It was April in 2012, at the Milan Salone, when CB2 was captivated by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Whatnot exhibit. That collection showcased the talented team of professors and students at SAIC—about a 10-minute L train ride from CB2’s merchandising office.
After months of discussions, a 2-semester course for 12 students was envisioned with the end-goal of one product per student creating a collection that would be produced exclusively for CB2. In order to get it on the School’s calendar for students to opt into, the first class started over a year later in the Fall 2013 semester.
The course required two experienced professors—Jim TerMeer and Tim Parsons—
a teaching assistant, Carlos Ortega, supplies to realize and prototype concepts, and a lecture series created specifically for the students and presented by CB2’s diverse staff.
The class assignment came from the CB2 Merchandising team, who collaborated with the students and professors just as they do with established designers.
Ryan Turf, Managing Director, and Ali Williams, Senior Director of Business Operations and Strategy, kicked off day 1 talking about what it takes to run a home furnishings brand.
The professors knew time would be tight, so they had assigned homework 3-4 weeks in advance of the first class—students researched statistics and urban migration trends to create a presentation as a way to share fun facts as well as their views on the subject.
Armed with a solid and practical understanding of small space living, they moved to the conceptual side a few weeks later. So as they explored what a snail could teach them about nesting tables and hoarding squirrels inspired expandable storage containers, a true to scale 250sf apartment was created in the classroom from cardboard and sheet foam—complete with a kitchen and bathroom.
Many concepts were sketched and ideas floated, debated, enhanced, critiqued—all were voted on and the best ones moved into the protoyping stage.
Students learned presentation skills each time they met with CB2—from introducing initial concepts to demonstrating how hand-made full-size prototypes could actually work.
Some weeks the CB2 team would visit the school to see how concepts were progressing—other times, the class would meet at the CB2 offices.
Final drawings were delivered at the end of the semester in early December 2013, and they were immediately sent off for sampling with high hopes they would be selected for this Spring 2015 assortment.
While the students enjoyed winter break, factory-made prototypes were being created and a second round was shipped to Chicago—incorporating feedback from CB2’s buyers after their initial review.
Classes resumed at the end of January and the lecture series continued, including conversations on marketing, visual merchandising, catalogs and eCommerce. As soon as the samples arrived, everyone worked fast, furiously and collaboratively to confirm final details so production could get started to meet delivery deadlines.
In the end, each student submitted a concept that became a reality for the Design Collab No.1—space saving furniture and accessories. Textiles which reference the square footage of floor plans, an ultra-thin energy-efficient LED pendant, a room divider with over 200 hooks to store or display, and a jewelry cabinet hidden behind a wall mirror are just a few products from the collection.