Uli Mayer-Johanssen

Uli Mayer-Johanssen

Brand Expert and Co-Founder of MetaDesign

8. October 2015


According to Uli Mayer-Johanssen, human beings need an anchor in a world that’s rapidly becoming more complex. As a marketing expert and co-founder of MetaDesign, she is intensely attuned to the value of a brand’s visual identity – and since she finds its design timeless, her USM shelving has accompanied her for over 14 years. In her sun-drenched living room in Berlin-Zehlendorf, it stands in contrast to her antique baroque mirror and collection of antique sculptures.

How does one find such a great house in Berlin?

We looked for a long time for a place that matched our sensibilities. After the war, most of the houses were divided - torn down or left to slowly decay. This house is 100 years old and has an interesting history. It was built in 1912 by a general. Then, a baroness lived here. And during the war, it was used as a casino.

Finding it was a real stroke of luck.

When we entered the space, we were immediately smitten. The tall ceilings; the wonderful old windows; the parquet flooring; the view into the garden; the big, old trees. Everything radiated so much warmth and beauty that we couldn’t help but fall in love.

“I think you can feel that all objects have their own history.”

How would you describe your interior design style?

I think you can sense that each item has its history. When I met my husband almost 13 years ago, combining our two worlds seemed to be a challenge. But surprisingly, they complemented each other and became a thrilling mixture of old and new, of contradictions that have a great impact together. For example, my husband loves antique kilims. As a young student, he frequently spent time in Turkey and developed a love for the culture, the mosques, ornaments and the world of color and form. In the beginning, I struggled with the rugs but now I wouldn’t want to have the room any other way.

Did your first USM furniture come into play at that time?

My husband had given up his apartment in Hamburg with a heavy heart, and we moved into an attic in Zehlendorf that was as beautiful as it was difficult to furnish. We were facing the challenge of combining two complete lifestyles in an apartment with many slants and large window areas. It became clear: we needed professional help. And that’s how Inez Franken and Modus got involved - and I got my first USM Haller.

Uli Mayer-Johannsen discovered her passion for sculpture late in life, even though her grandfather was a sculptor.

Did you extend the red USM Haller shelving?

Another move forced us to arrange everything anew, and to expand and remodel. That’s when many elements such as a file tray, folding doors, extractors, slide-in modules and a rolling cabinet were added. It was tricky to arrange the levels in such a way that they would, on the one hand, comfortably distinguish the living space from the workspace and, on the other hand, fulfill practical requirements. I think the old sideboard is now finding optimal use, extended practically as well as aesthetically. I have now had my USM furniture for over 14 years - and I have not regretted this for a single day.

What do you store in it today?

Books, folders, documents and collectibles. Also: colored pencils, oil and water colors, small drawing pads, paper and sketchbooks. Important and unimportant things. These are all items that have grown close to my heart over the years. They tell little stories and evoke memories of people, travels and beautiful moments.

“No matter if it’s sculpture or furniture – all these things reveal our values, wishes and ideas of the world.”

The objects in the shelves tell stories and remind Uli of beautiful moments in her life.

You own quite a few sculptures. What do you attribute this passion to?

Even though my grandfather was a sculptor and stonemason, the medium intimidated me for a long time. Only my travels to Italy during my studies at the Berlin University of the Arts brought sculpture into focus and kindled my love for it.

In my home, the items from different stylistic eras and cultural regions reinforce each other’s charm and significance. I am fascinated by the way the baroque mirror plays off the nomad rug from Afshar and the USM Haller shelving. It creates a wonderful tension.

Art seems to be an important part of your life. And as co-founder of MetaDesign – an agency for brand management – design plays a daily role for you, as well.

Art and design – can you even separate them? Paintings, sculptures, rugs, furniture, clothes or objects for daily use are all expressions of the fascinating world I live in. All these things convey – intentionally or not – our attitude, our values and our view of the world, as well as our understanding of quality, our dreams, wishes and ideas. I have always been interested in looking behind the obvious dimensions of things and discovering the underlying principles.

In the living room, different eras of style and culture meet.

“When it comes to a successful corporate identity, the visual is invincible.”

Which dreams have come true due to the design of your USM Haller furniture?

The design doesn’t bow to fashion, doesn’t follow the zeitgeist and thus won’t become obsolete tomorrow. It carries out its task in a professional manner. That’s why these pieces of furniture could accompany me all my life.

You’re a marketing expert and know exactly what constitutes a successful company identity.

In a world that is speeding up and getting more global and more volatile - and that is increasingly shaped by technology and media - a solid anchoring is necessary to establish trademark features and lend the brand a lively and succinct appearance. In this complex world, the demand for answers is rising. The question remains: What creates consistency? And that’s where the visual is still unbeatable.

Uli, thanks for your time and the invitation to your beautiful home.

This portrait was produced by the international interview magazine Freunde von Freunden. Find more USM furniture for your home and workspace here.