Design

How To Make It: RSVP NOW

February 23, 2012

Ever wonder how to quit your day job?

RSVP now: our first How To Make It design event is coming up on March 6, at the Rabbithole Studio in DUMBO!

Get business advice from our great guest speakers: Tina Roth Eisenberg (Swissmiss, Tattly), Jeff Davis (Vinylux), Nickey Skarstad (Etsy), and Anna Rabinowicz (RabLabs). We’re going to have a great talk about how to make money, while making what you love.

Now we know space is limited and not all of you live in Brooklyn, so we’re making our very first event as open as we can. If you’ve got a question for one of our panelists, leave it here in the comments or tweet @uncommongoods with the hashtag #howtomakeitUG. We’ll be live-tweeting throughout the event and be posting video. Even if you can’t be with us in person, we hope you’ll join us online!

But for those of you who can make it, we can’t wait to see you! We look forward to hearing more about your creative design goals, getting together for a beer and baked goods, and having a great discussion about how we all can be more successful at making what we love.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Stackable Lunch Pot

February 22, 2012

Background Research: The Stackable Lunch Pot is a sleek, chic, airtight food porting device comprised of two containers that fit together in a quite nifty manner. The larger of the two holds 18.6 ounces; the smaller, 10 ounces. A fashionable matching spork is included.

Hypothesis: Some people–cough cough (me) cough cough – have trouble restraining themselves in the presence of tasty food, and need help with the dreaded “portion control.” Can the Lunch Pot help me keep a lid (har har) on my appetite despite the temptation of homemade risotto?

Experiment: The first phase of the investigation required the making of risotto that was delicious enough to be a formidable temptation. The following recipe yielded more than adequate results.

Pressure Cooker Brown Rice and Kabocha Risotto
-Notes:
-All measurements are approximate; risotto is very forgiving.
-You can use any winter squash — butternut, pumpkin, or acorn, but the beauty of kabocha is that the skin is edible so you don’t have to peel it.
-Recipe is adaptable to a rice cooker or ordinary pot, but
1) A pressure cooker does the best job of making brown rice become creamy the way Arborio does, and
2) If you don’t use a pressure cooker, you have to pre-cook the squash.

Ingredients
2 T butter, 1 T olive oil
1.5 cup short-grain brown rice (I used sweet brown rice because that’s what I had on hand)
1 small kabocha squash, washed, seeds, pith and stem removed, cut into evenly-sized 1” pieces
1-2 T dried sage leaves
3 ½ – 4 c chicken or vegetable broth
Large handful chopped parsley (Flat-leaf is a stronger taste)
Large handful shredded Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt fats over low-medium heat in pot of pressure cooker. Add rice and stir until coated with oil. Add sage and kabocha, stir. Pour in broth, stir. Put lid on pressure cooker and bring to full pressure. Lower heat as much as you can without losing full pressure. Cook anywhere from 18-40  mins (depends on the kind of rice you have; try 18 to start and if that’s not enough, bring up to pressure again and check after another 5 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat if that’s not enough. Next time you try it, you won’t have to guess).

Turn off heat and let pot sit for 5-10 minutes, then use quick-release method to let off pressure.

Stir in parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle individual servings with grated cheese.

The risotto-cooking phase of the experiment having been completed, the next step entailed filling the smaller of the two containers with the tempting substance, and larger one with salad makings (dressing was put in a separate small container from my motley collection).

I should confess that the thought of bringing only the small container of risotto goodness to work caused me some momentary sadness. My lab assistant, Rusty Marmalade, distracted me by conducting a spork inspection.

Despite my misgivings, when lunchtime rolled around at work the next day, the contents of the 10-oz. container were satisfyingly filling. Moreover, the container’s volume limit did, in fact, prevent me from eating too much.

Unanticipated Challenge: The Lunch Pot’s rubber gasket creates a vacuum seal that prevents air from getting in and leaks from getting out. It also prevented me from being able to open it the first time I closed it (fortunately before I put any food in it). There is a cute little instruction diagram inside the lid showing how to open it when the suction is too great for your strength.

