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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with David and Christopher Steinrueck

November 10, 2015

Christopher and David Steinrueck | UncommonGoods

 David and Christopher Steinrueck, Photos by Emily Hodges

Brother duo, David and Christopher Steinrueck, work out of their woodshop in the heart of San Francisco.  After spending just a few moments inside a space that invites noise from wood slicing tools and is spotted with patches of fallen saw dust, it’s not hard to see that sustainability, craftsmanship, and community are the values that build the very foundation of their business, Wood Thumb. David, Chris, and their team salvage reclaimed wood’s natural beauty when crafting it into everyday function and modern design. From their Wooden Beer Caddy to their Magnetic Bottle Opener – their beautiful craftsmanship is obvious and “there is no part that is unnecessary and everything is created with intention.” Read on to find out what community means to David and Chris and why you might want to pop in for one of the woodworking classes that they offer the next time you find yourself in San Francisco.

Wooden Beer Caddies by Christopher and David Steinrueck

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Tricia Wright

August 7, 2015

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I visited Tricia Wright, maker of the Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug, and her beautiful home studio in the heart of San Francisco. From bright pop art, mod furniture, to quirky collections – the moment I walked in I knew that I was very much in a designer’s living space. (Times two because – fun fact -her husband is a designer as well!) While her adorable dog, Major, greeted me as I admired her succulent plant collection and charming outdoor deck, she explained how her home has been a work in progress over the past few years. But now, it’s finally at the stage where she’s comfortable with it being as is – giving her a lot more time to innovate and make “stuff.”

PicMonkey Collage

“Rugs weren’t always my craft. I bought a loom from Craigslist and actually just learned how to weave this year, ” Tricia laughed as she described to me how she “accidentally” got into weaving. A few months back – Tricia noticed she still had a pile of unused bike tubes leftover from an art sculpture she built. And being the sustainable artist that she is – she didn’t want to throw them out. “At the time – I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to make. But I knew something great could come from them.” When she finally came up with the idea of making rugs out of the bike tubes, she suggested that her friend who knew how to loom professionally take the tubes. But her friend – who obviously knew about Tricia’s incredible crafty talents and natural DIY finesse – convinced her that she should definitely learn on her own. When she saw the listing for the wooden loom on Craigslist – Tricia took it as a sign to stop debating, sign up for local weave classes, and just do it. Six months later, the Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug design was for sale at UncommonGoods.

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I was blown away by Tricia’s home and design space (I mean, who wouldn’t be impressed by a wall of beer bottle caps and an entire shelf collection of old-fashioned irons?), but I was even more inspired by her story. I left with a simple reminder: You can’t be perfect in everything, but you sure can try.

PicMonkey Collage

Get inside the head of Tricia Wright and see how San Francisco inspires her work, how she celebrates the little things, and why she associates herself with the Karate Kid.

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What are your most essential tools?
My bike, my camera, and my shuttle.

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Where do you find inspiration within this space?
The act of weaving is calming and the repetition allows my mind to both wander and focus, if that makes sense. Things bubble up while I’m weaving. Working the loom leaves room for a lot of subconscious creativity and inspiration.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Well since my studio is in my house there are plenty of distractions or shall we say downtime. Because of the physical nature and repetition of weaving, I force myself to get up and stretch. I’m a yoga addict so it’s easy to get up and slip into a couple of stretches which is not something you can easily do in an office. And when the dog wants a belly rub or to go for a walk, I can almost always say “let’s go!” That’s not great for productivity, but it’s great for the dog.

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It’s a tough life.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer starting a business?
I have learned so much throughout my career. I’ve gotten better at not only knowing when to trust my own design and design decisions; but I’ve also figured out when I need help. This comes from years of seeing what has and hasn’t worked. I’ve learned it’s important to ask for opinions and help when you’re stuck or when something isn’t coming together quite right. It’s great to have a community of friends to lean on when you need input. No one can have all the right answers.

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How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I didn’t know it as design at the time, but I’ve been designing recycled products since I was a kid. I used to sew and reconfigure Goodwill clothes that “fit” into the strict high school dress code. When I see something being thrown away I go into my typical brainstorm pattern: how can I reuse, repurpose, or remake that thing into something worth not only keeping but enjoying again? This particular product started when I created a sculpture for an art show at our local bike /coffee shop. The leftover tires from that project were piled on the floor, and they looked so comfortable to walk on. I started thinking about all the spent tubes that end up in landfills, and before I knew it, I had a loom in my studio and was taking weaving lessons from a master textile artist in Berkeley.

