Star designer Stefan Diez on the allure of the unexpected, his longstanding collaboration with HAY and the shift towards a circular economy.

OLIVER HERWIG: What qualities do you attach to HAY?

STEFAN DIEZ: HAY is a modern furniture manufacturer who approaches proj- ects with tons of imagination, confidence and joy and is always ready to come up with some pretty crazy stuff. And that’s what appeals to us.

OH: 2012 marked the beginning of the cooperation with “New Order”, a shelving system made of powder-coated aluminum: functional and clean, designed as a system.

SD: With “New Order”, our idea was to create a modular kit that would provide structure to spaces. We designed it in such a way that anyone can assemble it themselves. It’s a good basic system that works both for the home and the office.

OH: How did this cooperation come to pass?

SD: Serendipity. Rolf Hay and I somehow got stranded in Singapore and met for a beer. That’s when he asked if I would be interested in designing a chair. That chair never actually materialized, but somewhere along the way we got “New Order” off the ground, and when Rolf laid eyes on some of our sketches, he immediately saw the potential: a low-key system that would move HAY closer to the realm of architecture.

With “New Order”, our idea was to create a modular kit that would provide structure to spaces. We designed it in such a way that anyone can assemble it themselves. It’s a good basic system that works both for the home and the office.

New Order shelving system: modular design for endless application variants.

OH: Rolf Hay once said that he loves the unexpected in art. How does that translate to design?

SD: The unexpected is just awesome. For me, surprises have a completely positive quality. A quality that I deliberately try to induce, or even provoke.

OH: Why is that?

SD: The element of surprise suc- cessfully captures the audience’s attention. Then, we can tell a story.

OH: So, in that sense, “New Order” had it all right from the start.

SD: It was a huge surprise, but also not an easy project. For HAY, “New Order” paved the way into the project business.

OH: Back to serendipity and disruption. Is that something that can be planned for furniture?

SD: The expected is fairly easy to identify. If you know where the expectations lie, you can provoke the unexpected. I mean, we are all constantly weighing the costs and benefits against each other: Should I take the subway or the bike? The question is always: Is it worth the hassle? And what do I get in return? That triggers fantasies. When we find something appealing, we literally go for it. It’s no different with furniture. So we have to offer something that entails a genuine surprise.

Preview of the BOA Table at the Orgatec trade fair 2022 in Cologne. The official launch date is
15 August 2023.


OH: And yet, classics have gained huge popularity over the past 20 years.

SD: It’s basically a matter of security. First and foremost, security in terms of taste, and second, security in terms of investment. You can’t go wrong with classics. What’s more, you can tell just by looking at them that they were made with a lot of love. Which can’t be said about all of today’s products.

OH: Do you have classics in your home?

SD: Not a single one. I mean, there are already so many of them out there.

OH: What about contemporary furniture?

SD: Personally, I don’t think the past 30 years in design were particularly glorious times. While there have always been some great products over the years, the greatest evolution is yet to come. Design is still too deeply affected by globalization due to outsourcing and production in cheap-labor countries.

OH: So, are there any revolutionary developments in furniture design? The sustainability turnaround, perhaps?

SD: Design has undeniably hit the point where it needs to reinvent itself. It takes a very special breed of companies to do that. And a paradigm shift, a loud call from the legislators to finally put recyclable products on the market. Everything else will disappear from the market at some point. In this respect, we can expect a giant leap forward in the design field. I think this might actually be the most exciting time right now.

OH: What should we expect to see?

SD: That products will last much longer. That they will get more expensive. And that we will no longer throw away the entire product, but only individual components, at the most.

OH: Does that inspire you?

SD: Absolutely. We have been designing products along these lines for at least ten years, and we are thrilled to see that it is now getting the appreciation it deserves. “New Order,” for example, is designed for the circular economy. You can recycle the furniture just like you would recycle an aluminum window. Recycling is a monumental challenge and will unleash a tremendous amount of creativity.

OH: Add to this the return policy for furniture.

SD: This will make local production regain traction, because bottom line, it’s probably cheaper to stop sending pieces back and forth. I’d rather have a network of craft workshops to implement my ideas. I send the blueprints and a fixture or some specific detail, and the rest gets made locally. For example, we are currently manufacturing tables for HAY. Those will also come without tabletops, because it might be more convenient to have those tabletops fabricated locally.

OH: You are talking about the BOA table, which will be available starting mid-August. What is it made from?

SD: Mostly post-consumer recycled aluminum. Consumer waste. Products that already had a life and are being returned into the cycle through recycling. Like a can.

OH: Why take all that trouble?

SD: Recycling aluminum requires only five percent of the energy needed for primary aluminum. Plus, it is recycled and extruded in Scandinavia by using hydropower. Hence, the carbon footprint is about seven times smaller than the global average and almost ten times smaller than primary aluminum produced in China. We are currently working on manufacturing “New Order” from recycled materials as well. BOA is virtually fully recyclable.

OH: Virtually – meaning what?

SD: Everything except for small connectors made of plastic reinforced with fiberglass. But they account for only a fraction of the weight.

OH: Talking about a genuine disruption!

SD: Exactly. There have always been periods of major shifts, genuine tectonic plate shifts. That’s exactly what’s happening right now. These moments are an excellent seedbed for creativity. While our generation gave birth to the digital revolution, the current generation will lead the way into the circular economy. And this transformation will outshine even the industrial revolution in terms of complexity.


New-Order-Kombination aus Schreibtisch, Regal und Trolley, daneben die Rope-Trick-Stehleuchte.


The interview with Stefan Diez first appeared in mcbw mag 2023.