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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Are the Precedents for Presents?

December 1, 2017

 

Long before the customary exchange of gift cards and fruitcakes (giving real meaning to the phrase “you shouldn’t  have”), giving gifts around December 25th was an important and varied tradition. In the Christian tradition, the custom of Christmas gift-giving is based on the gifts of the three Magi, but there are other precedents for presents. In Sicily, an old woman named Strina brings gifts on Christmas, and her name may stem from the Roman goddess Strenia, whose feast day was marked by the exchange of green boughs (sound familiar?). In a related French tradition, gifts called entrennes are given on New Year’s Day. In Germany and Scandinavia, a gifting tradition called Julklapp involves knocking on doors, flinging wrapped packages into houses, and running away. Sometimes, these gift bombs incorporate marriage proposals (take that, fiancé!). And of course, there’s a certain bearded man in a red suit…

Discover more holiday lore in our Twelve Uncommon Facts About the Holidays post.

24 Days of Tea Advent Calendar | $25

Gift Guides

Far-Out Finds: Gifts for Your Favorite Space Geek

November 22, 2017

For space geeks, it’s an awesome time to be alive. From the Great American eclipse to Cassini’s swan song, 2017 was a big year for space stuff. And with new, weird exoplanets popping up all the time and propulsion innovations bringing us closer to Mars, the future’s looking equally far out. So for all the stargazers on your list, we’ve assembled a constellation of space-inspired gifts to make the holidays merry and bright as Alpha Canis Majoris.

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Gift Guides

Gifts for Impossible-to-Shop-for Guys

November 8, 2017

Stop us if this guy sounds familiar: He already has everything he needs (and a lot of things he doesn’t). He seems to own every book ever written about his favorite subject and definitely doesn’t need another sweater. You feel like it’s impossible to figure this guy out or surprise him with anything short of a monogrammed hovercraft. He is… Mr. Impossible-to-Shop-for. At times, even the savviest shoppers can feel stumped by a member of this elusive subspecies. Never fear—read on for some of our most uncommon offerings, from mind-bending fractal puzzles to great-smelling solid colognes, tackling your trickiest guy-gifting conundrums.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s So Sweet About New York?

November 6, 2017

When you think maple, you probably think of Vermont and those little leaf-shaped candies. But at the end of the Eighteenth century, one man was on a mission to make the Empire State the maple state. Gerrit Boon, who had been a sugar refiner in Holland, came to upstate—way upstate—New York with dreams of turning its abundant maple forests into a vast plantation for making maple sugar. Continue Reading…

Design

An Unfolding Story: The Shape-Shifting Ollie Chair

October 26, 2017

*Editor’s note: The Shape-Shifting Ollie Chair is coming soon to our assortment. Be the first to get it by pre-ordering here.

“I like creating objects that move and change and don’t always stay what they seem to be,” says Ollie chair designer Jess Banks. Transformation is everywhere you turn at her studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It starts with the building itself. The jaw-dropping space of the New Lab, where Jess and her team develop their kinetic designs, was once part of a shipbuilding mecca. The space is now a high-tech entrepreneurial hub. “It’s really amazing to think of how we’re based in a place that was running because of war, and I’m allowed the freedom and luxury to create new ideas,” she reflected. This is just the sort of place you’d expect to find a chair that unfurls from a two-inch-thick rectangle of aluminum and wood tambour—and transforms back again with a gentle pull.

We visited Jess to discuss design inspirations for her shape-shifting chair, the personalities behind it, and why she doesn’t call it a “folding chair.” Along the way, we learned more about tambour and discovered why the former Comedy Central employee looks forward to buying toothpaste. Continue Reading…

Design

Coffee Brake: The Manual Three-in-One Coffeemaker

October 21, 2017

*Editor’s note: The Manual Three-in-One Coffeemaker is coming soon to our assortment. Get it first by pre-ordering here.

Coffee can be a complicated thing. Unless you’re drinking decaf, it signals speed and gulp-and-go morning motivation. It’s no accident that many American offices provide a steady stream of java, as if to say coffee equals productivity. But the slow food movement has put the brakes on preparing this fast-lane beverage. “Slow coffee is really asking folks to consider coffee as something more than just a caffeine jolt,” says Manual Three-in-One Coffeemaker designer Craighton Berman. Brewing methods like pour-over and French press that predate auto drip and K-cup coffeemakers have made a comeback. You could easily end up with a cabinet full of coffee paraphernalia, but Chicagoans and slow-coffee devotees Craighton and his wife and design partner, Emily, have a solution: a brewer that combines two manual methods with an insulating double-walled design.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s Another Word for Piles of Printed Procrastination?

October 2, 2017

 

 

Whether it’s just a few volumes that you couldn’t resist or a formidable tower threatening to topple over and crush you with its wordy weight, there’s actually a name for your pile of unread books: tsundoku. This Japanese neologism describes the habit—some would say admirable, others would say pathological—of accumulating books that may never actually be read. The term is a playful mash-up of words that wonderfully describe the habit: tsunde (to stack things), oku (to leave for a while), and doku (to read). Roughly translated, the combination denotes a pile of printed procrastination. Some would argue that, read or unread, tsundoku. is a noble pursuit because well-designed books are objects of beauty in and of themselves. But if you do get around to reading that deluxe edition of Moby Dick that’s been adrift in the tsundoku doldrums for 12 years, just be careful if it’s at the bottom of the stack.

Prologue Epilogue Bookends | $40

Design

Material Matters: The Warmth of Wood

September 27, 2017

Actor and avid canoe builder Nick Offerman once said, “How lucky my life is that I have two arms, and two legs, and ten fingers with which to make things out of wood.” Such dedication to this organic, flexible, and renewable material is nothing new. Wood has been a favorite of architects, builders, and designers for millennia. Technically speaking, it’s cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin. Unlike metals and plastics, wood is versatile, structural stuff that can be grown. Plant a seed or acorn, wait a few decades, and you can build yourself a house, a ship, or a cuckoo clock. From ancient Japanese temples to the flowing furniture of Scandinavian modernism, wood inspires an amazing variety of design. Not surprisingly, you’ll find it in many corners of our collection, where makers draw out its inviting qualities to infuse their work with natural beauty. Thanks, trees! Continue Reading…

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