However, I didn’t understand it. I tried to pry off the lid by pushing the spork upward, with no results. I tried a metal spoon–no dice. I emailed our vendor. They sent me this helpful video, which didn’t help me.

Finally, pushing the lid up with all my might, I managed to break it. My more intelligent co-worker, Cassie, noticed that the lid was meant to be screwed off. Not pried. Mystery solved.

Gasket Corollary: The green rubber gaskets come off, making it easy to thoroughly wash away any lurking food or bacteria.

Conclusion:
1) The Lunch Pot is a wonderfully-designed device both functionally and aesthetically.
2) The smaller container is the perfect size for a correct portion of any main dish, and the larger, for salad.
3) I am not an engineer. But I can cook all right.

Design

Designs that Shine: Uncommon Design Challenge Winners

February 20, 2012

There’s only one more week before our 2012 design challenges begin. Before we announce the next big call for entries, we’re taking a moment to share a few of the success stories from our 2011 challenges!

Although we could only award the grand prize to one winner in each challenge, many finalists also became uncommon goods. The Uncommon Jewelry Design Challenge help us discover some fantastic designers.

Wesla Bay Weller’s Cymbal of Love Pendant received more votes from our community than any other entry and was chosen by our judges to receive the grand prize. Made from recycled cymbals and guitar strings, and hung from a gold-plated bronze chain, the pendant is a great gift for music lovers and musicians.

Voters–and our judges–loved the recycled materials story, the combination of textures, and simple but meaningful design. Now available for purchase, Wesla’s piece is a hit. One reviewer told us, “I am a drummer and received this necklace as a gift. It’s very well-made with adequate length and can be worn with a variety of outfits. I get many compliments every time I wear it.”

The necklace is on it’s way to becoming a best seller. In fact, Wesla’s design has been such a hit, a whole page of our latest catalog is devoted to her story!

And the jewelry design challenge runners up that became uncommon goods? Maryann Dolzani’s Custom I Am…Pendant is inspiring women to be true to themselves (we also recently decided to feature additional charms, since customers pointed out that “I am” often more than one thing), Deb Soromenho’s Heart and Arrow Lariat makes a great gift for someone you love, Tina Tang’s Customized Name Necklace and Bracelet let you celebrate your name or a word with special meaning to you, and Irene Cheung’s Teardrop Stacking Rings are a unique take on the double-band look.

Lee from NH loves her I Am necklace so much she told us, “I absolutely love it! I haven’t taken it off since. I like the sound it makes when it jingles…Came really fast and in a little brown sack. I think it’s beautiful and very meaningful. I bought a couple extra charms to put on it.”

Our first design challenge winner from 2011 is also getting some great feedback. We teamed up with City Harvest, a non-profit organization that helps to feed New York City’s hungry and asked illustrators to help us create a new Plate with a Purpose.

Graphic designer Michael White’s winning plate design was called a “Very cool design. Great gift for charitable minded and design minded people who like to entertain,”by Dinah in Atlanta. Mo in Washington, DC said, “Great design, lovely color and it makes a great gift.”

Michael’s modern skyline design is a warm depiction of city living. His clean lines, creativity, and message won over our community and our judges. Now $5 of every City Harvest Plate with a Purpose directly benefits New York’s hungry men, women, and children and Michael’s design continues to get five star reviews.

Our Ceramics Design Challenge winner is also getting some wonderful feedback.

Tasha McKelvey’s petite stoneware Birdie Mini Dish was chosen to win for its functionality, unique design, and craftsmanship. To create the little bowls, Tasha presses the clay against a century-old barn door to give it a texture imitating the grain of aged wood.

This dish makes a great gift for many occasions. And it’s not just limited to a jewelry holder. The little tray can also be used as a spoon holder after stirring coffee or tea.

“My wife could not believe that her husband could find something so neat for her,” a customer told us. “Great find!”

