A Conversation With: LALAYA Design
Toronto-based LALAYA Design was founded, somewhat unexpectedly, in 2017 by Hanae Baruchel, who turned to furniture design following a brain injury. Her design practice plays with the surprising malleability and versatility of concrete and steel to procure a minimalistic line of home furniture and décor items.
The studio takes its name after the Brazilian word, la-la-ia (pronounced ‘lah-lah-YAH’), a common musical phrase that embodies what singing sounds like. Baruchel utilizes inspiration in music to inform her practice; stressing lightness and harmony. Accordingly, the interplay between heavy and light, a penchant for asymmetry and the unexpected, are signature elements in LALAYA collections. Each LALAYA design is assigned an onomatopoeic name to tease out the playful attributes inherent within the piece.
LALAYA Design won the prestigious Best of Launch Pad award for its lighting collection at Wanted Design 2018 and its products have been sold in Canada, France, Spain, the U.S., the Netherlands, and India. The studio’s work has been featured in Design Milk, FASHION Magazine, AZURE Magazine, and Designlines Magazine. We sat down with creative director Hanae Baruchel to talk about the inspiration behind LALAYA, her affinity for concrete, and her design process.
How did LALAYA start, and what was the inspiration behind it?
The launch of LALAYA Design is intricately intertwined with my own story of recovering from a brain injury from 2014 to 2017. Following a bike accident, I got a concussion that took 3 years to heal and prevented me from holding a job, being social, looking at screens – doing pretty much anything. But it’s impossible to do nothing for three years, so as I recovered I was constantly on the lookout for activities I could sustain for 10 or 15 minutes at a time from my house.
Seeing as I didn’t have an income at the time (I was on long-term disability for about 2 years) I decided to use some old oak 2x4s I had sitting around in my apartment and got to work. To my surprise, I discovered I could sustain carving into the wood for 15 minutes at a time and needed less rest after it than with other activities. That was one of the most encouraging moments in my recovery so I paid attention to it and kept at it.
Over time I realized that I had a real love for making things – ideas started flowing, the prototyping process was invigorating. Seeing hard work lead to real, tangible results was basically the antithesis of what recovering from a concussion felt like – nothing about it linear, everything is unpredictable.
About two years into my recovery I started feeling well enough to try to go back to work on a part-time basis. I was incredibly lucky that my employer had long term disability benefits and had a job waiting for me when I was ready to come back. Unfortunately, I realized within a month of going back to my old job that my ability to work in an office environment was still incredibly limited, even though I had seen significant improvements in my health. By my and my doctors’ estimates it was going to take me another year to be able to get back to full-time work without experiencing symptoms. There was a stark contrast between the way a busy office environment aggravated my symptoms compared to how I felt while I was making furniture, alone at home. The choice seemed obvious to me at the time – either I choose the safe path and keep doing an office job that is not only not well suited to my current abilities and also unbearable physically; or try a new, uncertain path that brings me joy and start a design studio. I quit my job in May 2017, and immediately started LALAYA Design.
How would you describe your designs?
Perhaps it is because I am self-taught, or because my design-process often starts with material experimentation that I don’t really know how to describe my products. By that I mean, that I never start off with a clear aesthetic goal in mind when I start a design. Having said that, there is clearly a through-line in my work and if I had to boil it down to its core elements, I would say I aim to make minimalist furniture and lighting that bring out the beauty found in imperfections. Each of my creations (thus far at least) is a sort of visual commentary on the fact that fragility and strength are really two sides of the same coin. When I first heard of the term wabi-sabi (a little before it became such a buzz word), it truly resonated with me. So maybe at the risk of sounding cliché, I would say wabi-sabi describes my designs quite well these days.
What, would you say, is the ethos of your brand?
I would say there are two core elements to our brand’s ethos. On the one hand, we aim to make unique furniture, lighting, and decorative objects. No matter the price range of the objects we design (and our collection runs the gamut so far) we want every product people purchase from us to feel like a collectible item.
The second key element for us is for the creation to spark to feel playful – either because of its name, because of its asymmetries, or other surprising qualities. LALAYA’s origin story has a lot to do with this part of our brand. Starting LALAYA Design was about choosing joy over safety or even suffering – it was an ode to joy! And that’s why music and playful onomatopoeic names are an intricate part of each creation.
I have always been drawn to language, sounds, and percussion in part because they each provide so much room for humour – so much can be expressed with a mere sound. For example, I have always loved the Brazilian Portuguese word for tube top: “tomaraquecaia” (pronounced to-mah-rah-ki-ka-yah) because it literally translates to I hope it falls. When I designed our asymmetrical concrete, steel and mohagany bench, that seemed like the most befitting name because it allows me to humourously describe the bench all the while addressing what I’m guessing might be the user’s biggest fear when they first see it– that it may not be stable. By making a joke of it, I’m reassuring them and catching their attention. Having said that, I think our video vignettes exemplify best what I mean by imbuing each creation with playfulness. Check out our BIM BOM bookshelf video clip or this playlist of our inaugural collection.
