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Maker Stories

Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Bryan Mitchiner & Justin Hoffman

January 26, 2017

If you’re someone who takes the time to really look at the labels on the food you’re buying, it’s likely you’ve had more than a few unsettling realizations about the industry as a whole. Justin Hoffman had a similar experience with a jar of mustard, which inspired him to take mustard-matters into his own hands and create his own–with “no added junk.” What was initially a healthy hobby based on Justin’s own curiosity and fondness for cooking turned into a business when he moved to Seattle and met Bryan.

Flavored Mustard Sampler - UncommonGoods

We love to see makers who take good (and good for you) ideas and run with them, and so we’re happy to welcome these two new entrepreneurs to our uncommon family. Read on to hear from Justin (and a little bit from Bryan) about how their whole operation got started, what keeps them going, and, of course, which recipes they recommend!

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Design, Maker Stories

Physics and Poetry Meet with the Beating Heart in a Bottle

January 17, 2017

Leave it to the French to make physics seem…romantic. Artist Philippe Bouveret truly marries science and poetry in our Beating Heart in a Bottle Sculpture: two halves of a heart joining together again and again in a rhythm much like the beating of our own hearts. Thanks to the power of capillary action, the piece is almost like a living work of art.

Never lacking in inventiveness and always eager to experiment, Philippe spent years (from the ages 13-18) building a real, 6m long boat. Eventually, after getting a technical degree, he traded his plans of becoming a naval architect for more artistic endeavors: assisting in the construction of Jean Tinguely’s Cyclops, an enormous moving sculpture tucked away deep in the forest, creating massive pendulums and fountains, and crafting “hidden tableaus that reveal unexpected objects simply by placing an aspirin tablet in a provided slot. Much of the work Philippe has created, either on his own or in collaboration with other artists, engages the viewer in a game of sorts. Now, you can find him continuing to follow his playful sensibilities, working in his “laboratory-studio,” as he calls it, “accidentally making little discoveries that arouse [his] curiosity.”

Acclaimed art collector and museum director Pontus Hultén describes Philippe’s work as containing “an intriguing element, like a happy secret, an awareness of something that leads on much further, towards infinity.” We’re pleased to share the happy secret of the Beating Heart in a Bottle with you–it’s one of our very first international products that’s exclusive in the USA to only our customers.

Another (not-so) happy secret? Few of us here speak French. And so communicating with Philippe necessitated a bit of extra je ne sais quoi. See? I don’t even think I used that right. Fortunately, Philippe’s son Grimaud stepped in to help with an interview and ensured that nothing got too lost in translation. (Merci beaucoup, Grimaud!) Read on to learn more about Philippe’s inspirations and obsessions, as well as what he hopes for everyone who receives a Beating Heart in a Bottle.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Anne Johnson and Arra David

January 10, 2017

Anne Johnson and Arra David outside of the Sea Stones Studio in Windham, NH, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

Canopies of colorful leaves. Air so fresh it actually feels different when you breathe it in. Wide open spaces and dewy blades of grass. These are things I don’t get to enjoy all that often in Brooklyn, but New Hampshire is another story. I experienced the natural beauty of “The Granite State” firsthand last fall, when I also got a full tour of Arra David and Anne Johnson’s bustling studio.

The state’s nickname is certainly fitting, given the extensive quarries in New Hampshire. It’s also fitting that Anne and Arra make their designs there, considering that their one-of-a-kind creations are made with wood, natural stones, metal, and–you guessed it–granite.

Curious about just how the designers are able to turn solid rock into functional home designs, our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I made the five-hour road trip from Brooklyn to Windham, NH to get an inside look.

Anne and Arra welcomed us in, offered us some of the homemade hard cider mentioned below, walked us through the studio and workshop, and let us take some tools for a test drive. With Arra’s guidance, NéQuana even built her own Sea Stone Splash Sponge Holder!

Arra, an engineer, talked to us about designing special tools to tackle heavy-duty work. He also shared thoughts on taking hold of inspiration when it “ambushes,” advice on the importance of collaboration, and a perfectly pertinent Thoreau quote.

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Maker Stories

Melissa J. Gondek’s Family Sculptures: Celebratory Symbols of Love

January 9, 2017

Family photos have the power to evoke all kinds of complicated feelings: nostalgia, awkwardness, humor, love. They grace our holiday cards and fill up our (increasingly digital) photo albums. They capture small moments that can hold big meaning when we look back on them later on. These photos have their place in our family histories for sure–but what if we could display a representation of our love that’s more tangible, less fleeting? That gets at the essential feeling of being loved, rather than a specific moment in time?

