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Maker Stories

Breaking the Mold: Paul Brothe’s Ceramic Compost Container

June 13, 2014

Paul Brothe in his ceramic studio | UncommonGoodsWhen Paul Brothe decided to leave his tech executive career behind for his deep-rooted love of ceramics, he took his ability to keep things simple and applied it to his clean, classic design aesthetic. From sleek, curved candleholders to all-in-one servers, Paul’s designs blend form and function with beautiful handmade craftsmanship.

Paul’s first foray into ceramics was the crafting of a Mother’s Day present when he was six years old. “It was so exciting to me,” says Paul, “It seemed like a natural fit.” He got a job pouring molds at a ceramic factory when he was 13 and kept with it for five years, until it was time to head off into the real world and choose an occupation. Not quite keen on the idea of being a starving artist, Paul received a finance and business degree, often coming back to ceramics in his spare time. After a successful career in tech, Paul decided it was time for a leap of faith and started pursuing it full time.

For his designs, Paul simply looks to history. “We’re still making things that we made 3,000 years ago. We might decorate and market them differently, but the basic elements are the same.” Starting with a classic silhouette, Paul builds on his pieces using inspirations from museums and the world around him, careful not to compromise the original intent. “The seemingly simple are often very difficult, as there is nothing to hide behind, just a basic line, curve, or shape.” This reminder keeps him mindful with his designs, looking to iconic and organic inspiration rather than fads.

Garden Compost Container | UncommonGoodsHis sleek composter is a surprisingly chic example of this, its faux bois surface inspired by the tromp l’oeil effects used on pottery in the 19th century. The silhouette remains simple, but its adornments speak to the purpose of the piece. “I recycle everything,” says Paul, “I wanted to design something that spoke to the idea of why we compost.” A simple gardening spade handle completes the environmentally conscious display.

Energized by his new creative career, Paul continues to explore the medium with the same enthusiasm he felt when he made that first Mother’s Day gift. “Creativity is often trial and error,” says Paul, “Everything around me inspires me. When I am out on the weekend exploring my surroundings, I’ll see a building, a flower, or someone doing something that will inspire me with a new idea.”

Olive Dish | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Barry Rosenthal

June 6, 2014

Barry Rosenthal | UncommonGoods
When our team learned that renowned photographer Barry Rosenthal calls our building, The Brooklyn Army Terminal, home to his studio we couldn’t wait to work with him on a project. Once that project–Pop Top Six Pack Glasses–was ready for our customers’ eyes, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about the set. Learning more about Barry’s work and the creative process that lead to the finished product got me, and the blog team, even more excited about having such a talented artist as a neighbor. Knowing that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out his studio space, our own photographer, Emily, and I made the (very) short journey across the BAT atrium to see where Barry assembles his collections of found artifacts and other objects to create captivating photos.

Join us in exploring a new corner of our building by stepping into Barry Rosenthal’s studio, taking a look at some of his unique work, and finding out what goes on behind the scenes when the camera isn’t clicking.

Barry Rosenthal Art | UnommonGoods

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Maker Stories

A Tale of Two Studios in London

May 12, 2014

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods_7115

If you knew me well, you would know that my absolutely favorite thing to do in life is to travel. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my beloved Brooklyn. But anytime vacation time rolls around, I’m the first one to hail a taxi straight to JFK –wide eyed, bushy tailed, and passport in hand. There’s nothing better than experiencing a new city,  a new language, new food, and a new culture.  My most recent destination of choice was London. (Okay, I wouldn’t exactly be experiencing a new language in London, but beautiful British accents have to count for something, right?) As I was planning out my itinerary — London Bridge. Get lost in the tube. Brick Lane thrift shopping. Enjoy a cuppa. Big Ben. Borough Market. Run into Kate and William. — I realized I still had a couple of free days to burn. I was traveling alone, so why not take advantage of the situation? I decided to do my second favorite thing ever: meet creative people.

A Tale of Two Studios in London

I sent out an email to our buying team asking if we worked with any interesting artists living in London in hopes of setting up a studio tour. When I received responses, I couldn’t ignore the fact that we worked with two different graphic designers who place their designs on tea towels and lived in London. The blog team brainstormed the idea that I should meet with both versus just meeting with one. One seven hour plane ride, two near-death experiences because I didn’t know which way to look while crossing the street, three “you’re on the wrong bus” moments, and one tightly squeezed tube ride later — I was finally sitting in a cafe with the two designers: Stuart Gardiner of Stuart Gardiner Design and Lahla Smart of The Food Guide.

