Now Playing

Ice Breaker

Inspired by the polar vortex, Steven Haulenbeek develops a new technique to create one-of-a-kind bronze furnishings.

Steven Haulenbeek’s studio in Chicago is his creative hub where he experiments with raw materials and process. His talent spans industrial and furniture design, and he has been part of several international exhibitions. 

“Every one of my pieces begins with a block of solid ice or sometimes just a frigid Chicago winter day,” explains Steven Haulenbeek, a former furniture designer for Holly Hunt, who has become well known to designers and private collectors worldwide for the bespoke bronze furnishings that he makes using hand-carved ice molds. “Ice-cast bronze is an ongoing experiment,” Haulenbeek explains, noting that he enjoys working on the roof outside his second-floor concrete loft studio during the cold winter months. “It’s exciting to play and see what comes of it.”

Indeed, it was Haulenbeek’s playful approach that led him to discover the technique during the exceptionally frigid winter of 2011. “As an experiment, I poured hot wax into a frozen puddle and realized that the rapid cooling of the wax against the ice made this swirly, otherworldly texture,” he explains. “I don’t carve any of that detail. It just sort of happens, which is the great thing about this process.”

Excited by the possibilities that the new technique offered, Haulenbeek began making ever-larger ice molds, which he freezes and carves by hand. “I’m basically carving the negative of the form into the ice,” says Haulenbeek. “The wax is destroyed within the process of making the objects in bronze, so each piece is one of a kind.”

The artist’s work includes everything from tables and lighting to simple vessels, mirrors and sculptural objects that are currently on display at Johanssen Gallery in Berlin and L MD Gallery in Paris. “There is no better feeling than toiling over a piece for months, releasing it into the world and having it be appreciated,” Haulenbeek explains.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Haulenbeek has recently begun creating larger, more complex pieces, most notably a massive dining table that will require at least a dozen castings. He is also developing a technique using resin-bonded sand—a disposable byproduct from the foundry that is usually discarded. “I don’t usually start with a clear concept—I just jump into making something, even if I don’t know what it will be,” Haulenbeek explains. “I love that five years from now, my practice will have morphed into something completely different that I couldn’t dream of today.” 

New complexity. There is a new appetite for one-off, artisan-made, complex objects that blur the lines between art and design. Small-batch local production. It’s where you find the most interesting work and also fuel the local design community. Cast bronze. (Get into it!)

3-D printing everything. 3-D printing is only a tool. It doesn’t create design. Heritage style. Its not the early 20th century. Stop pretending. Memphis sampling. There is a little too much sampling of specific aesthetic elements of the movement, and too much ignoring the philosophy.