Raw Edges, colour and energy. The words of Shay Alkalay and Yael Mer

Raw edges, portrait, mark cocksedge, salone milano

Raw Edges portrait, photo Mark Cocksedge

Experimentation and sustainability take on all the colours of the rainbow, playful and joyful, in Raw Edges’ work, every single project is approached with the spirit and through the eyes of a child

Shay Alkalay and Yael Mer are the two different yet complementary leading lights of the Raw-Edges design studio. They are Israeli, their practice is London-based, and their professional life has taken them to Tel-Aviv, Milan, Jerusalem, Xiamen, Stuttgart and then London. A cultural melting pot that has informed innovative, playful design, as functional as it is fun. They design installations, furnishings, ceramics and textiles, always with the accent on colour, emotion, wonder and movement and they manipulate the matter and the materials in such a way as to achieve original and often unexpected results,  which frequently surprise them too.

This approach has brought their partnership international visibility since their time at the Royal College of Art, and seen them work with brands such as Moroso, Cappellini, Kvadrat, Mutina, Lema, Alpi, Golran, Caesarstone, Gan, Swarovski and Established and Sons, not to mention Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney, Fendi and Airbnb. What hit them hardest during the two-years or so of the pandemic and the restrictions was not being able to come to Italy, meet clients, go to fairs or spend time with producers and companies. While the term “sustainability” is on everyone’s lips, Shay and Yael have always put the onus on the longevity and quality of their projects, an ethical approach that they continue to uphold in their everyday lives. They talked to us about working together, their creative processes and visions, about happiness and about the future.

How much of both your upbringings and your studies and your sets of interests before you came together do you think informs the dynamic of how you work together as two creative people? Is that a big part of what makes you successful as a design duo?

Working as a duo is a collaboration by default which means that two different individuals with two different packs of skills and characters come together. Yael is fascinated by patterns and mathematical three-dimensional shapes, turning flat materials into volumetric forms, and even as a child would go around the house with a pair of scissors, cutting everything including the curtains. Shay on the other hand spent most of his childhood building things, playing with mechanisms, exploring materials and methods... forty years later... nothing has changed much, to be honest... Yael still likes folding paper; Shay still loves moving things.

So, what brings us together? Probably the same curiosity and desire to change, to invent and to respond, the energy and the excitements involved in thinking and developing something new. The core of our common interest is to come up with new principles, possibilities that later, maybe, will be turned into products. We are both from around Tel-Aviv, probably growing up with the common Israeli characteristic of improvising and creating solutions out of nothing ... We love that part of our culture, and this is probably why there are so many inventive start-up companies emerging from such small countries nowadays.

raw edges, cosmic table, process, salone milano

Louis Vuitton Cosmic table, process, photo Raw Edges

I'm curious to know about the creative process with you two. You now have a studio, there is a small team that you work with. What happens when a client approaches you? Do you both start off drawing or talking on your own, and then come together? Is the studio involved in that from the very beginning - and is it different with every project?

Both of us come up with ideas during the process, it is very rare for us to know at the early stages of the process what we would like to end up with. We develop a system in which we are the only two people involved at the beginning of the project, and when the direction is clear enough and we select a way forward with the client then we pass it down for further assistance. It helps us to be clearer about what we want to achieve in the project. 

When we start a project, we often talk, everyone shares its first spark, response, reaction. There is something very important at the starting point when things are still fresh and have infinite potential. We then embark on research, drawings, little models, and a discussion ensues. We then think about which of our ideas would fit best with this or that particular client or situation. 


Has there ever been a situation where you haven't been able to resolve a disagreement in a work setting? Or does it always end up with something that you're both happy with? Is that how you decide to go ahead with a design?

Is there a situation in life that everyone is always happy with? Is there a work dynamic with clients that is always absolutely smooth? The obvious answer is, sadly, no ... but the fact that we are two creative people working together allows us to challenge each other, to debate, to discuss, to raise questions and to expand and hone our ideas. Bear in mind that we are from a Mediterranean country... so when disagreements do occur, everyone around here knows!