This was the first time they met each other, and given the fact that they produce similar products, I do have to admit I was a bit nervous about how awkwardly this coffee rendezvous could have unfolded. Yet, with our lovely stroll near Walthamstow Central Station and chatting in-between our sips of coffee inside a quaint cafe, I would have to say it was such a success that I was this close in creating the hashtag #BritishTeaTowelDesignersUnite! A bit after our coffee and chat,  I visited Stuart’s studio first, and then ended my afternoon at Lahla’s. Lucky for me, their studios weren’t too far apart from each other — I promise I only had to ask for directions once.

Read what each artist believes sets their graphic designs apart from the next, their takes on switching roles from a graphic designer to a product developer, and their thoughts about living and running a business in London.  

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jeff Davis

May 6, 2014

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoods
I had been cruising around Philly listening to XPN for a couple days. Lou Reed had just passed away. It was a very appropriate time to visit Jeff Davis in the Vinylux studio, a business created in celebration of everyone’s favorite music.

Jeff began collecting vintage records in 2002 to re-purpose into home decor and fashion accessories, the production of which looks similar to most of what I have seen in other studios: work tables, hand-tools, storage space. However, over time, Jeff realized there were machines and tools he required for his designs that did not exist — a vacuum to clean vinyl splinters, a machine to melt a record into a smooth bowl in a matter of seconds — so he took to creating them himself. Most artists show off their finished products, but in Jeff’s case some of his most impressive designs are his machines.

It wasn’t a surprise that a trip to Jeff’s studio would be incredibly exciting for me — all that vinyl and someone to talk to about my favorite albums — but it was a surprise to learn about the business savvy of one of our oldest vendors, to meet an entrepreneur who cares deeply for the safety of his employees, and see such an exciting company sprouting from a city I called home for so many years. Meet Jeff Davis, small business owner, expert at reincarnating old vinyl, and, in my opinion, example of what it means to be living the dream.

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Maker Stories

A Zymbol is Worth a Thousand Words

April 25, 2014

Zymbol Necklace | UncommonGoods

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we couldn’t have picked a better time to feature mother and son duo, Sally and Dane Short, the makers of the inspiring Zymbol Necklace. The actual design of the necklace is intriguing, yet the story behind what the Zymbol represents is what really grabbed our full attention. Depending on who the wearer is, the Zymbol design can mean a million different things–from phrases, to places, to people. “Given that Zymbol contains every letter of the alphabet and every number, it can represent any and all messages; from private anecdotes to everyday affirmations.” Read about how the Short family made an accidental discovery of the Zymbol design and how they are paying it forward with children’s hospitals across America through their one-for-one program.  Meet Sally and Dane Short: mother and son, business partners, and our latest Jewelry Design Challenge winners!

Zymbol Necklace | UncommonGoods

What’s an uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
Dane: Hmmmm, most of my peers seem to think it’s uncommon that I don’t like Apple products.  Wait, are people going to get mad at me for saying that? My hometown, Durango, CO has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco!

Sally: Most people don’t know that I was a belly dancer in my 20s and performed the Arabian Dance part in the Nutcracker Suite. Los Angeles, my hometown, moves approximately one-quarter of an inch to the east every year!

How did you come up with the concept of the Zymbol Necklace?
D: A few years ago something amazing happened to our family. One night my lovely mother, Sally Short, was doodling and she wrote down the phrase ‘LOVE IS ALL U NEED’ stacking each letter on top of the next with a peace sign.

Zymbol Necklace | UncommonGoodsShe loved the design and message so much that she decided to send it off to be cast as a pendant. A few months later my sister and I randomly saw the pendant sitting on its side and we noticed a ‘K’ popping out. Since there’s no ‘K’ in the phrase ‘LOVE IS ALL U NEED’, it got us curious and motivated us to look for other letters. That night, we ended up sitting down as a family and uncovering the entire alphabet and every number hidden within the doodle!! We decided to create a line of inspirational jewelry based on the design. We named it Zymbol as it is one symbol representing all letters A-Z.

