Maker Stories

Penmanship Meets Pendant: BB Becker’s Your Story Necklace

February 3, 2016

Jo and BB Becker | UncommonGoods
Falling in love prompted BB Becker’s first attempt to make jewelry in the 1980s; he deconstructed and transformed found pieces into charming gifts for his future bride. Today, his work is a collaborative effort that marries BB’s lovingly-designed sterling silver pendants with his wife Josephine’s graceful handwriting.

Your Story Necklace | UncommonGoodsThis particularly pensive medallion bears a meditation on the bonds we share with family and friends. With one corner curled over as if turning a page on your personal story, each one is engraved with a quotation handwritten in delicate cursive that reads: “The only people who truly know your story are the ones who help you write it.” A recent conversation with BB revealed how ancient art, a meaningful sentiment, and the devoted characters who fill our personal stories inspired the creation of this writerly, wearable artwork.

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Maker Stories

A Lovingly Designed Box for Your Heart’s Desire

January 13, 2016

For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

Sometimes, all it takes is a kind compliment, sentimental thought, or flirtatious quip to ignite the spark and rekindle your romance.

Designed to let you relive the thrill of passing a clandestine declaration of your true feelings to your childhood crush, the For Your Heart’s Desire Message Box was designed to inspire amorous note passing between partners, whether you’re newly entwined or a couple of lovebirds in your golden years.

This veritable work of heart was designed by maker Tamara Hensick and brought to life by UncommonGoods’ Product Development team and a small group of metalworkers in Rhode Island.

Tamara Hensick | UncommonGoods

Tamara is a sculptor whose muses are manifold, and range from ideas and idioms to funny notions, stories, and fairytales. Her collection of cast pewter, sterling silver, bronze, and white bronze pieces include nature, figure, animal, and object motifs.

“’To have, to hold, to keep, to inspire.’ This phrase pops to mind,” says Tamara of her inspiration to create this particularly heartfelt vessel.

“It is always the idea, saying, phrase, or notion that creates the form. Words drive the pieces but occasionally a symbol alone is enough.” In the case of this lovingly designed objet d’art, word, symbol, and sentiment coalesce to form a piece that implores its owners to open their hearts.

After discovering Tamara’s limited edition, cast-bronze sculpture, our Product Development team became smitten with the concept and the artistry of the original piece. “We liked the rough-hewn look of it and the expression she had chosen (“for your heart’s desire”), paired with the function of being able to drop things into the heart,” says our Senior Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang.

For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

“Although it was originally designed as a bank, we thought it was less about money and more about being able to connect with your heart’s desire, hence re-imagining it as a space to make it easier to share little thoughts and moments with your partner. It’s very much about connecting and sharing in a simple way.”

In order to bring Tamara’s concept to a larger audience, the Product Development team reworked her original sculpture and collaborated with a Rhode Island metalworking shop to manufacture the design in lead-free pewter.

Heart Molds, For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

Although this charming piece can provide the impetus to keep your relationship communication flowing, it’s open to interpretation, and from exchanging thank you’s to leaving petite paeans to your one and only, it’s destined to become whatever your heart desires.

“Over the years people have relayed touching stories about a piece they’ve given or received,” says Tamara. “One woman purchased hearts for each of her children to fill with love notes and words of wisdom as they grow up. When they are off on their own, they will each have a heart filled with their mother’s love.”

Design, The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Design School: Underground Artists

July 1, 2015

Like many New Yorkers, if I need to get somewhere, I take the subway.

Whether I need to hop the train to travel from my apartment adjacent to Prospect Park down to UncommonGoods’ headquarters at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, or I’m bumbling through the Big Apple’s other boroughs on the weekends, cramming into crowded subway cars is as New York City as pizza pie. And like the more than 5.5 million passengers the system carries on an average weekday, the moment I step on the train I succumb to modern “tunnel-vision:” I bury my head in my iPad until I reach my destination. But when I step out of the train, I’m consistently surprised with the rich history laid bare in front of me in the form of the station’s diverse signs, vestiges of past design trends, fashions, and the mores of bygone generations.

From its opening on October 27th, 1904, New York City had already envisioned the subway as more than a simple method of getting around the metropolis. While urban, the experience of riding the subway was intended to be urbane; from the beginning, the city hired artists to embellish the underground walls with fanciful, yet legible, decorations.

From 1901 to 1908, John L. Heins and Christopher G. LaFarge designed the earliest subway motifs in the popular Beaux-Arts style, evoking classical architecture using ceramics, metal, and wood. The Philadelphia-born architects – who are also known for their work in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the original Astor Court buildings of the Bronx Zoo – were heavily steeped in the Arts and Crafts movement, an international artistic trend that advocated traditional craftsmanship and striving to create environments in which beauty and technical skill were of paramount importance.


