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Brand Focus: USM

Brand Focus: USM

World of Plants, True Pink and unlimited possibilities

Last month, we visited USM's World of Plants installation at their London showroom and True Pink installation at Rossignoli bike shop for Milan Design Week 2022. The two presentations approached the iconic product from different angles – in London they explored how to integrate plants into functional living and working environments, while in Milan they introduced USM’s clients to a long-awaited new colourway. Both inspiring, these visits have prompted us to take a look at the history and unlimited possibilities of USM Modular Furniture – one of our most trusted and unique brands.

USM's timeless designs – which fit in, stand out, take over or blend in – can be found in some of the world's most influential buildings and museums: from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York to the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. Here, at our Covent Garden store, we have an arrangement of custom USM Haller with beautiful LED fittings which have recently been installed for the safekeeping of our colourful display of accessories and portable lamps.

A Compelling History

In 1885, Ulrich Schärer founded USM as a metalworking and locksmith workshop in Munsingen, Switzerland. There, for the first few decades of the twentieth century, the business specialised in window fittings, ornamental hinges and precision-machined sheet steel.

USM Workshop in Munsingen 1920
The workshop in Munsingen, Switzerland 1920

It was in 1961 that Ulrich’s grandson – Paul Schärer – joined the business and, having studied engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, steered USM to become an industrial company specialising in steel working. Paul Schärer’s interest in architecture and the works of architects Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Fritz Haller led him to commission the latter – an innovative Swiss architect – to design USM’s new factory and office buildings.

USM Haller Maxi and Mini
USM Haller MAXI and MINI (left) Beam installation, USM Haller MAXI (right)

Imagining a modular, steel-framed construction system that could grow with the company, Haller designed a factory and office pavilion that could be adapted with the changing of manufacturing processes in accountable and responsible steps. The factory was completed in 1963 (since then expanding by over sevenfold), whilst the office pavilion was completed in 1965.

USM Maxi Steel Construction System Munsingen 1923
The USM Haller MAXI steel construction system in Musingen, Switzerland 1923

The completion of the factory and office pavilion was followed by the construction of a private residence for Paul Schärer's family. Known as the 'Buchli', the house was positioned on a steep slope overlooking the manufacturing site. Here, conventional separation between living and bedroom areas was rendered null. This new form of living – 'living within a system' – exemplified his bold desire to integrate modularity into all aspects of his life.

Buchli House by Fritz Haller
'Buchli', the house designed by Fritz Haller and built in 1969 as a home for the Schärer family

Alongside the site's architecture, Paul Schärer and Haller also collaborated on an extensive search for office furniture. They decided to develop their own furniture to reflect the modularity and versatility of their architectural creations.

USM Haller Prototypes in the Office Pavilion
The office pavilion with the first prototypes of USM Modular Furniture Haller

A system of tubular steel modules was built around an elegant ball joint – an ingenious invention for which they sought a patent in 1965. Though initially only intended for use in USM's offices, in 1969 the series production and sale of USM Haller began and, in the later decades of the twentieth century, the company expanded throughout the world – opening subsidiaries in Buehl, Charnay-lès-Mâcon, and New York.

Fritz Haller and the Ball Joint Patent 1965
Fritz Haller (left) The Ball-joint patent 1965 (right)

In 1993, Ulrich's great-grandson and the current Managing Director and Chairman of the Board – Alexander Schärer – joined the company. By 2001, he had helped to solidify USM Haller as an icon of modern design in the permanent collection of the MoMA in New York.

USM Haller – World of Plants

Since USM Haller’s 50th anniversary in 2015, the Swiss company has been contemplating the modern challenges of a changing world order. We met with Matthew, the Sales Partner Manager at USM’s London showroom to discuss the USM Haller’s World of Plants. "It’s from a time when biophilia was being brought into the office", he says. Biophilia – a newly revived term – refers to the hypothesis that humans possess an innate tendency to connect with nature and other forms of life. First introduced by German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm as 'the passionate love of life and all that is alive' in 1973, the term was later appropriated by American biologist Edward Wilson who attributed it to a genetic basis in 1984.

USM World of Plants - Sideboard

'Plants make people happy', states a USM-designed Surrounded by Nature pamphlet. The satisfaction that comes from direct interaction with the rich diversity of shapes, colour and life in nature can be understood on a scientific as well as on an anecdotal and universal level. Nevertheless, humanity has evolved past a time in which we once lived in close contact with nature. With the industrial and technological revolutions of the nineteenth century and beyond, we have seen the construction of more enclosed and sterile spaces and as such, according to USM’s research, in today’s modern society we spend up to eighty percent of our time indoors, leading to a decline in biophilic behaviour.

Following trends of homeworking in the UK and elsewhere, USM holds the belief that our homes and workplaces should better reflect the outdoors. Re-establishing a human connection to nature, World of Plants gives form to living environments and natural interior landscapes, through storage solutions and side tables.

USM Haller World of Plants
USM Haller World of Plants

The elegant and simple system brings plants indoors. Plant pots sit within circular recesses on metal panels available in five sizes and fourteen standard colours – pure white, light grey, matter silver, mid-grey, anthracite, graphite black, steel blue, gentian blue, green, golden yellow, pure orange, ruby red, brown and beige – as well as the possibilities of customisation. Depending on the size of the panel, one to four recesses hold basalt and terracotta ceramic clay pots accompanied by watering sets which contain pot inserts and water level indicators to help regulate pouring cycles and enhance the simplicity of watering.

USM's fourteen standard colour swatches
USM's fourteen standard colour swatches

Like all new developments at USM, the World of Plants can be retrofitted into existing furniture and even upgraded with LED fittings to illuminate luscious green plant leaves. USM’s philosophy of adaptable, standardised components allows for such additions and reconfigurations.  Beyond aesthetics, this resonates with USM’s longstanding concern with the environment. In using the highest quality materials, production methods, and standards testing and employing the most skilled craftspeople – whose work is aided only by cutting-edge robotic technology – USM manufactures pieces to last a lifetime: precise, dependable and beautiful in their simplicity.

The USM Haller – True Pink

Presented during Milan Design Week 2022, USM’s True Pink installation in partnership with Monocle introduces a newly announced limited edition colour for USM Haller.

USM's True Pink installation at Rossignoli bike shop for Milan Design Week 2022 Photographed by Maris Mezulis
USM's True Pink installation at Rossignoli bike shop for Milan Design Week 2022 Photographed by Maris Mezulis

Set within the iconic Rossignoli bike shop in the Brera district, the joyful new colourway coats a limited edition collection of products in a soft pinkish hue. Aram is pleased to have secured a small order of serving trolleys, secretaries, and writing desks in True Pink which will be available and on display at Aram Store in the autumn.

USM Haller serving trolley, secretaire and small desk in True Pink

USM Haller serving trolley, secretaire and small desk in True Pink - these are available for sale IN STORE ONLY.