Given that Zymbol contains every letter of the alphabet and every number, it can represent any and all messages; from private anecdotes to everyday affirmations. I personally wear mine representing daily goals and intentions.The amazing concept about the Zymbol Necklace is that it can represent so many different things to different people.

Zymbol Necklace | UncommonGoodsZymbol Necklace | UncommonGoods
What’s the most creative story you’ve heard from someone who owns one?
D: That’s a tough question! People from all walks of life wear Zymbol containing their personal message of inspiration – from breast cancer survivors to members of the military. Of all the testimonials we’ve received, I think the following is my favorite:

“I wanted to tell you a story of how your ‘family project’ became a part of my ‘family project’. As a mother of four daughters ranging from 18-30 and a 10-year-old granddaughter I am all about family. As it happens my daughters’ birthdays are all in the spring, so this year I was looking for a gift that would mean something to all of us, a legacy of sorts. But in these financial times I needed something that didn’t cost and arm and a leg. I happened upon Zymbol at a networking event and I couldn’t get the design out of my head. I knew I found the perfect gift for a group of very distinct young women.

I took the group out to eat and talked to them about the idea of creating a ‘family crest’, one that would have a ‘secret’ meaning only to us. They liked the idea and as a group we came up with what that meaning was. (The actual meaning for us isn’t important to explain as the beauty of the symbol is that each family can give it their own special meaning.) What is important is that when we wear it, we have a connection to each other. I know personally when I’m having a bad day (or a difficult client) or just need centering, I will reach up and hold Zymbol in my hand and I find it comforting as for me it represents not only my daughters and granddaughter, but also my mom, my brothers and sisters…my family.

With my daughter’s approval to the concept of the design, I bought six pendants that each received on their birthdays.

My oldest daughter liked the idea so much that she had a tattoo of our ‘family crest’ put on the inside of her wrist. She wanted something that would be not only served as a constant reminder of family, but as a reminder of other things, like being a better mother, or better person. She says if she needs encouragement or centering or maybe even patience at any given moment, she can look at the symbol and be reminded of what is important and what she needs at that given moment.”

How cool is that! She sent me a picture of her daughter’s tattoo which I then posted on Facebook. The idea of tattooing Zymbol caught on and we now know of 22 people who have tattooed Zymbol on their bodies!

tattooS: My favorite stories come from children in the hospital. We’ve always thought of Zymbol as a gift to our family. Two years into the business we decided to pay it forward by implementing our own version of the TOMS Shoes one-for-one program. For every Zymbol sold, we gift an acrylic pendant to a child in the hospital. With the pendant, each child receives an activity sheet full of blank Zymbols.  This allows them to trace and spell out their personal message of inspiration and encouragement. That message can change and evolve each day, or remain consistent. We’ve had kids trace messages like HOPE, LOVE, NEVER GIVE UP and YOU ARE A WARRIOR.  The following video shows a recent ‘drop’ we did in Austin, TX.


How did you celebrate when you learned you were our next Jewelry Design Challenge winner?
D: We were ECSTATIC!!! Our mission statement is to ‘spread love and empowerment, one Zymbol at a time’. We knew winning the Jewelry Design Challenge would help us in fulfilling our mission.

Are there any major projects, collaborations, or ideas you’re working on now that you want to talk about?
D: Our current mission is to visit children’s hospitals all over the country in the next two years. This will be a direct result of our one-for-one program. In the next two months we’ll be visiting Children’s Hospital of Colorado in Denver and Texas Children’s in Houston.

S: I’m most excited at the opportunity to become a vendor with UncommonGoods! This has always been a goal of ours.

Zymbol Necklace | UncommonGoods

What quote keeps you motivated? 
D:  My favorite quote is ‘We become what we think about’ by Earl Nightingale. I am a believer in positive thinking and the law of attraction. I’ve found that by controlling my thoughts, I’m able to control my reality.

S: Mine is more of a phrase than a quote. LOVE IS ALL U NEED. What does it mean to me?  Everything! This phrase has evolved into a business that allows me to work with my family and inspire people around the world.

