring with them a deep research on materials and the desire to lay them bare through the design skills they have nurtured in their studios. They met in Jerusalem and then moved to London where they graduated from the Royal College of Art and founded the studio in 2007. Established & Sons, Cappellini, Vitra and Gan are some of the companies they collaborate with and for which they have created collections in which playful aesthetics are combined with functional solutions and refined artisan details, in a perfect synthesis of their approach to the project.
Why did you choose to work together and what is it like to design as a couple?
In 2007 when we started working together under the name Raw-Edges, we were already a couple for a few years and never intended to work together… it all started to happen when we join a design team in China and realized that we share a similar vision and thought it could be interesting if we also join our creativity together… As soon as we got back to London we presented our first two projects during London Design Festival 2007, Stack and Volume. Stack has since been in production with Established & Sons, and Volume with Cappellini, both are in the MoMA permanent collection and in a way these two designs set our playful, experimental and yet commercial approach to design that follows with us since then.
What is the intention behind the name of your studio “Raw Edges”?
While we were working on that project in China before we set the studio together, both of us kept using the term ‘Raw-Edges’ to describe the way we wanted the material’s edges to be kept untreated. We felt that this sense of raw-ness can keep a certain freshness and that we want the material to stay true to itself and be exposed. We then felt that while we describe a physical feature we also express our view about design. For example, when we designed the Herringbone collection for Vitra, it was very important for us that the way the color layers are applied will celebrate the beauty of each material and the process; the colorful glaze on the ceramics objects behave differently than the dipped wooden trees inside the colorful dye. We always like to keep a certain freedom and space for surprise.
What are the values you pursue with your work?
Primarily, we try to introduce new ideas, new principles, something that would inspire our users and that will raise questions. Very often we are on a quest to keep a ‘child eye’, that first look that might make you stop and ask what is it? Or how it has been made? Or how is it working? It can even be one detail within a project that holds this wonder.
We use Stack in our studio, a chest of drawers designed for Established&Sons, whenever there is a new visitor to our studio there would be a moment of curiosity and often a need to try and move a drawer, the same for Engrain Collection that would often raise the question on how was it made.
Color and playfulness are recurring elements in your projects and in a certain sense also your hallmarks. Does this depend on a design method, personal taste or something else?
Playfulness is our instinct as humans to learn, kids are learning and understanding the world around them while they play. We as designers are investigating new possibilities and potentials while we play. There are many parallels to it in other professions, in science for example, you can call it lab experiments where you try out theories. The thing is that we don’t try to force a ‘playful’ look or feel to our designs, it is probably a genuine result of our approach and colors are part of it. Sometimes we feel we have a very big appetite for colors and these rich combinations make us happy. Even when most of the collection has toned down hues it is always important for us to combine it with striking colors, like the embroidery of the rugs Backstitch designed for Gan or Tape Tiles designed for Mutina.
With Gan it all started when we realized that there is a strong embroidery culture in the brand as they employ and support a group of women embroiderers in India. Mapi, Gan design director, told us that the more embroidery projects they have, the more work they can provide for the women in India. So we started to explore embroidery and fell in love with the back side of hand embroidery and we translated the ‘messy part’ and developed a whole collection and reminded us of the ‘backside’ of the embroidery. Vitra collaboration started following our exhibition ‘Herringbones’ in garage San Remo Cinque Viein 2016. We showed that by dipping wood in different layers of dye you can create beautiful patterns and invited the visitor to join us. We took this concept into the Vitrahaus loft where we set an interior of a creative family that does the same in their bathtub… so you could find many dipped items throughout the space, cushions, wooden decorations etc… After the presentation Vitra decided to allow people to buy it and added them to their collection including ceramic vessels that are made in the same way by dipping in glaze.
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