We loved the Birdie Dish so much we also decided to carry Tasha’s Tiny Mushroom Ring Dish.

Tasha wasn’t the only designer to find success through the pottery challenge,either. Semi-finalist Mitzi Davis’ Bird and Cloud Dinnerware Set was chosen for the unique shape, imaginative imagery, and off-beat practicality of the bowl and plate.

Another set, Kathy Gorg’s Calla Lily Pitcher and Cups also entered our assortment. We love the symbolism of the calla lily (purity and innocence), and that the set makes a great wedding gift.

From gorgeous handmade jewelry, to fun plates for a good cause, to creative ceramics, we found some great new products through our 2011 design challenges. We’re also thrilled to welcome such talented designers into our family of artists!

Will your unique design be our next uncommon good? Stay tuned for our next call for entries!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Moss Terrarium

February 16, 2012

Hypothesis: I’ve killed every houseplant I’ve ever owned. But the moss terrarium is so green and cute, so I want to give my green thumb one more try. Can I keep this fellow alive and maybe even flourishing?

Experiment:

First off, I need to create my terrarium. I grabbed a mixing bowl, a spoon and a squeeze bottle from my kitchen and got to work. Most everything I needed was included in the kit– dirt, moss, bottle & stand. But it did take a little bit of dexterity to get my terrarium up and running. Some assembly is required!

I activated the moss with in a quick warm water bath.

Gave the dirt a quick mix. Doesn’t this look like the beginning of a cake recipe? I know, I know… you just got totally grossed out. But Martha Stewart’s got a pretty impressive dirt cake recipe

Then I used my mixing spoon to spread out the dirt along the bottom of the wine bottle, and layered the moss on top with the included pair of chopsticks.

Here’s my finished terrarium, hanging out next to the last lonely tendril of parsley.

Results: Since the time this picture was taken, my parsley has since died. But my beautiful moss terrarium has stayed green, and I only need to spritz it with a spray bottle a few times a week. I did move my terrarium away from the window. I missed those instructions to keep it out of direct sunlight, and now that it’s hanging out with my favorite Beatles action figures, my terrarium just might make it through the winter.

Conclusion: If you’re worse at gardening than I am, don’t despair. The moss terrarium kit is a chance to redeem yourself and bring a bit of nature indoors.

The Moss Terrarium Bottle is $38, and you can dress yours up with handmade terrarium creatures, $34.

The Uncommon Life

Love Songs We Love

February 14, 2012

I love a good love song. I’ll admit I always get a sappy grin on my face when I hear Etta James’ “At Last,” I spent way more time picking music for my wedding than picking out a dress (I ended up walking down the aisle to Tom Waits’ “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” and dancing with my Mr. to M. Ward’s version of “Let’s Dance”), and I have been the gifter of a ‘mixed tape’ more than once.

But I’m not the only one who loves a good romantic tune. With Valentine’s Day on the way, love is in the air around here, and my coworkers were more than happy to share their favorite love songs.

Karen, a purchasing associate, just got engaged a few months ago, and she was happy to share her go-to love song. She’s actually thinking of playing “8 Days a Week” by the Beatles at her wedding.




What is she getting her soon-to-be husband for Valentine’s Day? She’s looking past the chocolate assortment in the the heart-shaped box in favor of his favorite, Peanut M&Ms. She says she’d also like to get him a Growbottle as an inside joke. “I’ve killed his plants before,” says Karen. “He went away for a week once and all of his plants died.”

UncommonGoods buyer, Candace, also wants to get her fiance something with a special meaning. Since she met her fella in Brooklyn, they fell in love here, and they live near the Brooklyn Bridge, she’s thinking the Brooklyn Bridge Pillowcase Set would make the perfect gift.

While her favorite romantic song at the moment, “Bless the Telephone” by Labi Siffre, isn’t about Brooklyn, her dream Valentine’s date takes place here. She and her groom-to-be are planning a Feb. 14 visit to the bar where they met, then dinner at a romantic local restaurant.