PicMonkey Collage

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Read more. My sister would say the same thing to me.

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How do you set goals for yourself?
I try to keep my goals to under 3 a day and not get too far down the road mentally. The “future list” is too unattainable and can be overwhelming. I have general ideas of future goals but I believe in keeping it simple. My goals are more like daily achievements so I can see that I have accomplished something, even if it’s small.

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How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I have a very supportive family and circle of friends. We don’t make a huge deal out of the wins, but everyone is up for a celebratory beer at the local pub. To be honest, we’re just as likely to go to the pub even if we don’t have anything to celebrate (whoo-hoo, it’s Tuesday!), so maybe that’s not a great answer.

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What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“To do good you actually have to do something.” Yvon Chouinard

Action can be louder than words and everyone has a skill that our environment needs. The environment can’t help itself so it’s really up to us as a species to use our own skills, whatever they may be. Doing something positive doesn’t have to be monumental; it can be a simple action. If I keep working towards my daily goals for positive change then eventually I’ll look back and I can see what I’ve accomplished and then maybe a bit of good for our world will have come of it all. This idea drives me to action.

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What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Ha! Becoming a better weaver will be a life-long process. I was taught by a wonderful weaver and she said just practice and keep doing it. I think of it as a Karate Kid (wax on, wax off) process where I hope to someday have all the weaving knowledge.

PicMonkey Collage

How do you recharge your creativity?
Easy – I go outside. One of the best things about working for yourself is you get to take breaks when it makes sense for you. Late afternoon, I find I need to be outside. I live in San Francisco, where I can wander my neighborhood or go for a bike ride by the bay. The city is filled with color – there are great sounds, smells, and flavors. When I come back I’m always happily inspired – you can’t get a much better city.

PicMonkey Collage
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Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I can’t say enough good things about the weavers I work with. They have not only taught me to weave but they really enjoy helping people as teachers and friends. They have been so generous with their time and suggestions, and they are always there when I have a question. I also rely heavily on new perspectives from my core group of friends when I brainstorm design, marketing or sales techniques, or when need a fresh perspective. I am grateful for all the support everyone has given me.

Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jen Pleasants

May 12, 2015

Jen Pleasants | UncommonGoods

On my right hand, I wear a ring every day on my index finger that reads “She believed she could, so she did.” This is my daily reminder that I’ve climbed mountains – and if I wanted to – I could climb 1,000 more. I was eager to visit Jen Pleasants’ studio, not only to tour her space, but to also personally thank her for designing something that I never take off and imprinting a mantra in my head that I’m sure I’ll never forget.

Before walking into her jewelry studio, Jen waved long crystals around me to take away any negative energy I might bring in. Although it was all in jest, I think this explained my time with Jen in a nutshell – quirky, positive, and radiating ultra hippie vibes.

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Jen’s studio sits on a hill in Portola Valley, about 45 minute drive outside of San Francisco. It’s tucked in a quaint corner behind her home. Keeping it company is the beautiful backdrop of a classic Northern California view – trees, hills, more trees, and blue skies. My immediate thought was that Jen had the ultimate oasis that most designers would crave for to work on their craft. Although I was there professionally, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a mini getaway retreat.

If Jen’s pink-streaked hair and infectious positive spirit weren’t already enough of an excuse for me to sign up for a year’s worth of yoga classes, her studio space was. From the luscious hanging succulents, to her children’s precious painted hand prints on the walls, to the many inspirational printed quotes displayed – I could really feel and see the love she built within her surroundings. This is quite fitting to her company’s name, Show the Love. Show the Love’s recycled precious metal jewelry is hand sculpted by Jen herself and invokes beauty, magic, and girl power. Meet Jen Pleasants, jewelry designer, mother of three, and self-proclaimed hippie.

Hands

What are your most essential tools?

My hands, my mind, my team, and precious metal clay!

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I find inspiration just thinking of the people I meet who are doing great things or overcoming hardships.

Hands

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Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Between taking care of my three kids and running the actual business, I don’t get nearly as much time creating or resting as I would like.

Jen and Her Daughter

Jen's Dog

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It is really hard to sell your own artwork. It is embarrassing and tiring to put yourself out there, but you just have to do it. Otherwise, you don’t have a business, you just have a hobby.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I just combined my love of sculpting with my love of inspirational quotes and voila! Show The Love was born!

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Make time for more long walks.

