Getting ballsy: Roommates build ball pit in 1835 Hinman dorm room


Chelsea Sherlock/The Daily Northwestern

Weinberg freshman Casey Kendall and Bienen freshman Jon Bauerfield, roommates in 1835 Hinman, talk to each other in their newly installed ball pit. The pit has attracted people to their room and helped them meet other new students.

Chelsea Sherlock, Columnist

It takes balls to act on a whim.

Bienen freshman Jon Bauerfield and Weinberg freshman Casey Kendall know what it’s like to see a crazy idea into fruition. The story behind the ball pit they built in their 1835 Hinman dorm room is inspirational, or at least they make it seem that way.

“It’s a testament to how much anything can be achieved if you just decide to do it and not worry about what people think,” Kendall said.

During their second week at Northwestern, they asked a fellow 1835 Hinman resident, Communication senior Daniel Wang, what he had always wanted to do for his room in order to gain inspiration to improve theirs. Wang automatically responded that he wanted a ball pit.

With almost no hesitation, the two committed themselves to the idea. They ordered 2,500 balls from Amazon and last Thursday, the balls arrived in five large boxes. The next day, the two finished building the ball pit and uploaded pictures of the process to Imgur, later publishing the link on Reddit. Within eight hours, the post made it to the front page of the website, and, as of press time, the photos on Imgur had approximately 1.4 million views.

“It has made us very open to crazy ideas seeing as this one went so well,” Kendall said.

Their fame has led them to be known as “the ball pit guys,” and they are enjoying it. They welcome anyone to come and use the ball pit in 1835 Hinman, room 227. They have a neon “open” sign in their window that can be seen from the main entrance to the building. Admittance is free, but they welcome donations to their change jar. The roommates credit the ball pit with helping them meet more people.

“My favorite thing though, is when we talk about the ball pit and people go, ‘Oh my God, that was you?’” Bauerfield said.

Most responses to Bauerfield and Kendall’s ball pit have been enthusiastic. From admiration to envy, the roommates are the talk of their hall.

“It’s probably the most original idea I’ve heard in a while,” Weinberg freshman Petr Palecek said.

However, they have received some negative feedback from people who think having a ball pit in their room is going to lose its appeal.

“There’s been a lot of people telling us we are going to get tired of it, that it’s too much of a hassle. Both of us are kind of like, it’s another piece of furniture,” Kendall said.

Creating the pit may be what they are the most known for, but it is not their only significant achievement. The pit is part of Bauerfield and Kendall’s pattern of pursuing opportunities, both silly and serious, that others might not: Kendall climbed Mount Rainier in Ashford, Wash., while he was on an adventure with friends this summer, and Bauerfield composed a song that Juilliard’s jazz combo performs (they even pay him royalties on it).

Signing a ball is a tradition for anyone who plays in the pit. Bauerfield and Kendall are working on a letter to send with a ball to NU alumnus Stephen Colbert, explaining the pit and asking him to sign the ball. If that goes well, they plan to ask other alumni. They hope University President Morton Schapiro will also participate.

They describe the pit as very relaxing, even citing use of similar ball pits as sensory stimulation for children on the autism spectrum.

“It’s the most pleasant sensation, and the sound — oh the sound,” Kendall said.

Bauerfield and Kendall have also made hygiene a priority for the pit: Shoes are not allowed, and they regularly vacuum the pit and clean the balls.

“It encourages us to stay clean and tidy, because if you lose something in here, it takes time to find it,” Bauerfield said.

Other ball pit features include a duct tape hoop and target for the pit. A sanitation station and possibly a rug for underneath the ball pit are also in the works. Ideally, they would like to have lofted beds and a bigger room so the pit can be expanded.

Nonetheless, the roommates are proud of their ball pit thus far, attributing its success to their spontaneity.

“It really is just as simple as deciding that that one idea is a good one,” Kendall said.  “At least to me, it seems like such a simple thing. It’s weird to see how many people have had the exact same thought as me, but didn’t do it.”

Bauerfield agreed, saying more people should act on their ideas.

“There’s lots of whims that you act on that won’t turn out well, but the ones that do are awesome,” he said.