Nadine & Alain Trae: Sibling Duo Designers of Trae&Trae Designology

"Designology is our design philosophy, and it is basically about the perception of life enriching design and style. Because style is different from each person; Their home and the way they carry themselves is their own Designology. Everything we create is our perception of what design and style should be." Photography by Nicolai Perjesi

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Can the both of you please introduce yourself and tell us about your professional background?

Alain: My name is Alain, and I’m a mason. I build and restore houses, but I specialize in old special techniques. Ancient Italian styles of construction, such as marble and terrazzo. So I focus on a lot of restoration work, I take houses that are hundreds of years old and equip them to last a hundred more years.

Nadine: My name is Nadine and after completing my studies at business school, I started working with the Danish light designer, Finn Kaerulff, at Iconi. I learned every aspect you could imagine about lamp design by working 8 years at his atelier. To this day, he is one of my best friends and my mentor. He has done lighting design for 35 years so there was a lot of wisdom to be given.  

How did the both of you start working together?

Nadine: First I started by helping Finn Kaerulff with brainstorming things, sort of like creating the blueprint, and because I have a very specific idea of how things should be designed, I always said my blunt opinion and he respected that. So Finn encouraged me to design more and more until I reached the point of doing my own designs. But as years went by our styles turned out to be very different.

My brother and I had a better understanding towards each other’s design interest, and we have a common idea of how things should be done. It started as a coincidence. We were just chilling late at night, as we do, and we began sketching and designing together and within a few months, we had our first lamp collections ready. With my brother’s knowledge of marble and other stones and my background on the use of wood and steel, we started to mix everything together in new ways, without the fear of going “too big”!

“Our work ethic is a combination of both of us being extremely ambitious, wanting our name out there, and wanting the recognition of being a world-class design brand.”

When did you move to Europe? and what was the context surrounding your move from your homeland?

Alain: We were born in Cameroon. Our father, the original Mr. Trae, was Danish and he was a project leader for a water development project in Cameroon in the mid-eighties and met our mother there. He was a Danish man traveling the world with work. They got married and had us, but unfortunately, he died in 1989 when we were 2 and 3 years old.

During the funeral in Denmark our father’s colleagues told our mom that our father had always wished for us to experience the Danish culture as well, so if she wanted to stay they would do everything in their power to help her to move here permanently — and she accepted.  

But you were both very young so it wasn’t that big cultural shock or how was it?

Alain: No not at all. Kids are very good at adapting to a new culture and making friends. Plus we had all the family on our father’s side here. We also spoke Danish very quickly because our mother wanted to learn the language. Her main language is her local dialect, Bassa, and also French.

Nadine: We go often to Cameroon I was there as recent as April 2017.

As minorities, sometimes the things we do professionally take on a social impact beyond our initial intentions, which can have our work be unconsciously disregarded or not accepted in big commercial circles. Do you think your work impacts the Danish’s views on minority groups, especially during a time of anti-immigrant rhetoric shown by the Danish politicians during the current political environment? Despite you not even directly thinking about it?  

Nadine: Not really. When we came to Denmark, we moved to a small Island. There were only about 10 black people on the island back then. We were with our older sisters the only dark-skinned kids in school, but we never thought about being different. You can hear in our dialect that it is very southern Danish, so when people meet us they see us as Danish, and not as foreigners.

It is a very small country, and I think there is more racism connected to the fact that people have other basic values and/or don’t speak the same “language” (or have the same very dry humor) so some people might feel that they can’t really communicate. It is about those nuances that make Danish, Danish. Not as much about the color of the skin. That being said, of course, there are some proper racists out there and everywhere in the world, I just don’t give them much thought. So to us, our color and individuality, never crossed our minds to be a hindrance. Building a business is tough, no matter who you are. No excuses.

Do you think that your Cameroonian Background influences somehow your designs?

Alain: Well as you can see our design lines are very Scandinavian, very clean and minimalistic, but when it comes to our materials, for example, we love exotic woods and warm lights. We don’t like when it’s completely clinical, all through our designs are very geometrical. I also feel that our approach to design is not as theoretical as it can be in the North, but more a hands-on process.

There is an unwritten law in Denmark called: Janteloven / the law of Jante, and it basically means that you should never think that you are better than other people. Therefore flashing luxury is considered tacky and not really a part of the Danish culture, which we feel has been reflected in the Scandinavian design. It is probably mostly there we find ourselves as standing out. Because with our designs we want to go big and majestic.

Nadine: We are a young company, and at this point, we have only launched the first of our collections, but I think the worse thing you can do is to present your work nervously. When you are sure and confident about the quality and aesthetic of your products, people perceive it positively and resistance becomes a minimum. People usually respond nicely to our work so we haven’t found any rejection or resistance so far. Is natural to meet resistance, so it will probably come at some point.

Do you have a business strategy that can take you where you want to be?

Nadine: Yes we do have a very defined business strategy and we know how to get there. We are doing our best to collaborate with the right people in general. When you have the right collaborators, the right business strategy, the right product and you work hard. Then it can only turn out well.

What can you say about the philosophy behind your work? Are you more into the craft versus design? or vice versa?

Alain: Well no, we both love the design! We love creating, sketching and pitching ideas to each other. But the craft of the design is what justifies the quality and finish. Nadine is the head designer, but we both come with ideas. I especially come with a lot of broad ideas – not just lamps, which is her main passion.

Nadine takes them, refines them and makes them commercial. Our work ethic is a combination of both of us being extremely ambitious, wanting our name out there, and wanting the recognition of being a world-class design brand.

We also have the need of creating something beautiful and majestic, something that people look at and say: ”I just love it!”, something they want to have in their home and look at every day. The Danish furniture traditions are known throughout the world as some of the best, and we want to honor it and be a part of it by creating sculptural and timeless designs. We want to make classics!  

What is your own definition of “Designology”?

Nadine: Designology is our design philosophy, and it is basically about the perception of life-enriching design and style. Because style is different from each person; Their home and the way they carry themselves is their own Designology. Everything we create is our perception of what design and style should be. So the TraeDesignology is Our Perception – Our Contribution – Our Designology.

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