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work into our design challenge?
D: Don’t be afraid to relentlessly reach out to your network. You are an artist. Be proud of your work. You might be surprised at the amount of support you’ll receive.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Ana Talukder

April 7, 2014

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder | UncommonGoods

Here at UncommonGoods, we work with amazing vendors who constantly wow us with their creativity, artistry, and love of their craft. We don’t always get to meet the artists with whom we work; often relationships are forged through email and over the phone. Recently I was lucky enough to travel from our Brooklyn headquarters to Seattle to visit the studio of Ana Talukder , the super talented designer behind our beloved Latitude/Longitude jewelry collection and several other gorgeous designs.

Arriving at the studio, I was greeted with a big hug by Ana, and was immediately charmed by her bubbly and vivacious presence. I could not wait to see her studio and it was just as I imagined from hearing her description of it over the phone–a spacious and bright room with walls awash in her favorite color: purple. Her studio is a happy place, with touches of her personality everywhere–a purple peg board with small metal buckets to keep her organized, a board of inspirational quotes, and my personal favorite: an indoor window box of pansies (in purple of course!).

Ana and I looked at her new designs and talked about her process. I was wowed by how prolific she is, and how many new ideas she is constantly hatching. It was a great afternoon together and time flew by! Meet Ana and welcome to her colorful and inspirational world!

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Maker Stories

Ricky Giacco’s Eco-Conscious Concrete Creations

April 4, 2014

An avid container gardener and all-around horticulture-lover, Ricky Giacco founded NativeCast in 2010 to create and sell his handcrafted concrete “functional sculpture” while following environmentally responsible business practices. His “green concrete” is amazingly light, yet strong, and made mostly of recycled materials.

Ricky Giacco | UncommonGoods

Giacco’s uniquely creative planters come from an illustrious family tree. The Roman Colosseum, the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, and this adorable Cupcake Planter are all made of concrete, the most widely-used building material in the world.

DIY Cupcake Planter

The production of concrete uses much less energy than other building materials, such as steel, aluminum, glass and wood. But it’s not carbon-neutral, and we Earthlings use 19 billion tons of it a year. That adds up. In fact, about 7 percent of human carbon emissions comes from concrete manufacture. So at UncommonGoods, we’re big fans of Ricky’s innovative, ecologically sound concrete, which he makes from scratch in Chadds Ford, PA.

The Mix | UncommonGoods
You could call Giacco a concrete mixologist. He concocts new recipes using ingredients native to his region. But unless you enjoy the taste of seashells, pine cones, and crushed, reclaimed roadway rock, you won’t want to drink these cocktails. Your plants will love drinking from them, though; concrete makes a great planting environment. Because it’s porous, it allows air and moisture to move into plants’ root structure; and it maintains a more stable soil temperature throughout the year, compared to plastic or metals.

NativeCast is a family affair: Giacco is its creative head, his father handles most of the business end, his wife works on trade shows, his mother works in the production studio once a week, and Giacco says each member of his “rather large” family “helps out in one way or another.”

We wanted to know more about every aspect of his business, and he graciously allowed us to indulge our curiosity.

Ricky's Studio

You “design” not only your objects, but the material they’re made of. Does that give you a special satisfaction?
Designing the material I work with is very cool, and I am happy with the results I am getting. There is satisfaction in knowing that my customers also enjoy what I’m doing. I do know the material’s limitations, so as I look to design new pieces and expand the business, I am exploring some new material ideas.

The most important breakthroughs have been in the mixing process. We have successfully replaced the typical heavy aggregates with lighter and more eco-friendly options while maintaining a good strength. This process is much easier said than done.

Ricky's workbench

Gun

Tell us a bit about the process of making your concrete.
Our green concrete is made by hand and is a fairly complicated process to mix. It is made of Portland cement, sand, lime, recycled concrete, post consumer plastic, shells and pine mulch. The ingredients are always the same, but the ratios tend to vary. This is due to a number of different factors; the biggest ones are air temperature and the technique being used to craft the pieces. We use different application processes depending on the individual product. This forces us to hand mix many small batches of concrete.

Is it a form of hypertufa?
It is not exactly hypertufa, but the concept of modifying the concrete mix for planters is the same.

Where and how do you get the recycled material you use? Is it pre-crushed? Do you treat it? Does it affect the color of the stone?
Our recycled content is all locally sourced. The reclaimed concrete is cleaned and crushed into very small pieces so we can properly incorporate into our mix. We do not treat the recycled content any further. The recycled content does not affect the color of the stone. It acts as filler so it is really contained within the concrete walls.