Twenty-eighth Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

Accented with swoops and curlicues, cornucopias and floral medallions, the duo’s elaborate terra cotta signs endure as some of the system’s most recognizable emblems.

Tile inspired by the original  Times Sq-42 St station, designed by Heins and LaFarge | Personalized House Sign – Times Square Subway

While quiet compared to the glitz and hubbub of Times Square above, Heins and LaFarge’s sumptuous mosaic sign is an unmistakable symbol of New York’s vibrant urban fabric. The original sign that inspired this tile is located at at Times Sq-42 Street, one of the system’s oldest stations at 111 years old.


Bleeker Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

The elaborate tile-workings were not just decorative: each sign’s unique palette and patterns were used didactically to help non-English speakers identify stops.

The team’s successor and owner of arguably the coolest name in New York City history, Squire J. Vickers took over as chief architect of the New York City Subway system in 1906. Known as an “underground Renaissance man,” Vickers was responsible for more than 300 stations—the most of any architect—and was the system’s lead designer for almost 30 years.

Squire J. Vickers and the “Vickers Eagle” at the 33rd Street Station

Vickers took the subway on a much more pared-down, modern path than that of his Beaux-Arts predecessors for both aesthetic and economic reasons. As the floriated embellishments that defined the Arts and Crafts style gave way to the slick lines and austerity of the Machine Age, Vicker’s signs reflected the era’s dominant graphic trends with their quilt-like geometric abstractions and bold colors.


Mosaic panel by Squire J. Vickers

“How grateful to the eye is the wall surface unbroken by paneling, noxious ornament, or the misplaced string course, decorated, if you like, inlaid with color, but unbroken,” he wrote.

Vickers was also imminently practical and, especially during the Great Depression, many of his aesthetic decisions were driven by the bottom line. Mosaic elements were flattened, for example, so they would be cheaper to clean (“to avoid dust ledges,” he wrote). The intricate signs could also be set by hand in a factory instead of on the wall tessera by tessera, making them less expensive to install.


Wall Street Station sign by Squire J. Vickers

Despite budgetary constraints, Vickers, who was also a competent painter, was still able to create mosaics revered as much for their utility as their beauty.

Inspired by Vickers’ oringal designs | Personalized House Sign – 59th and Lex Subway

Vicker’s decorative details underground, at the Lexington Av/59 St station, complement the sophistication of the Upper East Side above.

To this day, the MTA commissions artists to continue the creative vision that was an integral part of the subway from the very beginning. New works are installed every day, from traditional mosaics, to sculpture, stained glass, and more, giving passengers plenty to see—as long as we’re willing to look.





Uncommon Design School: The Origins of Earth Day & the Green Design Movement

April 9, 2015

As Earth Day celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, it’s hard to believe that the concept of “going green” is still relatively new. While we’ve come a long way as individuals to evaluate our environmental impact, the countless designs that we interact with on a daily basis have, too.

Planting Flowers

The UncommonGoods team planting flowers for Earth Day.

In the decades prior to the establishment of Earth Day, the manufacturing industry was more interested in making green than going green: factories belched out clouds of black smoke; toxic chemicals were dumped carelessly, polluting the soil and groundwater; and bottles, cans, and paper were all destined for the landfill after just one use. At the time, most people remained blissfully unaware of the consequences of overconsumption and how negligent manufacturing practices were wreaking havoc on the planet.

After witnessing the ravages of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson had the idea of bringing environmental issues to the public eye by creating an event infused with the same energy as the anti-war protests occurring at the time. On April 22nd, 1970, his simple idea for a teach-in exploded into a national event uniting 20 million people under one common goal: raise awareness about environmental impact. The little holiday that could led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

During the same era of change, Vienna-born designer Victor Papanek quietly penned his cri de coeur, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, an impassioned plea for reform that laid the foundation for the emerging sustainable and humanitarian design movements.

Design For the Real World

 Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Paperback, Second Edition, Published August 30th 2005 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1972), image via Goodreads

“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few,” he writes at the start of his 1971 manifesto. In addition to pillorying his peers for producing shoddy, stylized work that wasted natural resources and aggravated the environmental crisis, he also introduced the idea of socially responsible design. Calling designers “the handmaidens of capitalism,” Papanek advocated for a triple bottom line policy, in which people, planet, and profit are interconnected and should be considered together.

Dave Bolotsky meeting with Artisans in India

UncommonGoods Founder & CEO Dave Bolotsky meeting with artisans in India.

