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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Values: Our Guiding Principles

June 21, 2017

What makes a workplace great? Your knee-jerk response might focus on salary and benefits, but we all know it’s more than that. Do you feel challenged? Are you encouraged to grow? Do you have a say in your company’s direction? Do you feel like it’s your company? Do you like your co-workers? We’ve had the goal of being a great place to work for a long time, but that can mean different things to different people. We realized that in order to actually make it happen and in turn become a stronger, more impactful business, we had to figure out what “great place to work” meant to us.

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Through discussions with our leadership, work with our human resources team and a trusted advisor, looking at the practices of businesses we admire, and a lot of feedback from team members across the company, we put who we want to be as an organization into words with our seven Guiding Principles.

Each of our Principles helps us define what we’re working to be as a company, and what we want to mean to the people who work here. In short, they’re a set of guidelines to keep us all moving in the same direction. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be differences of opinion expressed. In fact, the Principles are set up to empower folks around here to do just that.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas

June 7, 2017

Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas (with dogs Freddie and Sammie) in their Baltimore, MD studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

When we first started doing Studio Tours back in 2012, we were pretty limited on where we could go to get our inspiration. That isn’t to say the inspiration was limited–we’ve visited a fantastic line-up of New York City artists close to home. But getting the sign-off to pack up and head to another state definitely wasn’t the goal from the start. Five years later, we’re still featuring monthly studio visits. Thanks to all of the love and support shown by our online community, makers, and the UG team for our tours, we’re able to keep growing the series. Now, we’re finding ways to stop by the studios of creators a little farther from home. Around 195 miles or so from home, in this case.

My latest trip started at Penn Station in Manhattan, eaaarly in the morning. A few hours later, I arrived at Penn Station in Baltimore, Maryland, where Kim Strassner was waiting for me and our Tabletop Buyer, NéQuana. Kim filled us in on some neighborhood history as she drove through B-more to the studio, woodshop, and office space where she and her husband, Mike Pararas, design and craft their personalized wooden cutting boards and lazy Susans. It didn’t take long before I realized how much work Kim, Mike, and their team put into each board they produce. The letters in the customized pieces are carved using tiny blades, precise hand movements, and great attention to detail.

In addition to walking me through how a slab of wood becomes a beautiful, handcrafted cutting board, the couple gave me a look at Kim’s first-ever board with words, answered a few questions about what keeps them going strong, and introduced me to their two adorable Havanese dogs. Keep reading to see inside this woodworking wonderland for yourself.

 

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Gift Guides

Gifts for Husbands: Father’s Day Finds for Your Fella

May 26, 2017

He’s pretty great at the partner thing, so it’s no surprise that when the parenting thing happened, he totally nailed it. Sure, raising kids definitely isn’t easy, and you both have a lot to figure out. But you’re in it together, and that helps make the crazy journey of growing a family a whole lot of fun. Celebrate the dude your kids call Dad with something from our list of Father’s Day Finds for Your Fella.

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Design

Wash Your Pet without Getting Drenched (Thanks to the Aquapaw)

May 22, 2017

Have you ever given a dog a bath? She probably squirmed around a bit. OK, that might be an understatement. It’s more likely that that she wouldn’t hold still, splashed around a whole lot, and then did one of those full-body doggy shakes that sent a shower your way. Almost everyone who’s owned a dog has had a similar experience. Product designer Daniel Lentz certainly has, and it got him thinking that there had to be a better way to get our furry friends squeaky clean.

The Aquapaw Dog Bathing Glove lets you keep one hand free to hold your dog’s collar or reach for the pet shampoo, while the other hand wets and scrubs. The whole time your dog is getting the spa treatment, he’s also getting a good petting. It took Daniel years of thinking about the product, piles of prototypes, and some time spent scrubbing dirty pups at a local dog shelter, but now his design is ready to make bath time easier for pet parents and their pets. The Aquapaw is coming soon to our assortment, so we asked Daniel to tell us more about his development process and why he thinks every pet owner should have an Aquapaw.

 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Carrie and Patrick Frost

May 11, 2017

Carrie and Patrick Frost in their Mantua, OH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney and NéQuana Rollings

“Glass is full of magic,” Patrick Frost told me as he and his wife Carrie began the tour of their Mantua, Ohio home with an introduction to their impressive collection of glass pieces from around the world.

As Patrick carefully handled one of the handmade glass objects, he explained that it was created by a master glassblower he’d trained with years before. The glassblower was very old, but after 60 years practicing his craft, he still loved his art, because he believed in the magic of glass.

