From Kaleido to Ellipse: In praise of the tray

There’s no denying that Swedish designer Clara von Zweigbergk is a whiz with paper. Based in Stockholm, she often begins a project by folding paper into geometric shapes, and the whimsical, vibrantly coloured objects that result—from lamps to cups—are directly inspired by their paper beginnings.

So it was with the iconic Kaleido Tray, now a HAY classic. A simple piece of rhombus-shaped paper allowed the designer to discover the beauty and utility of what she describes as one of domestic life’s most underappreaciated items: the tray.

Available in a vast range of colours, sizes, and shapes, Kaleido is a nesting tray that serves multiple purposes, from the decorative to the just plain useful. It can be used to organize, store bits and bobs, and of course, to serve small items. And its cousin, Ellipse, offers a fresh take on the same typology, with rounded edges and a softer aesthetic.

We asked Clara what it is about trays that she finds so inspiring, and why she thinks this humble accessory is a gift that keeps on giving.

What is it about a tray that appeals to you?

Clara von Zweigbergk: I think a tray is an underappreciated item! A tray adds to and elevates the gesture of serving something, makes it so much nicer to get something when it is presented on a tray, to serve a cup of coffee on a super small tray.

My 9-year-old has a wooden tray that she likes, it’s always tucked in with the other trays and she pulls it out and puts her little toast and cup of tea on it. That small act adds a sense of occasion to the everyday routines we have. I personally don’t use trays as decoration, but I put things in them. For me and for our family, they consolidate detritus in a home, the stuff of life. With them being colourful, they are inviting to put stuff in, they draw attention.

What was the development process like when you created Kaleido?

Clara: I wanted it to be both practical and decorative at the same time, as I believe that it’s nice for an object to have a function and be practical as well as beautiful. With Kaleido, you can stack it within each other in a nesting way. I loved that you could play puzzles with it, and found it hard to stop moving it around endlessly. Also at an inexpensive price point, that means customers can buy one piece, and then another later, using them to layer and add and create new colour combinations.

I was just thrilled when I presented all 9 colours and 5 shapes to Mette Hay, and she approved them all right off the bat! I think that was smart because then the product became much more powerful as a series of related objects that can be in dialogue with each other, it was clever. If it had been a discrete start it wouldn’t have made such an impact.

How did Ellipse come to be?

Clara: Ellipse is the cousin of Kaleido. I wanted it to be a cousin of the original Kaleido since it’s similar in the material and in the steel, and like Kaleido it comes in lots of colours and several geometric shapes, so I thought it would be nice that they feel like cousins.

I kept the dimensions similar to Kaleido, but obviously an ellipsis is so much softer in its appearance than the harder corners of Kaleido. They’re different enough, but you also should be able to see that they are related to eachother. Ellipse has another symmetry to it, where its shape is exactly has the same distance to each other While the Kaleido family is a modular system, that matches both sideways and within its shapes, the Ellipse family follows another form of symmetry. The five shapes grow from the smallest shape to the largest with equal distance to the next size. I’ve also been very interested in space and doing much with that, so in my head I also think it’s nice that it relates to Elliptical tracks, orbit tracks.

Will there be any more trays in the family?

Clara: I could do more. It’s an object that you will always use: there can be more need for trays.