Kate and Joel Booy, designers, Studio Truly Truly

That’s something that Truly Truly is about – we’ve made a conscious decision to be original and focus on our own fascination ...

When you are on the floor of your living room piecing together your latest purchase from IKEA, you might not be thinking about the design process that went into its inception. The furniture conglomerate is renowned for bringing stylish and accessible design to the masses, and it does so by recruiting some of the world’s foremost design talent to bring ideas to life. Kate and Joel Booy are two Queensland-born and now Netherlands-based designers that scored the gig of a lifetime when they were approached by IKEA to design some pieces for the latest IKEA PS collection. Beyond working with IKEA, Kate and Joel’s own studio Truly Truly is earning acclaim for its unique approach to materials-based design. To celebrate the release of the IKEA PS collection in Australia, we chatted to Kate and Joel to talk about how they ended up being approached by the biggest name in furniture.

First of all, I’d love to know where your love of design started. Were there any formative experiences that shaped your desire to follow the path you are on?
Josh: I think we are both pretty inquisitive people. It was like we were feeding our fascination at a very young age, which was important.

Kate: Yeah, I guess you could say that characteristic led us to this creative path.

Was it always something you imagined you’d do as a career, or was there a point where it moved from passion to profession?
J: No, I think for me it was definitely something that I wanted to do from a very young age – being a designer of some sort. My parents had a furniture shop, so I didn’t want to be a furniture designer, I wanted to be a graphic designer. At that time it was more exciting, using all the colours and all that was really exciting to me.

K: For me it just evolved naturally – being a creatively interested child and doing all kinds of artistic things through my childhood. It progressed to the point where I was finishing high school and having to figure out what I was interested in and what was I going to do as a career, that led me to study design. That was a very practical application of artistic and creative aspects.

It’s safe to say that you aren’t graphic designers any more. How did the transition to your current realm of work take place?
J: We both then studied graphic design at the Queensland College of Art at Griffith University and then we both were graphic designers for a while. We studied together and we worked together before we were together. When we were doing graphic design I think we both felt a bit lacking in that it wasn’t enough. We got asked at the place where we were working to do some installations in some museum windows that was more 3D installation stuff. That’s when we went, “Oh, this is great!” We both fell in love with that way of working and both intrigued and inspired and reinvigorated with this world we could work in.

Jumping ahead a little bit – you are now based in the Netherlands with Studio Truly Truly. What prompted the move?
J: It was decided around that moment that we started doing those 3D projects. I tried to get into this university called the Design Academy of Eindhoven in the Netherlands – they only take 110 students a year. We said to each other that if I got in we’d go over and live there. I got in, so then we sold our house and moved ourselves over to the Netherlands where I became a student and Kate supported us as a designer for the first couple of years.

And when you completed your studies, is that when you started Studio Truly Truly?
J: Yeah, pretty much. Once we started this thing we decided that it was going to be our road now, this is going to be our way. That was the whole purpose of starting that course – the reason we decided for me to do a whole degree again instead of a Master’s was so that we got it right. That’s what Truly Truly is all about – making sure that it is authentic and that it is not lying about stuff. We tried to do things right and that was one of the reasons behind doing the course.

What sort of skills or knowledge did you pick up during the degree that you are implementing now?
J: Well, the Design Academy is really material and concept focused, so we learned a lot about – Kate as well.

K: I learned a lot just by being around it.

J: Yeah it really rubbed off on her. Our workspace was essentially me doing my Design Academy stuff and Kate doing her graphic design work. The stuff that you learn at the Design Academy is very much about materials and how to work with materials and there’s actually a lot about using your own imagination, which is one of the best things about it. You get to learn how to be your own artist and that’s really special.

K: It really helps with coming up with original ideas and finding inspiration that is unique and your own, rather than looking around and replicating what you see.