What factors come into play when making these decisions about materials and their suitability for a given piece?
The things I am trying to do with any given piece are fairly straightforward. The first is to make the container as strong as possible while using the smallest amount of concrete material. Then I look for the most efficient way to apply the concrete. And the last part is mostly using the best concrete mix to achieve the surface texture for the container. This process does take a bit of experimentation to get production rolling.

Ricky Giacco

MaterialsDo you actually hand cast every piece yourself? How do you do it quickly enough to fill the demand?
I do cast every piece myself and it is time consuming. I have the experience which allows me to move fast, but efficiency really comes down to making good molds and have a quick system to fill each one.

Your family helps a lot; that sounds lovely… depending! Do they all have a lot of these planters and other items in their homes?
Yes my family helps quite a bit and yes they all have planters in their homes. This is how we test out the product and improve others. I think working with family is a very special thing, if you can find a way to be productive. I’m sure it is not for most people. However, I am constantly surprised how much I like it.

Your materials are sustainably smart. Do you think construction or other types of companies, governments, etc. could use this kind of material on a large scale?
I certainly think it’s a good concept for an eco-friendly building material. However there is a lot of science involved in engineering concrete. What we make is intended for a craft application. I know there are plenty of scientist, engineers and universities working on the construction grade eco-concrete.

Concrete is alkaline, and very porous. Are your planters best used for alkaline-loving plants that don’t need a lot of water?
Yes, concrete is made from limestone, which is an alkaline rock, and therefore alkaline plants will do best in our containers. If you wish to put an acid loving plant in concrete, a liner is recommended. And it is porous, and is better for plants that don’t need a lot of water. In my opinion, porous is good all around; potted plants die because of over-watering.

How should one take care of these pots?
The concrete containers are fairly easy to care for. What I tell most people is to avoid standing water. It can stain over time and in freezing temperatures can crack concrete. Other than that, they are pretty easy to use.

Apple Bark Planter

Your Apple Bark Planter was cast from a crab apple tree that got sick and had to be removed. It sounds like you’re very sentimental about plants! What are your favorite things to grow?
I did know this tree for many years and was disappointed to see it go. I had this idea to make the planter, and I think it turned out pretty well. My favorite plants are cactus and succulents. They seem so exotic to me. I love how rugged and nearly indestructible they are. I wish I lived in a warmer climate to grow them beyond my containers.

Maker Stories

The Art of Meditation: Jayne Riew’s Temporary Canvas

March 28, 2014

Jayne Riew Maker Story | UncommonGoodsWith a background in literature and painting, artist Jayne Riew was always inspired by the combination of words and images, along with the connection between art and psychology. “For me, art is most compelling when it offers greater self-awareness,” says Jayne, explaining her process of creating pieces that people can turn to when they need help. “Sometimes when we wrestle with unwanted thoughts or tough emotions, language fails us.”

The Meditation Box’s temporary canvas of shifting sand provides a private place to confront these feelings; “no one—including yourself—will ever see it again, so why not scrawl out a mantra, confess something to yourself, or even draw the face of someone you wish you could see?” Once you get all of that mental clutter out of your system, you can simply shake the box, close the lid, and walk away.

Jayne created the prototype of the Meditation Box for a friend who admitted that she found it difficult to unplug at night, losing hours of would-be sleep to her laptop. In response, Jayne created her first box as a way for her friend to lighten her mental load at the end of the day. The laptop size felt familiar, while the layer of sand within gave her a space to be alone with her thoughts.

Meditation Box | Jayne Riew Maker Story | UncommonGoodsRecognizing the design’s versatility, Jayne also gifted it to a friend who lost a spouse. He uses the space to write what he would say to her if she were there. When Jayne apologized for the limited space, he pointed out that all the really important things one human needs to communicate to another can be offered in five words or less.

Living with her family in New York City, Jayne uses her own design as a declarative space to help her sort through seemingly never ending busywork, making even a simple to-do list a motivational affirmation. “I’ve actually been able to combat procrastination just by avowing something to myself in writing at the beginning of each day. When you declare things in writing, you see them outside of your mind. Sure, I could write it down on a piece of paper, but the strangeness of the form and the opportunity for play makes me pay attention and remember.”

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