Patrick said that he too is enchanted by the way glass moves, interacts with light, and almost mesmerizes. The Frosts continued to tell the stories behind many of the pieces in the collection (which takes up an entire wall and then some in their living room), and it became clear that both Patrick and Carrie are sincerely passionate about every part of the glassmaking process—from the first drops of molten material, through firing and turning and blowing, all the way up to opening the oven and seeing the cooled, finished piece for the first time.

Carrie making the Sham-Rock Glass, check out a video of the this glass getting made here

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Design

The Couch Bowl: Taking Comfort Food to the Next Level

February 15, 2017

A background in engineering helps product designer Thomas Both visualize forms in space and think critically when contemplating his prototypes. It also leads him to ask some important questions: What’s the geometry at work? How might I build this? What’s the negative of that shape? What would that connection look like?

Sure, those are things an engineer would definitely ask when building a complex machine, but how does that influence something as seemingly uncomplicated as snacking? Well, when you think about it, snacking isn’t always that simple. We’ve all been there: balancing an overflowing dish and squirming around trying to get the blanket just right, while simultaneously looking for a video to stream and hoping that you’re not about to start a cheese puff avalanche. (You know that if one puff rolls off Snack Mountain, many more are sure to follow.) In this case, figuring out how to simplify the process of holding a dish, getting comfortable, and delivering that oh-so-tasty food to your face is actually a design problem. A problem that Thomas solved with the Couch Bowl.

Thomas Both

“The point of view is that almost all dishware (particularly in Western society) is designed to be used sitting at a dining table, yet often we don’t eat at a dining table,” Thomas explained. “We stand at a cocktail party, or sit in the living room, or lean against the counter in the kitchen–but we are using the stuff made for table dining. So what if we could create dishware designed for eating without a table?”

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Maker Resources, Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Donna and Randall Rollins

February 6, 2017

Randall and Donna Rollins in their Brentwood, NH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

Most of us have had those days when we feel stuck in a rut. You know, when you’re sitting at your desk under harsh florescent lights, or walking extra slowly into your office building, or completing the same seemingly unimportant task for the 500th time. For most of us, this feeling creeps in and we start fantasizing about dropping everything and going confidently in the direction of our dreams. While the feeling usually passes, and many weekday warriors just keep fighting that battle against monotony, Donna and Randall Rollins figured that if they had to pour out their time and energy, it was going to be into something they love. 

The couple met while they were both working in corporate America. First they fell in love with each other, and then Donna fell in love with pottery. Then they learned about the healing properties often associated with gemstones from a friend with a PhD in metaphysics, and everything came together: Donna and Randall left the corporate world to start their own clay studio. They slowly grew their business to include family members and employ local artisans, they discovered new ways to incorporate stones and minerals into their designs, and, aside from acknowledging that their business backgrounds gave them the know-how to turn their passion into a career, they don’t do a lot of looking back. 

“We actively made the decision thinking, ‘If we tank, what’s the worst that can happen? We’ll still have each other,'” Randall told me on my recent visit to the couple’s Brentwood, NH studio. “We took that risk and we were willing to lose it all.”  

As you’re about to see in the photos and interview below, Donna and Randall didn’t lose it all, and they’re still hard at work making beautiful pottery and sharing their passion for stones and clay whenever they can. In fact, when our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I arrived to the studio over two hours late, thanks to a flat tire, the Rollinses weren’t even fazed. Their team had left for the night, and evidence of a long workday (so many pieces, in all stages of completion!) was all around. Still, they welcomed us like old friends, offered us snacks, and almost immediately started showing us their collections of stones and telling us about the energy in the space.  

Healing Stone Mugs, before the stones are attached

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Gift Guides

Crush the Clichés: Our Least Mushy Valentine’s Day Gifts

January 27, 2017

UncommonGoods | Our Least Mushy Valentine's Day Gifts

For many, Valentine’s Day means Cupid’s arrows, red roses, and hearts on EVERYTHING. But for a lot of other folks, the thought of presenting someone with a giant teddy bear holding a plush heart that reads, “I Wuv U” seems a little silly. Sure, we appreciate the classic approach to V-Day gifting, but we’re all for celebrating the holiday without all that over-the-top, sentimental, gooey stuff, too. In honor of those lovebirds who are sweet (but not sappy) and romantic (but still realistic), we created this collection of lovable gifts, minus the mush.

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