Do Good | UncommonGoods

How do you set goals for yourself?
I just got a ‘Passion Planner’ as a gift (check them out on Kickstarter) and the first page was enormously helpful! You pretend the paper is magic and anything you write on it about your life will come true! I did the exercise with my kids too. It was awesome and insightful.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Very interesting question, because I tend to gloss over what should be victory celebrations, like being funded on Kickstarter in just four days. Instead, I quickly set a new goal that I immediately started working toward. I think it is a better quality to be able to celebrate and really soak up every big milestone. I am working to be more like that because I do like to celebrate, especially if it involves a dance party!

Jen Pleasants' Studio with Living Roof

Studio Space

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“She Believed She Could, So She Did” is one of my favorites as I honestly believe that if you are persistent and don’t give up, you can visualize your end goal, then you can attain it. So that leads to another one of my favorite quotes, from Dory in the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

She Believed She Could | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I really want to create huge Rodin-like sculptures and right now I make figures on a smaller scale. It is an art in itself just taking a small figure and making it at scale. I would love to learn to do that.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I like to lay on a hot rock in the sunshine like a turtle and take a nap. That will definitely recharge me!

Jen Pleasants Crafting Her Designs | UncommonGoods

I Speak Up Rose Gold Necklace | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
We like to collaborate with charities and make pieces that honor the work they are doing. They act as vehicles to help promote and raise money for causes. Show The Love exists to uplift the lives of millions through our inspirational messages and through donations to causes we believe in.

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See Jen Pleasants' Collection at UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Molly McGrath

March 27, 2015

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Molly McGrath is a laser-cutting artist who marries her architecture training with her love for geometric shapes and bright hues. Molly’s statement art pieces are known for intricacy and precision, yet words like “lively” and ”fun” still come to mind when you see them. I visited Molly’s lovely studio in the heart of The Mission in San Francisco and it wasn’t a surprise that her open space mimicked her artwork’s aesthetic – flashing lots of playfulness with even more color. Her studio held lots of character, from her personable knick-knacks to her hand painted geometric doors, I simply couldn’t focus on just one thing. Natural light flooded in, her laser cut designs peeked out from drawers and vignettes, and her desktops were scattered with signs of production. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a real life Pinterest board titled “Interior Eye Candy.” It was clear that Molly built a home away from home – a space that was truly hers to the very core.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Creatives often try their best to limit distractions in order to stay focused on their craft. Yet it was procrastination for Molly that ignited the initial spark for her small business. As Molly told me, “I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day, while procrastinating, I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. That was the beginning!” Read about Molly’s friends Larry and Lola, what quote keeps her inspired, and her current obsession to perfect her craft!

Atlas 1 | UncommonGoods

Atlas 1 by Molly McGrath.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is definitely my laboratory. I have painted a wall with a sharpie, color blocked my doors, and constantly rearrange and review my collection of objects, textiles, furniture, and books for inspiration.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods
Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
My laser cutters (Larry and Lola) are definitely my most essential tools. Everything that comes out of my studio has been cut by one of them! I’m also completely reliant on AutoCad and the Adobe Creative suite to generate my designs.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Since there are just two of us here, there isn’t a lot of downtime. We run a pretty efficient shop. Daily trips to the post office accompanied by a coffee break are probably the closest thing to down time we have at our studio!

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
The most difficult part of my work has been figuring out how to grow and being strategic of the direction of the business.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day while procrastinating I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. At that time in 2006, there was not a lot of laser cut jewelry, and people really responded to it. That was the beginning!

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoodsMolly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
The same advice as I offer myself now – hire more people to help with production to allow for more time for product development.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How do you set goals for yourself?
My goals are simple – to continue to evolve as a designer, and to grow as a business.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Usually when I get a new design opportunity that I couldn’t have foreseen. For example, I am working on a collaboration with Chronicle Books, which I have celebrated quite a bit!

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Jerry Garcia

This quote is from a song called “Scarlet Begonias” by the Grateful Dead. I listened to this song incessantly starting around age of 16, a time when everything is exciting and the possibilities of life are endless. I love the sentiment, and it also is a great approach to design.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am always on the hunt for a new material to use with the laser cutters. My current obsession is ceramics, so I am trying to learn everything I can about that medium at the moment.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods
Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

How do you recharge your creativity?
Travel, reading Vogue, hiking, and going to museums.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Often! My employee Qiana has been an amazing collaborative partner, as have many of my wholesale accounts. I also love doing custom work. It often results in a completely different approach!

