Munich-born Oliver Heilmer is a car designer that grew up fascinated with auto design, especially tractors from his grandmother’s farm. His passion led him to study at design schools in Munich and Pforzheim before kicking off his professional career with the BMW Group’s Advanced Design team in 2000. Right out of the gate, he cut his teeth heading up the design of the BMW 5 Series before being promoted to BMW’s Head of Interior Design in 2013, a spot he held for 3 years. A move to Los Angeles in 2016 brought a change of scenery as well as a new role as the President of Designworks, a BMW Group Subsidiary where he oversaw the design teams of the North America, Europe, and Asia studios, along with the company’s strategy. Just over a year ago, he landed back in Munich after being appointed the Head of MINI Design where he’s driving the design-focused brand into the future through innovation and his unique perspective. Continue on to see what else brings Heilmer joy and light outside of his professional life, in this week’s Friday Five.
1. My family
Spending time with my kids is great, because it brings out some of the child in me, too. We’re completely focused when we’re playing; there is nothing that can distract our attention. It’s almost like meditating for me. And I’m also intrigued and amazed by my children’s apparently endless imagination. It’s a gift that we lose slightly as we get older; it gives way to our sense of reality. However, I do my best to make sure it doesn’t vanish completely. When we’re painting together, for example, I try to convey my fascination with form and colour to them on canvas – in a very fun way, of course.
I love cooking and enjoy making food for my close friends. It provides a much-needed contrast to my rather hectic everyday life. Stimulating all the senses while concentrating on what needs to be done when and where is something I find both fascinating and very challenging. One of my favourite professional chefs is Mario Gamba. His dishes are very clear and genuine – and all of his recipes I’ve tried have been a success. So I like preparing food, but eating it is even better. In other words, enjoying food with other people is the best part for me.
It’s no secret that I’ve made a career of my love of cars. Ever since I can remember, vehicles of all shapes and sizes have had a captivating effect on me. I never tire of reading magazines about them or researching them online; on the contrary, my curiosity is boundless. During my time in California, I discovered a completely different approach to cars. The people there often share their passion for cars very publicly, without resenting what others have. At weekend events such as Cars & Coffee or Supercar Sunday, owners of special cars from all over the world meet up and basically show them off. The age and condition of the vehicles are every bit as varied as the different makes on display. The events are attended by a broad spread of people. It’s simply about sharing a hobby – whether you’re an owner or a visitor. It would be fantastic if we had this type of car meet in Germany, with the same laid-back approach.
4. The island of Sylt
Sylt is a small island in northern Germany. I like the climate there – it can be very raw and windy, but also really hot in the summer – and the fantastic food. My favourite eatery is Sansibar, whose reputation extends far beyond the North Sea coast. It’s a place where you can enjoy both simple dishes, such as a good old Currywurst sausage, or fine dining (the sashimi, for example, is amazing) – and even do so on the beach if you want. That’s not something you find very often in Germany. Another thing I value about the island is the sense of peace and tranquillity it radiates, especially in the off-season. Long walks on the mudflats or bike rides through the dunes are perfect for disconnecting and renewing energy and creativity levels. You quickly forget you’re in Germany; being on the coast gets you dreaming – of distant lands and new places to discover.
5. My espresso machine
I just love my manual espresso machine. Switching the machine on before my morning shower already gets it hissing. Once it has warmed up and the beans are being ground, the fresh coffee aroma hits the nose – there’s nothing quite like it. Then you tamp the ground coffee before twisting the portafilter into the group head. Finally, you flick the water lever and just a few seconds later you have creamy black coffee flowing into the cup. I love the ritual; sometimes I enjoy the preparation of the coffee more than the actual drinking. Perhaps it’s the ceremony of operating the pure, plain mechanics that makes it special. Plus, the visual clarity of my espresso machine gives it some serious aesthetic appeal. I find it all really quite absorbing.