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The Mighty Bearcats

Three young designers take playful design for a spin.


What it is Playfully designed objects for the home by Steve Haulenbeek, Jason Chernak and Bryan Metzdorf.

Who they are The trio of twentysomethings met as students at the School of the Art Institute. Responding to the school’s push for collaboration between students and finding they shared a similar attitude toward design, Metzdorf, Haulenbeek and Chernak decided to form a collective. The name, the Mighty Bearcats—somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek ode to the school’s nonexistent sports teams—exemplifies the healthy dose of silliness infused in their work. “We do take design very seriously and think it can change the way people think about life in general, but we also see people who we think are taking it too seriously,” Chernak says. “[It doesn’t] have to be about who’s got the glossiest, prettiest, most expensive couch, table, whatever. It can just be fun.”

What they make Already busy with day jobs and individual projects—Chernak at an architecture firm, Metzdorf as a freelancing jack-of-all-trades and Haulenbeek as a designer at Holly Hunt Chicago—the group has used exhibitions and trade shows such as International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York and the Stockholm Furniture Fair (exhibiting for both through Designboom’s Mart) as jumping-off points for new endeavors. Since their first project for the Guerrilla Truck Show in 2006, they’ve created a 10-foot-long Designer Picnic Table with removable individual stools and a glass surface conducive to coloring (perfect for “designer tailgate parties”); the Bacon Light, an incandescent bulb that “cooks” its surrounding bacon lampshade; and a flat-pack, modular shelving system that employs rubber as a natural hinge (the former two being one-off projects and the latter a prototype). For their most recent project—Skin Series—the designers started by experimenting in their garage with heat-shrink tubing from McMaster-Carr, a heat gun and items like test tubes and shot glasses from thrift stores and American Science & Surplus. Fiddling around with the materials, they found that by applying heat to the industrial tubing, the rubbery plastic not only molded snugly around whatever object they fit inside it, but the pressure from the gun’s air created organic folds in the material’s surface. The end result: a collection of handmade bud vases and hanging lights available for purchase.

Why we like it The looks-like-porcelain-but-bends-like-rubber bud vases create a surprising tactile experience and reflect the designers’ goal of interacting with the user. “I don’t think any of us are big fans of objects that just sit there,” Chernak says. “With these [Skin Vases], yeah they’re just vases, they hold flowers, but [there’s] that first moment of shock that it’s not porcelain.” Not to mention, with vases selling for $12–$16 and lights about $30, the price is right.

Where to find it Willow (908 N Damen Ave, 773-772-0140) and

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