To Papanek, ecological and social responsibility are the twin pillars of the design practice and his advice has gone on to influence a generation of designers as well as businesses like ours. As a founding B Corp, we meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. We’re also proud to support designers with a similar agenda, who make it their business to come up with better design solutions for people and the planet.

Bike Chain Designs by Graham Bergh | UncommonGoods

 Reclaimed Bike Chain designs by Graham Bergh

In 1991, after getting a flat tire while riding his bike, Graham Bergh was inspired to salvage the materials to make something new and totally unexpected. Every year, his team of bicycle craftsmen collects thousands of pounds of used parts, drawing from bike shops nationwide, and revives them into creative home accents.

Graffiti Jewelry | UncommonGoods

Graffiti Jewelry Collection by Amy Peterson and Diana Russell

After encountering the crumbling walls of graffiti throughout Detroit, Amy Peterson and Diana Russell found the inspiration to turn these bits of urban detritus from around the Motor City into one-of-a-kind remnants of its vibrant street-art scene. Together, they work with women from local shelters to create beautiful works of art that also have a beautiful mission to improve the lives of the people in the community.

Puppet Pals | UncommonGoods


Edgar and Ollie the Puppet Pals by Jen List and Stacey Waddington

When Jen List and Stacy Waddington stumbled upon a heap of unwanted sweaters and shirts, the duo decided to transform the old fabrics into a line of snuggly and imaginative children’s toys and accessories that encourage early learning and individual expression through creative design, wonder, and storytelling.

How do you plan on celebrating Earth Day, and what “green” practices do you incorporate into your life?

Maker Stories

Ali Bennaim and Ximena Chouza: Out-of-this World Fashion

March 17, 2015

Inspired and entranced by the breathtaking splendor of outer space, Ali Bennaim and Ximena Chouza bring the marvels of the universe down to Earth in the form of interstellar accessories. The makers met while attending Parsons the New School for Design in New York and bonded over their captivation with the cosmos and their passion for fashion. Although Ali is from Caracas, Venezuela, and Ximena is from Mexico City, after graduating they set up shop in Brooklyn where they design unique textiles that take their cues from the majesty and mystery of the universe.

Ali Bennaim and Ximena Chouza | UncommonGoods

The self-proclaimed “space-crazed” duo explore the vast archive of images captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. This invaluable astronomical tool orbits outside the distortion of Earth’s atmosphere, capturing high-resolution photographs that have led to many breakthroughs in astrophysics. Some of these luminous shots, such as the phases of the moon, were snapped close to home, while others that capture stellar celestial bodies and vast networks of gas clouds thousands of light years away offer us a deep view into space and time.

Hubble Telescope Milky Way Scarf | UncommonGoods

 Hubble Telescope Milky Way Scarf


Ali and Ximena say that working with these incredible views of space is the most rewarding part of their process. “These are very special and beautiful images and we are grateful to be able to work with them,” they say. After preparing the photographs digitally for printing, the designers apply the imagery to feather-light wool gauze scarves that are cut and finished by hand.

The starry-eyed pair is committed to sourcing their materials and producing everything in their home base of the Big Apple. “We always make sure that our materials are of the best quality we can get,” they say. “Most people are very impressed by the quality and vibrancy of our prints.”

Designing the Milkyway Scarf

Though they may have lofty ambitions, they also say that they’ll never forget their earthly beginnings and aim to remain environmentally conscious. They employ a waste-saving technique, carefully designing every accessory to make the most of every inch of fabric, leaving next to nothing for the landfill.

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What was Michelangelo’s dirty secret?

October 26, 2014

Working Man's Hygiene Kit | UncommonGoods

Despite the pristine lines and immaculate thinking behind his remarkable artworks, Michelangelo Buonarroti was the quintessential uncouth genius and cared little about the tidiness of his studio or even his personal hygiene. According to biographer Peolo Giovio, “His domestic habits were incredibly squalid, and deprived posterity of any pupils who might have followed him.” The Renaissance master also rarely bathed, and often slept fully clothed, down to his boots. In fact, while sculpting his marble masterpiece David in the early sixteenth century, he didn’t take his boots off for two years straight!

Working Man’s Hygiene Kit, $50

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What makes a horseshoe so lucky?

May 26, 2013

The horseshoe is one of the best-known lucky charms and has been for ages. In medieval times, a trio of horseshoes would be nailed to a sick person’s bed to please God, Wod, and Loki. In Norse mythology, Wod is the god of wisdom and Loki is the god of mischief. All three had to be appeased to promote balance in the spirit world. Interestingly, Loki also inspired the expression “one for luck.”

Horseshoe Heart Trivet, $50

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