And it isn’t just the ladies at UncommonGoods that get a little sentimental around Valentine’s Day. Customer service supervisor, Erik, shared his pick, “Cupid” by 112.




He says he likes love songs that show the how, “when you’re in a serious relationship with someone, it’s all about commitment.” He’s all about making his girlfriend feel special on Valentine’s Day. He says he likes to cook her dinner, because a home-cooked meal has more feeling to it. He also likes giving unique, handmade gifts, like the Glass Heart Vases.

Marketing assistant Rocky also thinks Valentine’s Day is best celebrated dining in and just spending some quality time together. He said he thinks the Bunny Couple Sculpture makes a great gift, because it symbolizes just hanging out with someone you love. And what song would he listen to while spending the night in? Stevie Wonder’s “As.”




Warehouse lead David’s perfect date is just the opposite. He says he likes to spend the day in the city with his wife. “[In New York] you can get off the train anywhere and find something great to do. You don’t have to plan anything.” Since he lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, he loves being able to head to Manhattan to walk in Central Park, check out the theatre, and visit museums.

He also has a sense of humor about romantic gifts, and gave his special lady Porn for Women. This laid-back take applies to his favorite love song too. David chose Frank Sinatra’s “Funny Valentine” because “Sinatra doesn’t talk about how beautiful of perfect she is, but how she has little quirks that he loves.”



Do you still need a last minute gift for your funny valentine? Here are our employee suggestions.


GrowBottle / Brooklyn Bridge Pillow Case Set / Heart Vases/

Bunny Couple on Couch Sculpture /Porn for Women

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Soup & Sandwich Tray

February 10, 2012

Background Research
The Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo is an UncommonGoods classic with a glowing reputation. Based on photos and reviews, it is the perfect size for a classic tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Customers have left comments describing the innovative meals they have served on the tray such as cereal with a muffin and cake with ice cream.

Hypothesis
My idea of a comforting meal to warm up cold bellies on a January day is an Italian alternative. I hypothesize my favorite meal of spicy tomato & chickpea soup with Stromboli will fit just as perfectly on the Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo.

The Experiment
Sunday January 15, perhaps the coldest day so far since last winter. The wind is howling outside and there is nothing my boyfriend Mark and I would rather do than turn up the heat and have a movie marathon.

In the freezer are two servings of tomato and chickpea soup, a simple crock pot recipe that I made two weeks prior. It’s a thick soup that I spiced up with a lot of cayenne pepper and paprika and saved for such a chilly occasion. I have the ingredients to make my mom’s famous Stromboli– a favorite from my childhood. I roll the Stromboli, put it in the oven and heat the soup on the stove.

While the food is cooking, I take my Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo from its box to clean. I am surprised at the weight of the plate and bowl- it’s very sturdy and larger than I imagined. I especially appreciate that the plate and bowl are not attached and nest on top of each other for easy storage, a huge bonus for this apartment dweller. The bowl is very big and deep, I don’t know if I could ever eat that much soup!

The soup is warm and the Stromboli is baked to cheesy, oozy perfection. Although my Stromboli slices are not the size or shape of a grilled cheese, they fit better on the plate than I predicted. Mark and I sit at the table for a couple of minutes enjoying the convenience of eating soup and Stromboli from the same tray. When it comes time for a soup refill, we are grateful that we can take the bowls and not travel with the entire tray.

We decide it is time to put on The Big Lebowski and take our trays to the sofa. I dread eating on the sofa because it’s usually so messy but the  tray fits so perfectly on my lap, its size and weight make it a sturdy and level table. Since the bowl is so large, it only needs to be filled halfway to provide a healthy serving so spilling is not a concern. We can eat without crumbs or spilling while laughing at The Dude.

