Interview with cate & nelson


Writer: Micha van Dinther
Published by Grand Relations Review in conjunction with Stockholm Design Week


'We start all projects through a joint conversation'

Swede Cate Hogdahl and Spaniard Nelson Ruiz-Acal of Cate & Nelson design with Scandinavian voice, while maintaining a continental viewpoint. We met up with them at Stockholm boutique hotel Nobis Hotel to have a chat about their new line of design watches, the importance to ticking to one's life values, and why a culture clash can sometimes be a good thing.

Nelson, how did you can Cate get to know each other?
– Cate and I met in 2002 as we both were studying industrial design at European Institute for Design in Madrid. At the end of our studies, we did a joint master's dissertation, and found that we work quite well together – both on a professional and personal level. Right after completing our education in 2005, we moved to Sweden together. We bought a little summer cottage and started renovating it. Once we were done, we set up our very own studio a couple of years later.

What was the new studio’s main focal point?
– Because of the vast furniture industry in Sweden, we knew we wanted to work in that area. We worked with major furniture manufacturers and design brands such as Offecct, Blå Station, David Design and Zero, designing soft furnishings and lighting for them. In 2012, we relocated to London to expand our market, and to share our experience and knowledge within the area of Scandinavian design to a new client base. Working out of London, we continued designing furniture and lighting while also exploring interior décor, as well as the watch industry.

How would you describe the studio’s design philosophy?
– We have a strong Scandinavian character, since that’s where we started forming our own design language. But thanks to my background and the fact that Cate spent a lot of time abroad, we have a continental approach to our projects. And that is really what distinguishes us from other Scandinavian studios.

With duos, I’m always intrigued by how two people work together in a joint creative process. How do the two of you work together?
– As partners in life as well as in business, we have constant ongoing conversations on our work. This dialogue continues in the studio, as well as in our daily life. We start all projects through a joint conversation, and to flesh out what the final vision is. Once that is set, we take on different roles – while Cate is much more conceptual, I take on the technical work. Cate looks at the big picture and project manages the process, while I will typically look into the manufacturing details and technical aspects of the project.

What is the tone of your dialogue – are you both in agreement, or is it tug-of-war?
– We usually start out with different points of views, but at some point throughout the process, we find common ground. These differences are actually why I believe many of our projects are successful. At the end of the day, our very different character traits and cultural backgrounds are very important for how we approach our designs.

What are key values for the both of you?
– We believe in taking responsibility in how our pieces are manufactured. We try our best to be honest and aware in our approach, and care deeply for even the smallest details.

How does designing a watch compare to designing furniture?
– The process is completely different. There are constraints in what you can do in terms of designing a watch. As a watch is something that the user will actually wear on a daily basis, and directly touching the body, there are other aspects to keep in mind. Last but not least, there are many watches out there, so designing something that stands out is a challenge.

So what was the conclusion?
– That it all lies in the details. Instead of adding more details, we decided to create as little interference in the design as possible, giving it a timeless look. Naturally, we choose a Swiss movement. Choosing the right materials was key, and we’ve worked with Tärnsjö leather for the straps, and a brushed stainless steel and brass casing. Other details we are proud of are the dials, which are etched instead of painted, and the double-curved dome glass, which adds character to the watch.

Why did you decide on a unisex collection?
– We actually work with two different sizes, but the difference in size is very subtle. Both sizes work for both male and female users – we want to leave it up to the wearer to choose which one they prefer.