PEOPLE – If you’re a husband-and-wife graphic design team living in sunny Queensland, where do you go when you want to expand your practice and study product and furniture design? For Joel and Kate Booy of Studio Truly Truly, moving into the world of the three-dimensional meant travelling further than Australia’s design capitals, Sydney and Melbourne. The Netherlands beckoned, and specifically Design Academy Eindhoven. ‘It had this hands-on approach,’ says Joel, who was attracted by its conceptual, manual, physical and materials-led philosophy.
Having worked for some time on the expressive potential of graphics, language and communication with considerable success, the Australian duo wanted to branch out into other forms of design, with the vision of creating ‘objects which have expression’ as well as function. ‘When we design, we’re interested in making things that work and function in a clever way,’ says Kate. ‘But they also have to have an element of expression that connects with the senses on a human level. When we’ve got the materials in our hands, that’s when we know what makes sense and what we want to use.’
Joel and Kate are flanked by Levity, a flexible LED lamp, and Fuse, a cabinet with angled layers of cedar, black marble and fine basalt in resin
As graphic designers, Kate and Joel were in the business of portraying messages and eliciting feeling through a layering of colour, pattern, shape and word. They bring this original sensibility to their furniture and object design practice, which as Joel describes it involves ‘balancing all those aspects, bringing them together, to present something that someone might pick up, touch, sit upon and feel.’
On their move to the Netherlands, Joel studied at Eindhoven while Kate worked as a graphic designer. Together they founded Studio Truly Truly in 2013. The studio allowed them to put into action a new palette of tools, dimensions and contexts, embracing a new process-based approach to design. The studio feeds off materials and manufacturing – a personal handling of process intended to bring together unexpected visual and material choices with the intention of stimulating a feeling or connection.
The duo soon formed an unlikely relationship with furniture giant Ikea. It was a serendipitous moment of timing and luck. Kate and Joel, preoccupied with Joel’s graduation assessment, presented to Ikea on the fly. ‘We’d strung stuff up around our studio, left out samples and models to present,’ says Joel. ‘They literally knocked on our door at exactly the right moment.’
A textile design commission for the Ikea PS collection ensued. Next came a sofa, designed for youthful customers, for Ikea PS 2017.
The sofa manifests as a flowering of cushions, a tight cluster of pillowy petals, each individually strapped to a metal frame. ‘It comes together to make a cloud-like structure,’ says Kate. ‘You can either buy the cushions from Ikea or use your own cushions with special straps.’
Studio Truly Truly’s Joel and Kate Booy pictured with their sofa for Ikea. The flower-like design uses 18 separate cushions and a strap system.
Their first commercial commission, the project was fresh, democratic and empathic. It also echoed Kate and Joel’s own state of transition from emerging to established. ‘We didn’t have the 18 cushions needed to build the complete sofa, but we had six, and we did a lot of testing,’ says Joel. ‘It’s part of what Truly Truly is for us, our name is our manifesto: making things properly, honestly and with integrity.’
The duo takes its manifesto commitment seriously. Where their knowledge or expertise is lacking, they surround themselves with the right knowledge. For example, for Soundskins, designed for quirky lifestyle brand Leff Amsterdam, they worked with the brand, Tilburg Textile Museum and an acoustic engineer to transform a series of speakers into beautiful, warm interior objects. Before embarking on the project, Truly Truly had already worked on a textile design project with Hella Jongerius, and set about researching everything there was to know about knitting. It’s a process Kate describes as ‘grooming our objects’. The outcome is always intended to surprise, captivate and move.
Joel and Kate Booy pose with their Abide Vessels in the foreground. Made from copper-infused resin, the pieces were created for the Dutch Invertuals group exhibition Advanced Relics for Salone del Mobile 2016, and were inspired by religious rituals.
The speaker covers for Leff were developed using the same knitting process as Nike. This was then translated into an exhibition experience for Salone del Mobile 2016, with speaker sculptures that doubled as abstract furnishings. ‘We strongly believe in the ability of aesthetics to communicate a feeling or mood,’ says Joel. ‘A clash or an exaggeration can express a lot.’ This thinking extends into their spatial designs for fairs and events such as Dutch Invertuals (Milan 2016) and Northmodern (Copenhagen 2016).
For Northmodern, Truly Truly was commissioned to produce a series of exhibitor ‘ribbons’, designed to highlight the fair’s Dutch exhibitors. ‘We devised an interesting signifier that could double as a way-finding system,’ says Kate. ‘We were very aware that anything too eye-catching would draw attention away from the exhibitors’ stands, so we were looking to arrive at a subtle solution.’ Inspired by the campaign ribbons people wear to support a cause, Truly Truly’s exhibitor ribbons – essentially hanging light sculptures composed of curled lengths of mesh – acted as pinpoints for each Dutch exhibitor stand.
‘In this way, spatial design falls in between our graphic design background and product design practice,’ says Kate. ‘It’s about marrying atmosphere with function, thinking about how to create something that changes the feeling of the space. In choosing what that mood should be, and combining it with the function of an object, that’s where the poetry can arise.’
A version of this article appeared in Frame #113 on pages 67-70, titled ‘Truly Madly Deeply’.