ALPI Wavy Fir, design Raw Edges, salone milano

ALPI Wavy Fir, design Raw Edges, ph. Federico Cedrone

Sustainability is on everyone’s lips. It’s a must for the future. How do you try to create a more circular practice?

Our goal is for whatever we create to stay with its owner for a long time. We aim for the longevity and quality of our designs, in terms of function and aesthetics. This is also how we try to behave; if we buy something we feel that there is a commitment and obligation, in a nice way. We make sure that we truly want this object to enter our lives, and if it does find its way to our home or studio we hope it will bring us joy and we are committed to keeping it.

We have the Stack chest of drawers for Establish & Sons both in the studio and at home; it was designed just after we set up our studio in 2007, and even though 15 years have passed it fits into its surroundings and fulfils its purpose.


A reasonable question, and the answer is important: can colours and forms help us feel good?

Of course! While I'm (Yael) writing this answer, Shay is here next to me laying dark recycled cork boards on the wall of our studio, it is dark brown, and next to it there are terracotta vase prototypes with some green plants. The combination of the colours, materials, and textures is very soothing, the materials have a certain depth that genuinely makes us happy.

This is how we always try to work on our projects, where the source and the spark of a project is the outcome of the chemistry between different materials and different colours. When we worked on Happy Places, the Loft installation at the VitraHaus, that was our main aim - to create this uplifting domestic scenery. Also, on much smaller scale designs, we are trying to create tactile and rich combinations; Dolls’ chairs for Louis Vuitton, Backstitch rugs for Gan, and Tape tiles for Mutina are just a few examples.

raw edges, cosmic table, process, salone milano

Louis Vuitton Cosmic table, process, photo Raw Edges

Can you tell us something about your vision and design philosophy?

Primarily, we try to introduce new ideas, new principles, something that will inspire our users and that will prompt questions. Very often we try to look at things through the eyes of a child - that first impression that might make you stop and ask what it is. Or how it was made. Or how it works. It can be one single detail within a project that holds this wonder. In our studio, we use Stack, a chest of drawers designed for Established and Sons - whenever there is a new visitor to our studio there’s a moment of curiosity and an attempt to try and move a drawer, the same goes for the Engrain Collection, which often raises the question of how it was made.

Playfulness is a human learning instinct, kids learn and understand the world around them while they play. We as designers are investigating new possibilities and potentials while we play. There are many parallels in other professions, in science for example, you can try out theories and call them “lab experiments.” The thing is that we don't try to force a “playful” look or feel into our designs, it is probably a genuine result of our approach, and colours are part of it. Sometimes we feel we have a very big appetite for colours and these bold 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 colours.


What’s next – can you share some of your goals and some of your current projects with us?

So, on this cork wall that Shay just laid, he attached photos of our upcoming projects; projects that are already well developed, and projects that have only just been conceived... It is very exciting to look at all of this on one wall, the result of around two years’ work... many of our projects have been ready for some time... just waiting to be launched, all delayed due to the pandemic. Some of the projects are with old collaborators and some with new ones, the problem is that because of the nature of these future projects, we cannot share too much, unfortunately.

But given that we couldn’t develop any installations due to the pandemic, we were 100% focused on new products. The projects include a very intricate limited collection for a gallery that we hope to launch later this year, an evolution of the Engrain project we developed some years ago, some very interesting seating elements for working on the go (airports, libraries etc), also a new modular sofa for a new on-line start-up company, and other chairs for different companies as well as a new configuration of light, amongst other new designs... 

ALPI Wavy Fir, design Raw Edges, salone milano

ALPI Wavy Fir, design Raw Edges, ph. Federico Cedrone

raw edges, cosmic table, louis vuitton, salone milano

Louis Vuitton Cosmic table, design Raw Edges, ph. Lacombe

ALPI Wavy Fir, design Raw Edges, salone milano

ALPI Wavy Fir, design Raw Edges, ph. Thomas Pagani

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6 September 2022