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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Laura Handler: Industrial Designer

Crate and Barrel, earthenware dinnerware - PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA HANDLER

Imagine your favorite coffee mug. The way it fits into your palm, the way your fingers encircle the roundness of the handle, how when lifted to your lips the slightest dip of your head allows the penultimate sip of the day. Think about the pleasure you get when you wake up in the morning and that mug is waiting for you. It’s not only a container, a means for drinking, it is something more. It’s almost a part of who you are, a reflection of purpose and beauty.

That is what Laura Handler does. She designs the things in our life we don’t really think about. An industrial designer approaches an object as a problem to solve and goes about solving that problem in the most creative way possible.

“I’m not an artist, so I really like to think about the problem a project presents,” Handler says. “It’s a combination of that and a lot of research. Seeing things that don’t work. Usually my ideas don’t come fPrescriptives (a division of Estee' Lauder)- Signed, numbered limited edition fragrance atomizer. Hand blown by Carlo Moretti in Murano, Italy. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA HANDLERrom the area I’m dealing with … if I’m designing a perfume bottle I don’t look at perfume bottles. There’s always a cross-pollination going on.”

Handler divides her time between Pray, Montana, and New York City. Surprisingly, it’s not nature in itself that connects her place with her work, but instead the making of that place: the barbed tying of wire, the chinking of log cabins, the veracity of historically available materials.

“In Montana I’m inspired by manmade things there,” she says. “Although my style is not Western, I’m inspired by traditional western furniture or the materials or the honest method of attaching things. I’m a designer. Iconic Western design Jim Beam Brands - Vox vodka - PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA HANDLERinterests me in its integrity, and it’s based on practicality, methods of manufacturing at the time and the forms that were created. American design is underrated. Its elegant simplicity and innovation is worth learning from.”

She’s also inspired by daily life. Beaver chewed branches. Swirls on the perfect latte. A chalk drawing of a cell phone on a tunnel wall near Geraldine, Montana. And these small perfections come through in her work.

Take for example her Pomellato sterling silver tea series (shown below). The sublime curvature of the teapot feels like a mother Hun scurrying her covey across the snow-covered plains. There is an effortlessness, yes, and whimsy, but more than that, there is an illustrative quality to them. The tiny sugar and creamer, like chicks, wait to be handled. Each piece calls out for use.

Pomellato  - Sterling Silver tea service with Bakelite handles - PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA HANDLER

“A very old jewelry company hired me to design products for the home. ‘Jewelry for houses,’ they called it,” Handler says. “Once I began working on the project, they said what I did was a perfect balance between wit and elegance. I try, whenever possible, to have that in my work, no matter what it is. The relationship of the materials is very important, and at the same time I’m trying to imbue it with a certain other quality – character.”

As an industrial designer, Handler has worked with clients on things as diverse as dinnerware and watches to department store displays.

Mattel - Barbie bubble bath, shampoo, and body wash with collectable charms. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA HANDLER“Each client has specific needs for a product,” she says. “In some cases the requirements can be more technical. It’s a wonderful field because the range is incredibly broad, and the material range is so completely different.”

One of her current projects is designing glass furniture.

“My job is to push the boundaries as much as possible within the reality I can get,” she says. “I push to do something very unusual, but before I go too far, I consult with the company’s research and development department. There’s always a back-and-forth, doing things that have never been done and figuring out what’s possible.”

When starting out on a project, she’ll meet with a marketing person to get an idea about what they’re after. She takes those ideas and translates them into form.

“That’s what’s interesting about it,” Handler says. “You want the form to say certain things. Whether something is translucent or transparent, the materials to me are the primary reason I love doing this. I’m very form oriented, and the combination of the two is very powerful.

Handler Outdoor Furniture Collection - Modular system for outdoor dining. Made in Montana in African mahogany PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA HANDLER

“If you look at icons of design, like the Coca-Cola bottle, forms are the way people remember things. Then there’s an additional level – tactility – it’s not just the way things look, it’s the way they feel. Those are things that make life pleasant. The chair that feels right. Sometimes however, there can also be another level where the form is visible as well as invisible – the experience of it. As if you are flashing back and forth between its invisibility – because it becomes a part of you as you use it – and visibility – because it is a pleasure to look at, and constructed with great integrity. Now THAT is a perfect design.”

Photo of Laura Handler.Handler designed a line of her own outdoor furniture and hopes to continue to do more of that, as well as work with other companies in Montana.

“I remember reading something if you design for yourself you’re designing for everybody,” Handler says (pictured, right). “That’s what I do and I’d like to do more of that here.”

Visit Laura Handler at


(Published regionally and nationally, Michele Corriel has received a number of awards for her non-fiction as well as her poetry. She lives and works in the Gallatin Valley.  This is her first contribution to
The Bozeman Magpie.)

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