Over four generations, the Schärer family has built USM into a globally recognised brand, celebrated for its unique fusion of ingenuity, minimalism and flexibility.
November 13th, 2015
The story of USM is closely tied to the industrial development of Switzerland, and the evolving architecture (and politics) of 20th Century Europe. The superb elegance and functionality of its flagship ball connector marries a legacy of technical expertise with the Schärer family’s passion for design.
Riding the wave of continental Europe’s industrialisation at the end of the 19th Century, in 1885 Ulrich Schärer founded a small, family-run, metalworking firm. Pragmatically, he named it USM after his own initials, and that of Münsingen, the Swiss village just outside of Bern where he was born. From 1920 to 1961 Ulrich’s children managed the company, specialising in ornamental hinges for the construction industry and in machining sheet steel.
It was the third generation of the Schärer family, in the form of Paul Schärer, Jr. who would modernise USM, and, in collaboration with Swiss Architect Fritz Haller, create the ball connector system. Holding a degree in engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Paul was passionate about architecture and design and a great admirer of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Inspired by their functionalist principles, he was committed to creating a new type of flexible factory that could be adapted to various manufacturing processes, and thus engaged Haller, who perfected a modular, metal-framed construction system that coincided precisely with Paul’s vision. The new USM factory opened in 1965 in the countryside near Münsingen, and a few years later, Schärer commissioned Haller to design and build him a house, just a few metres from the factory. Raised on columns and named Buechli, the metal-and-glass house was completed in 1969 and still stands today.
The USM Haller system, available in Australia through ECC, remains unique and unparalleled in its field, as much in the quality of its manufacture as in its functionality. The ball connector is the keystone of this evolving, ultra-ingenious system, which has been copyrighted as a work of applied art since 1988. Containing 47 grams of chrome plated steel and six threaded holes into which six screws can be inserted, it has been nicknamed ‘the magic ball’ in Switzerland. It allows the furniture system to be extended upwards as well as sideways, almost infinitely, while ensuring it remains perfectly stable.
Although the unique USM Haller furniture system design has remained unchanged for 50 years, its sophistication has continually developed. Its quality is constantly improving to conform to the brand’s quality standards. This includes testing door hinges by opening and closing them 40,000 times without making the slightest noise.
Read the full story in Indesign Issue 63
Keep up to date with the latest and greatest from our industry BFF's!
The new terminal interiors at the Hamilton Kirikiriroa Airport celebrate the beauty to be found in transition and a connection to the local identity of New Zealand.
For Living Edge, B-Corp certification was the next appropriate step in a long journey focused on building a truly sustainable and socially responsible business. In 2023 they achieved certification at their first pass, giving customers a new level of environmental assurance and the company an important milestone to celebrate across two decades of staff-led, sector-leading sustainability practices.
Putting their money where their perfectly painted mouth is, MECCA diverted almost 4 tonnes of furniture from landfill during the recent renovation of its headquarters with the help of Living Edge’s Relive program.
Less is more in the newly transformed offices of Studio Prineas, where select and authentic pieces tell a tale of good taste and intelligent design.
Our editor tours you through 7 of the best installations at the Fuorisalone in Milan. Each designed to spark inspiration, and some with a clear call to action.
Fusing classic Bauhaus style metal tubing with advanced interior lighting, USM’s Haller E system sheds a new light on furniture design.
Adding geometry within an interior helps to create a modern and balanced environment, one that also adds an interesting feature to the room. This weeks’ Indesign In Focus brings various geometric patterns, colours and products into any residential, commercial and hospitality décor.
The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed
HDR, in collaboration with Walker Corporation and Lyons, has designed Western Sydney University’s new 26,500 square metre vertical Bankstown City Campus as part of a $340M investment in the area.
The future of Australia’s last surviving woollen furnishing textile mill and dye house has been secured thanks to its joint acquisition by Instyle Contract Textiles and Colan Australia.
Celebrating 25 years in his indominable style, William Smart invited the glitterati of Australian architecture to an evening of white on white in the Sydney Opera House’s impeccable Utzon Room.