As any house-proud design fan will tell you, lighting is everything: a well-placed spotlight can turn an otherwise drab corner into a striking centrepiece, while a dramatically lit room provides a warm welcome that hits the right tone, whether for a soirée or a meeting.
All of which explains why visitors to USM’s pavilion at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan could be forgiven for coming away feeling a little, well, light-headed. The space – itself a scene-stealer designed by Swiss studio Atelier Oï – was filled with the manufacturer’s new Haller E series, a quietly assured innovation and lighting solution in which dimmable lighting elements are set directly into the metal frames of the modular furniture USM is famous for.
They can be used to illuminate shelves, drawers and display cases and even, if required, the walls of the room. Almost invisible recesses, meanwhile, hide integrated and moveable USB chargers for mobile devices. Yet there are no cables to be seen: electricity current is channeled through specially designed tubes and component parts that are fused directly in the furniture itself, a particularly useful sleight of hand for anyone with an aversion to exposed power sockets and tangled wires.
For newcomers to the marque, the Haller E is something of a game-changer in the way it almost magically fuses furniture and lighting technology, usually two separate furnishing considerations. For USM, however, its new lighting solution is a continuation of a hallowed tradition dating back to 1963, of creating thoughtful and useful, but always aesthetically pleasing, furniture.
Founded in 1885 by Ulrich Schaerer as a hardware and locksmith’s business in Münsingen, Switzerland, USM’s evolutionary leap occurred when a third-generation Schaerer scion, Paul, teamed up with the architect Fritz Haller to create a flexible furniture system based on the latter’s steel modular construction system.
The system – which Haller had harnessed to great effect a few years earlier to build USM’s new office pavilion – was based on a unique ball joint which allowed a 360° load-bearing pivot for the metal rods that made up, and still does, the modular frame of the furniture.
The Haller E builds on this simple but devastatingly effective DNA by literally shining a new light on the furniture’s component parts. The motivation for the addition is predicated on the idea that light should provide more than just a pretty shine.
For the designers at USM, visibility is just one part of the equation. Carefully harnessed and directed, light can brighten quotidian furnishings, highlight a prized objet, accent a painting, shift the energy or change the mood in a room and even – in the right context, say a desk – provide a creative jolt. It also goes without saying that a well-placed light source makes searching the recesses of a cupboard or drawer a doddle.
This concern for utility and aesthetics explains the careful calibration and positioning of the lighting nodes – all artfully concealed within the frame rods or hidden out of sight – and the sparing use of technology by way of sensor-controlled lights, so that drawers and compartments light up when pulled open. Lighting intensity, too, can be adjusted and orchestrated as required, making the entire system a godsend for boutiques, art galleries, libraries, office and homes alike.
The revolutionary cachet of the Haller E aside, USM is hardly resting on its laurels. Cleaving close to its tradition of quiet incremental innovation, its designers and engineers are currently working on new iterations that include mobile app controls, touch-sensitive furniture surfaces and, a boon for the fickle decorator, programmable lighting settings. The proclamation ‘Let there be light!’ just took on a whole new shine.