Harry Allen’s “Reality check”

Harry Allen’s “Reality check”

photo for Esquire Magazine

A visit to Harry Allen’ s design studio in Manhattan highlights Allen’s aesthetic, which could be described as playful functionality.

A graduate of the Pratt Institute, Harry Allen has been part of the design landscape for over a decade. His creative range of lighting, furniture, packaging, and interior design tells of a mind that is practical albeit uninhibited.

Harry has long believed that original form should no longer be the driving force in design. Collections like Areaware’s Reality, showcase how Allen’s mode of conceptualization produces effective pieces. Reality allows him to further explore this idea by borrowing form from the world around him.


Harry Allen was born in 1964.

He received an undergraduate degree from Alfred University before moving to New York City and earning a Masters in Industrial Design from the Pratt Institute in 1994.

In 1993 he established his design consultancy, Harry Allen Design, and the same year designed and produced a line of furniture called Living Systems, which he showed at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

His first interior design client was Perspectives in 1993

His work spans the gamut from interior design to graphic design and product.

From the beginning, Harry Allen’s work has been recognized with honors and awards. His achievements include the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s Modernism/Young Designer Award, two Industrial Design Society of America IDEA Awards, and he has been featured in ID Magazine’s Annual Design Review four times.

In his relatively short career he has established himself as an accomplished multidisciplinarian, able to bring fresh vision to tired product types through form and material.His first major success was a ceramic foam lamp which was featured in the 1994 MoMA exhibition Mutant Materials in which a light bulb is snuggled in a pocket of rigid ceramic foam. The piece looks soft, squishy and flammable and yet it is none of those things. The difference between the appearance and the reality make an indelible impression.

His experience at Prescriptives lead to more interior design work. His first major solo project, the MOSS store in New York’s SoHo district, received international praise – an ultra minimal interior that looks like a museum exhibition that got married to an operating room.

Since then, he has designed a number of successful interiors including offices, restaurants, and residences. His largest project is a chain of retail stores called Hushush in Japan.

In June of 2009, Allen completed work on the Corian® Design Studio in Philadelphia. Allen’s hope was “…that this showroom will demonstrate how much fun it is to work with Corian®.” True to his design intent, the studio demonstrates how far this material can be pushed.

The second store by New York designer Harry Allen for prestigious streetwear retailer, UNION, is one part archeological dig and two parts humble masterpiece. Located two doors down from the site of the original UNION store on Spring Street in Manhattan, the new space incorporates some of the elements we developed for its counterpart in LA yet remains true to New York. Harry Allen started by stripping away layers of interior finishes to reveal some original details. He found a window and door that had been covered over, a variety of plaster and brick finished, and the rafters were beautiful.

“The demo process in New York is so interesting that we decided to preserve it,” says Harry Allen. The reclaimed details were “ghosted” out by decorative painter Frank Rynan and used as the backdrop for merchandise. The wooden area up front echoes the original store design – it is friendly and familiar. And the back lit, black metal shoe wall at the back of the store becomes a dramatic draw for the eye. The new UNION store is literally a “union” of brand, store environment, and location

And Allen’s latest, and perhaps the most widely distributed success is packaging design for the beauty industry giant Aveda. Recycled aluminum, paper pulp packaging (think egg cartons) and natural fiber infused plastic combined in a packaging system that is smart, sensuous, rich and “environmental” all at the same time

Harry Allen’s success as a furniture designer has translated into many other arenas.

His achievements include interior design for several retail and restaurant projects both in the US and internationally. He also designed the offices for Metropolis Magazine and the Guggenheim Museum. His designs are decorative but go beyond ornament. Each has an underlying meaning which questions the relationship people have with the everyday objects in their lives.”

Due to his versatile nature, Harry Allen is often asked to span multiple design disciplines and develop advance concept work for clients. These projects, like Allen’s involvement in the repositioning of La Mer cosmetics, his advance concept work for MAC cosmetics, and his “souvenir plate” project for the Morgans Hotel Group, require acute brand sensitivity. However, his first total corporate re-branding project was completed in 2008 for the professional airbrush cosmetics company Temptu.

Harry Allen does not underestimate his audience. His systematic design process, long-standing interest in art and new materials, and desire to innovate have lead to some of the most intelligent products and interiors in the world today.

“For my first collection for Gaia&Gino, Gaye asked me to work on some dog products, and as part of that exploration I developed a little dog figure as a representation of Gino. The block figure will eventually be translated across many platforms, but here it takes the form of a cluster of crystal blocks. A three-dimensional, transparent, digitized, Gino – woof!”

Over the years, I have has adopted the theme of clusters in a variety of different forms. I have worked with clusters of wooden blocks to build furniture, clusters of tin cans to build storage units, and now for Gaia&Gino, clusters of optical crystal blocks to build vases. In the Metropolitan Collection the glass blocks are stacked like bricks to build sleek modern forms reminiscent of urban architecture. They stand alone as sculptures or play brilliant foil to the organic forms of flowers.

Harry Allen’s Pipeline design For New York furniture company Dune – is a brilliant solution to the challenging seating requirements that any public space may require. It consists of four upholstered pipe-shaped components that when combined can create endless configurations of group-seating.

Winner of I.D. magazine’s best packaging design in their Annual Design Review, industrial designer Harry Allen’s take on Johnson & Johnson’s ubiquitous first aid kit reshapes it into a modern figure-eight form. The design stands on end for easy storage, has a built-in handle for quick grab-and-go, and makes for the slimmest profile possible, with the recognizable red cross front and center.

“Over the years it had been cost-engineered to death,” says Allen of the original clear plastic box with a flimsy handle and a slapped-on label – The best part: It holds 30 more items than its predecessor

Why is the look of such a utilitarian product important? “When something’s more beautiful, maybe you’ll leave it out rather than trying to hide it under the counter, which is a good thing,” he said, especially when time is of the essence.

That sunny clock on the cover of this month’s issue of Real Simple?

Real Simple commissioned four designers— to create clocks for the magazine’s time-themed tenth anniversary issue. Allen took the magazine’s life-simplifying mission to heart with a cast silicone clock whose lone hand separates past from future.

It’s a wall-mounted reminder of the power of now. “The dually marked hand, with the words ‘past’ and ‘future’ on either side, makes it clear that the present is now—a message that I hope will inspire readers to approach every moment with optimism and vigor,” says Allen. “The sunny yellow color of the clock and its Frisbee-like tactile quality also help to convey this positive message.”

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