Travis Smith & Chris Bale

Thoroughly Modern Bears

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern
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Above: Travis Smith (left) and Chris Bale, founders of Modern Bear

There is something quite admirable about those who combine the things they enjoy into a single endeavor. Someone who loves baking and being around people is well suited to opening a café. A wood carver who loves music might make a fine woodwind instrument maker. But what if your pleasures are modern design and hunky, hairy men. This may not seem at first blush to be the easiest blend but in the world of Modern Bear they go hand in hand.

Modern Bear, created by co-founders Travis Smith and Chris Bale, is a corner of the internet unlike any other. A hobby that grew into an enterprise Modern Bear is both the celebration of fine Modern design served up with a helping of beefcake. It is a mix of Retro Futurism and joyous kitsch. It is Mid Century Modern architecture punctuated by handsome, shirtless men. No, it is not easy to describe Modern Bear so let’s let Chris and Travis tell us more about it.

Who is Modern Bear?

Travis : Modern Bear is actually just two guys, I and my bestie/ business partner, Chris Bale aka “Design Wolf.”

What is and why Modern Bear? How/when did it come about?

Travis :  Modern Bear is a publishing and media business focused on our love of Mid Century Modern design, architecture, and the gay Bear community. It started five years ago when Chris won a staycation at the Arizona Biltmore and asked me to join him. We were actually kind of broke that weekend but lapping up the luxury of staying at the fabulous deco Biltmore. While we were lounging in the pool, I pitched my idea to Chris about writing a book about the Bear scene but with emphasis on design. I asked him to co-write it with me and he jumped at the chance.

Chris : Modern Bear is simply a synthesis of Gay bear Culture and Mid-century modern in all its forms. Architecture. Design. furnishings.

modern bear mid century modern travis smith chris bale

A celebration of pop culture Modern Bear is a glorious fusion of design, kitsch, and the bear community.

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Modern Bear’s Travis does his best Farrah!

What was the goal when you started modernbear.net and the Modern Bear Facebook page?

Chris / Travis : From the get go, the ultimate goal was to produce a television show based on our premise, but we knew it would take baby steps. The very first thing we did was start a Facebook page. It was free and we thought it was an easy way to determine if there was any interest in our subject. It didn’t take long to figure out that there was! Yay!!! The website didn’t actually happen for another year! It seemed that social media sites were replacing websites so we just kind sort of went with the flow.

With nearly 140,000 fans Modern Bear's Facebook page is also showcase of modern interior design with a distinctly masculine vibe as shown in their 'Modern Bear Lairs'. Click on image for full view.

What would you say has been the most surprising response to Modern Bear?

Travis : In retrospect it’s not such a surprise, but I was initially tickled by the attention from our straight female followers. But duh, of course they love fabulous design and hot furry men! We have become that kind of Bravo network demographic of gay men and straight women.

Chris : The awesome support of straight women and even some of their husbands!

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Always up for spoof Modern Bear’s Chris and Travis take on Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Modern Bear’s Travis Smith channels his Holly Golightly in this send up of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One of the many takes on popular movie themes.

There is nothing quite like the mashup of Mid Century Modern and the bear community that is Modern Bear, so it’s probably safe to say that within the gay community there may be a ready fan base. However, is there interest in Modern Bear outside of the gay / bear community?

Travis : Totally! As I just explained in the previous question, Modern Bear has transcended the niche Bear community to include design-loving gays and the women who love them too. I think we would have more straight guys following us, but they’d probably be embarrassed by the shirtless hunks in their news feed!

While it would appear that Modern Bear is primarily and entertainment/personal interest venture do you see it as a form of social activism for the gay community? Or do you steer clear of political/social issues.

Travis : Hmmm, good question! We sort of made a conscious decision from the beginning to keep it focused on design and keep it fun and entertaining. We do try to promote all types of gay businesses and personalities along the way. We featured a FTM transgender guy as a Beefcake of the Week this past year and that stirred up some interesting discourse. But seriously, the dude is hot, bearded, and furry! What is really sweet are the messages we get from young people who live in the Mid-west or someplace rural and they tell us how much they love our posts on design and help them feel more at ease about being gay. That’s probably the coolest thing about all of this.

Enviable, classic Modernist architecture is also something featured regularly on Modern Bear's Facebook page. Click on image for full view.

It’s always fun to scroll through your posts on the Modern Bear Facebook page and I have to say it’s a tightly curated page. This may seem a silly question and ignore if you cannot say or know but what has been the most popular post on the Facebook page?

