On the cover of the Financial Times’ often serious How to Spend It magazine, Jaime Hayon is dressed like a clown. His make-up and black and white triangle pom-pom hat are reminiscent of Pierrot.
“Designers take themselves too seriously,” he insists.
The image matches his work – Jaime’s designs often ask us to leave normalcy behind as we enter a world of his own. His sketchbooks come alive with half-moon faces, bird-headed men, floating body parts, and patterned animals. It’s this eccentricity and creativity that has made him one of the most popular and successful modern designers.
Plus, there’s something natural and fitting about this whimsical and colorful world he’s created. His designs embrace a childlike exuberance, it’s clear there is a certain imagination at work that most people have forgotten.
Jaime was born in Madrid in 1974, his mother owned a restaurant in the city and his father worked as a jeweler.
He describes his childhood as an idyllic combination of both parent’s interests, constantly surrounded by good food and jewels. He was obsessed with drawing and would scratch abstract doodles on everything he could reach, including walls and furniture. He admits to carving a face into his family’s dining room table (an act he has recently made up for by replacing the table with his own design).
As a teenager, he grew interested in skateboard culture and graffiti art, which created a foundation for his later interest in the bold, abstract, and colorful.
He studied industrial design in Madrid and Paris and joined Fabrica in 1997, the Benetton-funded design academy. He began to hone a definitive style in solo exhibitions and shows at galleries and art fairs around the world. In 2001, he founded Hayon Studio, and became known for his versatility in clientele, designing lighting fixtures for Parachilna, Metalarte and Swarovski, furniture and accessories for brands like Fritz Hansen, and &Tradition.
Jaime is among a new wave of designers who have moved away from furniture design as a means to solve problems in favor of storytelling and personal expression.
“I was educated to be a designer,” he says. “But inside I’m an artist.” With every design, Jaime searches for its soul or story, something that people will gravitate to in a natural and emotional way. Jaime considers the collaboration with Fritz Hansen to be a lot like a marriage— built upon mutual understanding, trust, with a dose of healthy opposition.
And it seems to be working. Fritz Hansen and Jaime now have eight furniture launches (not including accessories) and celebrated ten years of partnership this year.
Fritz Hansen has a long history of working with designers, but Jaime’s vivid and whimsical style was a stray from the more mainstream and mid-century icons like Arne Jacobsen. Jaime was initially hesitant when the design powerhouse approached him in 2009, the first to admit he wasn’t “the obvious guy” for the job.
And the design process, which Hayon calls “very Danish” wasn’t always easy. Fritz Hansen typically approaches designers with a pre-established concept or a bare-bones outline. After lengthy discussions, models and working prototypes, and countless revisions, the design moves to final production. The entire process typically takes 14 to 16 months, and the company’s five-person design team has a say in nearly every detail.
It took years of working together, but now Jaime will sometimes call Christian Andresen, head of design at Fritz Hansen, with ideas or send over unprompted sketches.
“It’s a bit like Apple,” says Jaime. “Fritz Hansen wants it to be one product and to be right— to be the version that will last for the next 100 years.”
The JH97 Lounge Chair, their most recent collaboration, was initially out of Jaime’s comfort zone. The design required putting a modern and Jaime-Hayon-esque twist on the traditional wood-framed chair. When Jaime hesitated at the idea of working with timber (a departure from his typical materials) it was Andresen’s responsibility to put the designer at ease.
“Part of the partnership is believing in the person too,” he says.
Initially, the chair’s prototypes weren’t as artful or as sculptural as Jaime liked. He admits to being a bit of a “freaky perfectionist” when it comes to objects and physical design. It took a year and a half to get right. The final design is inspired by the pelican, with long wings, elegant curves, and subtle strength. The frame is solid oak and hand-assembled, available in black ash and stained or natural oak.
In the end, for Jaime, it is all about creating a space to be yourself. He doesn’t care for any room that seems unlivable or where his feet could ever get cold.
“Good design should be problem-solving and long-lasting, this goes without saying. But I also make design for people, to be used by people. I believe that good design should provoke feelings. Design should make you feel comfortable. And design should generate happiness.”
Our favorite Jaime Hayon Designs:
Jaime created a collection of delicate white paper lantern pendants and table lamps for &Tradition. He took inspiration from Asian traditions, where paper lanterns were used by the privileged and the poor for centuries.
“For some cultures, they chase away the darkness by bringing hope,” says Jaime. “I’ve tried to keep this emotional angle about light … by making the bottom part of the lamp open, the idea is to bring even more illumination to people everywhere in the world.”
When Jaime initially approached Fritz Hansen with the idea for an upholstered lounge chair, he was met with confusion. “We already have the lounge chair,” said Andreson, referring to the brand’s iconic Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen.
But Jaime thought that what Fritz Hansen was missing was a more comfortable, affordable, and approachable upholstered option. Now the Ro is one of Jaime and Fritz Hansen’s bestselling collaborations.
Jaime’s Palette collection for &Tradition shows off his signature use of color and materials. Inspired by the kinetic sculptures of Alexander Calder, the Palette series plays with geometry. The table is made up of three distinctive shapes at different heights that come together to make a distinctive and unified design. Also available as a desk, lounge and coffee tables.
This warm and soft accessory features different shades on the front and back and aligns with Jaime’s focus on artistic self-expression. An infamous Jaime abstract doodle, yours to keep.