The ethos behind Chicago-based product designers Stephanie and Bruce Tharp doesn’t encompass a particular style or aesthetic, but rather a simplistic ideology with clean, modern design at the forefront. Working as both award-winning designers and tenured, full-time professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the duo form a powerhouse of skill and expertise, experimenting with conceptual and collaborative projects via their South Loop studio, Materious. “A lot of our work is self-initiated,” Stephanie says. “This provides a level of freedom that’s really exciting.” Creating useful objects that solve problems, address social issues, and simply “make life better” are of particular interest, and with the help from Best in Show wins at Design Within Reach’s Modern+Design+Function, the couple also generate commercial work as well. Recently, they’ve just begun mass production on Cubby—their popular coat hook and storage unit—a dream they’ve aspired to since 2005. “Each project arises out of what we’re interested in,” explains Bruce. “It’s about real life, doing and thinking, and the stuff that gives life meaning.”
LX: Current project:
BT: We always have a number of projects that we’re about to start; one we’ve just begun working on is a reimagination of the humble wooden desk ruler.
LX: Design icon:
ST: I admire Eva Zeisel because she was amazingly passionate about her work: designing and making objects until she was 105 years old.
LX: Eames or Mackintosh?
BT: Eames—husband-and-wife experimenters par excellence.
LX: Coveted items:
ST: My father is a woodworker and asked us what we wanted for both of our daughters. We worked together and he made them each a dresser when they were born. The wood he used came from a cherry tree on my aunt and uncle’s property that they’d cut down several years prior.
LX: Favorite place to visit in Chicago for inspiration:
BT: Sometimes I go to The Drake Hotel to think and sketch.
LX: Go-to decorating sources:
ST: I don’t really think in terms of decorating per se, but I enjoy looking around for nicely designed objects at Luminaire, Orange Skin, I.D. Chicago and Design Within Reach.