With Truly Truly, when you started did you discuss the kind of projects you wanted to do when figuring out what direction to take it?
K: I think it just evolved over the course of doing it. At the start, anything that came along that we found fascinating we gravitated towards. That’s what sort of led us to a path that was the most interesting for us. We actually tackle all kinds of objects – we’re not specialised in just one thing.

The two of you recently contributed to the creation of the latest IKEA PS range – how did that originally come about?
J: Before I graduated IKEA was doing a trend search through our area of study. The area that I was studying at the Design Academy is kind of the mecca of Dutch design, so Dutch Design Week is actually built around the graduation show from the Design Academy. IKEA was doing a tour through and checking out a few places, and the representatives went to our building, which had about 150 different workshops in it, and they asked who were seven people who were worthwhile going to have a look at and we were picked amongst that group.

K: They came through our studio and we’d strung up our work around the place. The group was really interested in our work and we had about seven minutes to present our work and talk about what we had done. On the way out one of the reps invited us to come to Sweden to work on a textiles collection with IKEA.

J: We didn’t really know who it was in our room! We thought it was the Dutch IKEA team, because there are IKEA offices everywhere. It was actually the creative director of IKEA that was there!

What was it like to be approached by IKEA? It must have been pretty thrilling to be contacted by one of the most recognised brands in design.
K: It was really exciting. It was great – it was crazy. It was a really crazy time!

J: It was also bizarre because I was really busy trying to graduate and then having this kind of thing drop into your lap was big. We didn’t know how to deal with it in our brains, because it wasn’t clear how it was all happening. They said, “come to Sweden and have a meeting with us and talk about what you’ll be doing with us.” We were invited to just do a textile collection – just a few cushions – but when they asked us to do that they also asked us to do a few things that were a little bit outside of the world of design. They wanted us to give them something interesting in textiles.

K: Yeah, they were really open and receptive.

So how did you move from that textile collection to being a part of the 2017 IKEA PS collection?
J: We really spent a lot of time on the textiles and the open brief, and when they saw the end result they loved what we did with the brief and so they asked us to do a part of the PS collection. We were then invited straight into the PS collection, which was even more exciting and crazy because by that point I had only just graduated and we were already being invited to work on this part of IKEA which is all about high design. Usually they invite really big names, and here we are – two little Aussies being invited to contribute.

By the sounds of it IKEA is quite open to ideas and experimentation – did they give you a brief or a starting point for the PS collection or did they let you make your own mark?
K: Yeah, there were a lot of conversations in the beginning around the idea of comfort, and looking at comfort in a new way in the living space. Similar to the other brief, they allowed us the freedom to bring whatever ideas we had related to comfort and that was how the sofa came about. Comfort, what makes people feel calm at home and also nature were key roles in that. The other part of the brief was thinking about young people moving around in share houses, so there had to be an element of flexibility and adaptability in the piece – something that can be used in different ways and personalised.

J: It was like the cushions and textiles as well – they said do something that deconstructs comfort in some way. We really took that as far as we could, but it really started with the cushions. We had to ask ourselves how we create comfort in our own home. We didn’t plan to make a sofa, but we planned to research comfort to see what we could find and that’s when we found this moment with the cushion and found a new form that could be created. It also changed the characteristics of how comfortable that cushion was and from there we built it up to become this sofa.

Obviously this experience would be a great boost to your own creative confidence. Did it change the way you work, how you tackle new projects or how they are inspired?
J: Yeah, absolutely. For us our design process really comes from research, so we don’t have to know what the outcome is when we start it. At the moment we are working on some glass pendants and we’ve never worked with glass before. We’ve started by researching what we could find in glass.

K: That’s something we’ve developed over time, and it’s the way we work in general. We start with a material or process and find and the moment when something interesting or special happens and then go from there, it’s all a process of honing it.

J: It’s like the sofa – it’s great to have a question like “what is comfort?” Inspiration for our work is often found in materials. That’s something that Truly Truly is about – we’ve made a conscious decision to be original and focus on our own fascination.


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