That’s where sculptor Melissa J. Gondek comes in. She says of her work: “I’m sculpting love, and everyone needs more of that.” Our customers have already fallen for her sculptures that depict the bonds we have with our cats and dogs, and so we’re excited to have an exclusive “So Happy Together” family sculpture from Melissa–one that showcases the sweetness of the ties between parents and their children.

The customizable pieces communicate meaningful messages in a heartfelt, simple package. Parents sit with their kids (you choose one or two) cozied up on their laps in a sculpture that would be equally at home on an entryway table or a mantle, in a new baby’s nursery or close at hand on your desk. They aren’t exact replicas of your family, but instead represent its loving spirit–the essence of what keeps you all connected. The universality of the figures lets you decide what “So Happy Together” means to you–whether it’s warmth, or safety, or trust–or all of those good things wrapped up into one. 

We can’t wait to get these sentimental sculptures out to you and your families, but in the meantime, read on to hear from the artist herself about how she brings unique life to the ones we hold most dear through her work.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Ben & Christen Aroh

January 4, 2017

Ben & Christen Aroh - UncommonGoods

It’s about time we found a fun and functional solution for all of us chronic key-forgetters. Ben and Christen Aroh, the makers of our new Wooden States of America and USA Magnetic Key Holders, met in college and have become partners – both in their marriage and in their business. Together they’ve created these homey works of art that help us hold onto our keys. Ben does the woodworking, and Christen helps to keep the business side running smoothly while also working as an elementary school music teacher. 

We know you appreciate the inspiring, motivating stories behind our products just as much as we do, so settle in and read our interview with Ben about how he and Christen have made magnetic, key-saving magic in their Louisville, Kentucky woodshop.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studios: A Look Back at Our 2016 Studio Tours

December 30, 2016

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been running our Studio Tours series for almost 5 years. Maybe that’s because every time I step into a another studio, I feel like I’m entering a whole new world. Over the years I’ve visited jewelry makers, potters, woodworkers, and even an industrial kitchen. And that’s just to name a few. Every time I leave an artist’s space, I feel creatively refreshed and ready to get making myself.

In 2016, I actually did get in some hands-on experience, when Jim Loewer gave our team a tour of his Philadelphia glass-working studio and let me use the torch to make own pendant. It was was definitely as much fun as you’d expect playing with fire and molten glass to be, and I now have a memento from the visit. Other adventures this year included checking out a sustainable studio made from reclaimed shipping containers, one contributor’s trip to London to meet world-renowned jewelry designer Alex Monroe, a look inside our own Product Development team’s creative space, and more. It wasn’t easy to pick just a few highlights from each Studio Tour to show you, but here are some moments that I hope spark your interest and maybe even put you in the mood to get creative too.

Laurel Begley

Laurel Begley | UncommonGoodsCreating the Faux Bois Vase | UncommonGoods

Laurel Begley’s Personalized Faux Bois Vase includes a symbol of lasting love, so it’s no surprise that she told us about some of the symbols of love an nurturing in her own life as she gave us a virtual tour of her Santa Rosa, CA studio. She also shared some great advice: “Don’t try to be anything you’re not. Do your best work, put it out there, and everything else will fall into place.” | Visit Laurel’s Studio

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Scout Urling

December 22, 2016

Scout Urling - UncommonGoods

Part of what makes our products extra special is that each has a real story behind it. We work with so many inspiring artists and makers, and we love that our customers get a chance to meet them on the blog. One of our newest is Scout Urling, the creator of our Cold Weather Comfort Tea Gift Set, Good Morning Tea Gift Set, and Chocolate Lover Hot Chocolate Gift Set – all fresh additions to our assortment. Scout has always followed her own path, starting as a creative child and ending up as an entrepreneur. Now, she has her own business sending soothing teas and delicious hot chocolate sets all over the country. All of the ingredients she uses are sourced from local farmers, and she supports independent artistry with the packaging of her products as well. Read on to learn from Scout about becoming a business-owner, the goddess Athena, and the power of animal puns.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Amy Pfaffman

December 15, 2016

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the people behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Amy Pfaffman, creator of our Color Me Wonderful Necklace and Knitting Needle Statement Necklace.

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