Charming down-to-earth: For the Museion in Bolzano, Italy, Harry Thaler rearranged the artist in residence studio and living space. Photo © Harry Thaler
Making a man into a chair
von Franziska Horn
May 28, 2014

Alto Adige and design? Absolutely! Much has happened since Matteo Thun captivated our attention with his Thun design, which was as good as ubiquitous in the late 1980s, and had us perusing the entire alpine region as a consequence. Today South Tyrol’s creative minds demonstrate what the region is capable of producing in addition to top-class alpinists and healthy looking apples. That said, Harry Thaler, a designer of slim build and with a mischievous smile, is not at all averse to posing next to artistic stacks of – well, apple crates. Apple crates? Precisely. Harry Thaler, as it were, curated this asymmetric assembly of shelf modules and promptly invented connectors for them. So what we are talking about here are not some random fruit containers – these are made of high-quality apple wood and a single module costs 99 euros. “Twist and Lock” is the name of the shelving system. Even today students the world over furnish their pads with simple banana boxes – so why make them luxurious? This gives many a design aficionado something to savor. Craftsmanship plus timelessness plus international flair, would be a likely entry in the product catalog. And yet these boxes are destined for more: Superbly finished for the eye and hand, they poke fun at a much underrated everyday object.

So what else is Harry up to these days? Lamps, chairs, tables, the usual. The usual? On the contrary. Thaler’s designs always come with a twist, which is why they are so special. His trick is simple, and much of it has to do with looking at familiar objects from a different angle. The prime example is his stackable “Pressed Chair”, which he based on a paper model for his final-year project at London’s Royal College of Art. Thaler then transposed the basic flat shape that looks like a little man onto 2.5 millimeter sheet aluminum, which he subsequently transforms into the three-dimensional shape of a chair. Weighing in at just 2.5 kg “Pressed Chair” is pretty light for an item of seating furniture: A relief of grooves pressed into the surface provides the necessary structural strength. Thaler reaped various awards for his maverick design, including the “Conran Award 2010” and the “Interior Innovation Award 2011” in Cologne. Which won the heart of furniture editor and iconoclast Nils Holger Moormann, who was quick to include the model in his 2012 product range. The result: a second bouquet of awards. And for just 370 euros you can have your own copy of “Pressed Chair” to adorn your living room.

At the moment Thaler is busy extending his “Pressed” series and pondering the designs of a side and a coffee table. It’s seven years ago that Thaler, who is now 38 and originally from Merano, just west of the Dolomites, moved to London. His parents used to work in the logistics industry. Every summer Thaler goes home and spends two months working in his small studio there. So what about his salad days? “My neighbor was a goldsmith and used to take me to his workshop when I was a small boy,” he says. “I found it fascinating. As soon as I had finished school I went to Lana between Merano and Bolzano to train as a goldsmith.” After that life took him to Vienna, Sri Lanka and Pforzheim, where he spent a stint at the Academy of Design, specializing in Product Design. Then he returned to Alto Adige to study Design at the Faculty of Design and Art in Bolzano.

In 2008 he once again went abroad and did an internship at the studio of fellow North Italian Martino Gamper, who was based in London. Thaler fell in love with the British capital, so he decided to stay and enrolled at the Royal College of Art. In 2010 he founded his own company in Hackney, London’s artist quarter. Today he has one full-time employee and one or two interns. “The city is buzzing with energy, an excellent atmosphere for working,” he says.

His penchant for metal has stayed with him since his days training as a goldsmith. For “Lichtkammer” he draped luminescent metal cubes in high-quality Jacquard fabric for a successful reinterpretation of the chandelier. Thaler also works with wood: “Nine-Sitzer” is a stackable high stool made of solid cedar wood, inspired during a visit to the United States. Moreover, he furnished “Museion”, a studio building in Bolzano, with eccentric furniture following a sophisticated room-in-room concept. A foldable bed concealed inside a high wardrobe, an outsized box with an integrated double bed and foldable doors on rollers, which transforms into a simple cube during the daytime – all of it made in pine. And he’s pretty much framed the working desk, too. Another a product of his thinking outside the box (and not in it this time!) is “Hang It on The Wall”: The model is a luminaire, object art and statement all rolled into one. An oversized nail penetrates the vitreous body of a light bulb and pins it on the wall. What is the designer trying to say?

“What I have in mind here is how it’s a pity we’ve seen the last nail in the coffin of Edison’s light bulb, which has been discarded like an old pair of boots at the end of a footballer’s career.” The lucidly ambiguous model is available in a limited edition of 200 and can be ordered from “ES Gallery” in Merano. So what about his roots in the Alpine world? “You can find them in various pieces of mine,” he says, as if it was blatantly obvious. Take “Flip Side”, for instance, a bench, very sophisticated and with perfect woodwork that marries British understatement with Harry’s creativity and down-to-earth North Italian mentality.

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The presence of the object is only revealed through the cardboard model: We spoke to Jörg Boner about design methods, molded plywood and furniture families.
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Object with a Southtyrolean twist: “Cono”. Photo © Harry Thaler
Apple crates! Apple crates? Shelf system “Twist and Lock”. Photo © Harry Thaler
Harry Thaler. Photo © Harry Thaler
2.5 millimeter thin, weighting 2.5 kg: “Pressed Chair”. Photo © Harry Thaler
At Museion atelier in Bolzano: a room-in-room concept. Photo © Harry Thaler
”Hang it on the Wall”. Photo © Harry Thaler
Inspired during a visit to the United States: “Nine-Sitzer” is a stackable high stool made of solid cedar wood. Photo © Harry Thaler