 

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

 

Molly Mcgrath | See the Collection

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Dave Marcoullier

February 10, 2015

Dave Marcoullier | UncommonGoods

Rocking red flannel, Dave Marcoullier, a San Francisco-based woodworking designer, was dressed like a true lumberjack when I showed up to take a tour of his studio. Passing gigantic Burning Man iron monuments that were displayed behind a fence outside, I was led into a warehouse that sheltered a world of more peculiar sculptures and organized chaos. I felt like I was in an abandoned carnival tucked away inside a hoarder’s ultimate dream maze. I was in a place that’s the second home for over 250 artists, blacksmiths, inventors, creative minds, and in Dave’s words, “mad scientists.” I didn’t spot anyone right away, but I heard banging, drilling, and faint shouting throughout the warehouse space. A dog brushed pass me, and Dave immediately told me how friendly she was.

Dave Marcoullier Wooden Routings | UncommonGoods

Stacks of random puzzle pieces of wood, metal, found items, car parts, and other bits and bobs were everywhere. I couldn’t decipher what objects they once were, but I had a feeling their future life would be interesting. I was officially Alice in a very, very different wonderland.

Dave was “the guy in the corner with the loud machines.” His space was positioned in the back – where his power tools and materials waited to be played with. My eyes couldn’t focus on just one thing because there was so much to look at. Wood pieces, big and small, tall and short, skinny and wide – were sprinkled along the walls and stored inside of trash cans. There was a huge cargo container placed in the corner, the inside was cleverly morphed into another mini workshop within his workspace, where more tools, gadgets, and machines were proudly displayed. I recognized his designs that were scattered under and on top of tables, all of them at different stages: just started, almost done, completed masterpiece.

From his Infill Fanicle Table to his City Skyline Wooden Routing, Dave’s intricate designs are truly uncommon and make a charming addition to any space. Read on to learn more about this maker and get a glimpse at his unforgettable creative space.

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Sculptures 1

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m inspired by the chaos and energy in this building. From hoarders to mad scientists, and everything in between, there are a lot of people here doing a lot of different things. I’m the guy in the corner with the loud machines.

What are your most essential tools?
The table saw is the center of my shop, but the CNC router is the epicenter. Everything that leaves my shop spends some time on the router bed. Other notables – ear protection, music and podcasts, a triangle, and a tape measure.

Dave in his San Francisco Studio
Router

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time is usually unplanned. Some days I hit the ground running and don’t look up until it’s time to go home. Other days I pace or pause between tasks, knolling and tidying. Some days I wander through the workspace and end up somewhere on the other side.

Outside of Dave's Studio
Outside of Dave's Studio 2

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Nothing works perfectly the first time. I now accept and expect problems and trials with every first attempt. Life and work are a series of mistakes and corrections. Rarely do you get it right on the first take.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I’m a serial dabbler. I was experimenting with a handheld shop router, cutting designs in relief into wood, which led to intentional designs I would cut by hand with the router. With increased demand I eventually bought a small CNC router, and then a larger one. It was an organic and progressive process for me.

Dave's Tools

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Less talk, more rock. I tiptoed into many new experiences and decisions, sometimes over deliberating. Have more trust in yourself and don’t worry about the hiccups.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I believe in lists. I keep a running list of bite-sized goals and tasks that need to be completed within a window of days and weeks. I also have broader lists of design ideas and plans for business growth that I need to keep checking in on as the months progress. Finally, I have those big, hairy goals that I let marinate in my brain, keeping me dreaming about things that seem almost out of reach.

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Stable

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Immediately and always.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.” -Daniel Burnham

I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have larger plans for myself. Being self employed by making things was always a huge goal of mine, but I had no idea how I’d ever get there. It’s good to get riled up and make bold plans.

Daniel Burnham Quote

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Currently, wood turning on the lathe, welding, and metal casting.
I often try to kickstart creativity with heightened focus or by visiting art blogs and museums, but I’ve found this rarely works for me. Most of my creativity arrives unannounced and often at inopportune times. I usually stop what I’m doing to focus on it. It’s important. It’s the fertilizer of my work.

Wooden Routing Art  by Dave Marcoullier  | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Ultimately, the greatest collaborator of my work is my wife. She has a strong instinct for design that I trust. I bounce all my new ideas off her and take her suggestions seriously. My wood shop is within a small collective of about a half dozen craftspeople, and this collective is within a giant warehouse of about 250 people. My shop mates are metal workers, blacksmiths, glass artists and engineers, which means I’m exposed to other crafts and ways of working. It’s helpful that when I need to venture into metal work there is usually someone to help me, and I them. I thrive in solitude but need bursts of interaction.