Your work seems to revolve heavily around concrete, what draws you to the material?
Concrete is the first material that really cemented (get it?) my desire to create. In the early days of my recovery from my concussion, I decided I would make bedside tables. Not having much money (or skills) I decided I would buy a bag of concrete and try to make the table top out of it. I bent some thin gauge steel rods, bought an aluminum cake pan (bad idea) and cast the bent steel into a concrete circle. It didn’t quite work out with the first try so I started to research mould-making techniques but even after I got to a satisfactory side-table (satisfactory at the time), I ended up with a ton of concrete mix left. So I started experimenting with it. That’s when I discovered how malleable it was, and how it defied the expectations I had of it. In that sense there were a lot of parallels between my recovery from a traumatic brain injury and the hidden properties of concrete – both were hard, unforgiving and heavy; but, given the chance to show its fragile, delicate side beauty would also be revealed. I have found real inspiration in the idea that fragility and strength are often two sides of the same coin. So the relationship to concrete has become a very symbolic and personal one for me.
What is your process when creating a new design?
In the early days of starting LALAYA, I would say my designs mostly emerged out of a process of trial and error, and exploration of the material itself. Our AYÊ lamp, for example, emerged out of a question I had – could concrete be thin and curvy and could it be that way without any reinforcement? I started playing around with mix consistencies, mould materials, and shapes until I eventually landed on a bowl shape and discovered that it worked. Somehow, the curved shape brought an image of a table lamp in my head so I continued to explore the idea until I landed on the AYÊ lamp you see today.
Trial and error are of course still a big part of the prototyping process, but it is rarely where I start now that I’ve learned more about concrete’s properties. Nowadays, I usually begin with a sketch of an idea that is either inspired by an existing object or shape that I want to reinterpret; or a functional need.
For example, I needed a bookshelf to showcase my lamps at a design show in NYC. So at first, I drew out the general idea in collaboration with my brother Virgil Baruchel, using pen and paper. We figured out the ideal proportions by sketching this initial idea in 3D on the computer and by doing physical mock-ups with just tape on a bare wall.
For this particular idea, we wanted the bookshelf to be supported by 2” diameter concrete beams. Though I knew from previous research that engineers would say it is impossible to make 6’ long concrete beams at that diameter I thought it was just because they were risk averse and thinking about scenarios where the beams would need to bare a lot more weight than was the case for us. So we tried it, four or five different ways, with different mixes, different moulds, and reinforcements. But it just wouldn’t work. The engineers were right! So we went back to the drawing board and realized we would have to split the 6’ long beams into stackable parts. We used what we learned about the mix consistency, reinforcement, and mould-making and applied it to the new design. Ten months later, well after my design show in NYC, the BIM BOM bookshelf was born.
The truth is that each product has a different process governed partially by the materials, the shape and size of the product. Sometimes we use digital fabrication methods like 3D printing, CNC milling, and laser cutting to aid in the mould-making, but we always seek the simplest and most cost-effective way to turn a sketch into a real product. No matter the techniques though, what is always true is that prototyping and product development has always been iterative for us. And the iterations often continue after we’ve put something out there for people to buy. We take people’s feedback and make our designs better when we can.
Do you have any design aspirations or dreams you want to accomplish with LALAYA?
When I think about LALAYA’s future, I’m inspired by the vision and successes of design studios like Sabine Marcelis, Fernando Mastrangelo, Jeong Hwa Seo and Castor, Stacklab. I want to see our work flourish around the world – in people’s homes, in galleries, and in beautiful retail spaces.
In the short term, I’d love to find a likeminded brand or firm to collaborate with on a large scale project. I’m in complete awe of what Sabine Marcelis was able to accomplish with her recent collaboration with Fendi and I often daydream about what the equivalent of that could be for us.
What are your plans for LALAYA in 2019?
We spent the better part of 2018 developing our collection of furniture, lighting and home décor and now we’re ready to show it to the world. We started off the year with exhibitions at Toronto’s Interior Design Show and DesignTO festival. Up next, we’re going to SaloneSatellite in Milan (April 9-14) and WantedDesign in NYC (May 18-21) to explore new markets and expand our reach. We’re eager to build relationships with design galleries and ambitious interior designers. We’re also focusing a lot more time on learning about digital marketing so we can build our own following without relying solely on networks of distributors. Finally, we have a couple of products (a salt shaker and a bookshelf) that we think would lend themselves well to licensing so we’re exploring this as well.
Cody Rooney is a Glossi Mag contributor.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.