Travis : Thank you! It always surprises me what post becomes viral. Now that we have almost 130,000 followers on facebook, the design related posts can get just as much action as the Beefcake, which is very rewarding to us. But it was a rather subversive comedic illustration that we recently posted that ended up being the most viral; “Build A Bear Workshop” LOL.

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

With nearly 7,500 shares one of Modern Bear’s mot popular posts was this ‘Build-A-Bear-Workshop’.

 

What do you see down the road for Modern Bear? How big would you like this venture to become?

Travis : We see MB becoming a TV show franchise and brand. It’s happening, probably a year away. The entertainment industry has explored a lot of sub cultures, but not Bears yet! We are cuddly and accessible and perfect fodder for a design based show. A reporter writing about us called us “Martha Stewart with a beard.” LOL Please stay tuned!

Chris : Manageably giant. We have more book ideas. Ideas for TV programs. Ideas for furniture even. Gay is mainstreaming and honestly we may very well be coming into a time where we reconnect our designed environment back to the time before it went astray. Mid-century is going to take its rightful place next to Craftsman and other styles that people revere in cities across the country. We’re already seeing “This Century Modern” new build housing that picks up where things things petered out in the 60’s but with current technology.

Classic wheels and the Modern Bear go well together and there's always an automotive gem on display. Click on image for full view.

Is Modern Bear a full time job?

Travis : It really sort of is, but I have a full time day job as an interior designer and Chris is a Realtor specializing in Mid Century Modern properties here in Palm Springs.

Chris : It is an almost full time labor of love on top of 2 very full time jobs. Travis is a designer/manager for a respected firm H3K in Palm Springs, and [I’m] a top 30 ranked Realtor in Palm Springs with the Mid-century specialists Paul Kaplan Group.

If you could say, who has been your favorite Modern Bear and why?

Click on image for full view.

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Travis : Without a doubt, my partner John is my fave Modern Bear! Whew, that was close lol. No seriously, he could easily be a “Beefcake of the Week” but that is just not happening!

Chris : Wow, hard to pick one. So much sexy, but maybe Chris LaVoie. Sure he's hunky and muscular but he's also funny and witty as heck! Brains are sexy too. Photo: Rey Rey

Chris : Wow, hard to pick one. So much sexy, but maybe Chris LaVoie. Sure he’s hunky and muscular but he’s also funny and witty as heck! Brains are sexy too. Photo: Rey Rey

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Suggestive but always playfully irreverent the guys at Modern Bear have become known for their parody images like their take on this classic Herb Albert album.

A few questions for fun!

How does one know they might be a Modern Bear

Travis : If you’re furry and brake for a mid-century modern store!

Modern Bear, the movie – see it happening?

Travis : I actually do! It would be based on our book, “Guide for the Modern Bear.”

Chris : Actually anything is possible. I wouldn’t rule it out. I mean we could just redo “A Single Man’ mixed with ‘Far From Heaven’ and just cast some beefier actors…

Are there straight Modern Bears

Travis : Absolutely! We have several guy friends who are classic Modern Bears and love to be called that, LOL. And some of them are married to Goldilocks!

What is the one piece of modern furniture every Modern Bear must have?

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Travis : Ooooh, good one. Some are going to say this is a cliché, but you can’t go wrong with an authentic vintage Eames lounger in distressed aged black leather and rosewood. It goes with anything; it’s like the little black dress of MCM furniture!

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Chris : I’m a Chair Whore. If I had to whittle it down to one it would be an Eames fiberglass shell rocker with walnut wood rails. Honorable mention would go to a set of 6 gleaming chrome Bertoia chairs huddling and shimmering around the dining

As well as modern interiors, architecture, pop culture, and cars there are, of course, also the guys. Click on image for full view.

 

 

modern bear travis smith chris bale mid century modern

Having carved out an entirely unique niche for themselves Modern Bear co-founders Chris Bale and Travis Smith relax poolside in Palm Springs. Please check out the Modern Bear Facebook page and visit their website for more info and loads of great MB merchandise!

Please check out the Modern Bear online store!

And you can also follow Modern Bear on Twitter!

 


 

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Matt
Member

Great article. It’s good to finally see the faces behind this awesome site. Been following you on FB for several years and always look forward to your posts. I find I learn something new every day. Keep bringing it, guys. BearHugs to you!!!!

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