Conclusion
My hypothesis proved true, a meal slightly alternative to grilled cheese and classic tomato soup fit on the Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo. In addition, the tray proved to store well in a cabinet and create a spill-free sofa experience. I can’t stop thinking about all of my favorite recipes that can be served on the tray…

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Baby Carrier Cover

February 8, 2012

Alina Maturu, age 4 months, on assignment for UncommonGoods
As told to Swati Parikh

Gift Lab: Baby Carrier Cover

Background Research:

My mommy and I love to go for walks in our neighborhood. Every day she dresses me in a bunch of layers to keep me warm, straps me into a carrier and we set off on our daily adventure. I love going for walks and falling asleep while we’re out. The problem is that I hate putting on that winter bearsuit

– even though I’m super cute in it, it makes me all hot and sweaty and my mom gets sweaty too. So I whine and cry every time she puts it on me and we struggle to get out the door. And my mommy can’t zip up her coat around me, so she’s cold once we get outside too.

Hypothesis:
A carrier cover is just what we need. It will keep me and my mommy nice and warm and we’ll get to avoid the hassle of putting on a bunch of layers before leaving the house.

Experiment:
It’s been a fairly warm winter this year, but I finally got to see my first real snow storm in January. It was the perfect day to test out the carrier cover. We first watched this little video to figure out how to put it on:

Once we had it in place, with the proper strings pulled tight, we set off for an adventure in the snow to see how warm we would be in the cover.

Results:
It works! As my mom likes to say, the carrier keeps me “snug as a bug in a rug.” All I have to wear is this cute little onesie, pants and a sweater. No bearsuit. No crying. Once we get inside my mommy easily slips it off and I stay asleep the whole time.

My mommy also feels much warmer with the cover and feels like she was wearing another layer but not overheating. Her neck and chest are still exposed to the cold air, but she solves this problem by wearing a scarf with it. The cover is a little bulky, but once she puts her coat on over it we look like a cute cozy pair.

And daddy likes it too. Did I mention he has the coolest job in the world? He works at UncommonGoods.

Alina’s Wardrobe: I Love My Microscope Onesie, $25.

Alina’s Baby Carrier Cover: $69 at UncommonGoods.

The Uncommon Life

6 Uncommon Wedding Proposals

February 7, 2012

I love a good proposal story. Something about a well-planned surprise and the element of pure astonishment makes me a little giddy. Traditional proposals are sweet, but this hopeless romantic prefers an original and outrageous idea for putting a ring on it, especially a personal gesture that reflects the interests of the couple. With Valentine’s Day coming I have spent an embarrassing amount of time on YouTube perusing proposal videos. These are my favorite most uncommon proposal ideas.

Matt got really high-tech for his proposal and created a movie trailer about asking Ginny’s dad for his blessing. It aired at a local theater that Ginny and her brother were attending. The best part is getting to see her reaction throughout the viewing of the trailer.

Now this is a proposal that made my Gleek heart sing. A Canadian couple was touring Philadelphia when the UPenn Glee Club broke into song with The Beatles’ All You Need is Love. I don’t think it took too long for her to realize that the song was just for her.

Jeff made his proposal to Caitlin with a mural in Lower Manhattan. What citizen would complain about graffiti as sweet as that?

This guy incorporated some children’s arts and crafts to surprise his school teacher girlfriend. He even made her think she was in trouble by having her sent to the principal’s office so he could get the room ready.

This flashmob proposal stole my heart, he is so adorable, dancing awkwardly while his girlfriend watches. The proposal seems to take her by surprise, I wonder if she knew her boyfriend would be taking part in public dance in the first place.

So you think you wanna marry me? These footloose contestants on Canada’s So You Think You Can Dance got engaged on air!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgHuCJU191Y&feature=related

These romantic dudes incorporated their talent and love for the arts- singing, dancing, film-making and painting- into their proposals. Here are some ideas for a romantic, artistic Valentine’s Date.

1 Kaligraffiti Pen / 2 Cymbal of Love Pendant / 3 Musical Wine Glasses / 4 Sprocket Rocket Camera / 5 Vinyl Record Tie / 6 Film Festival in a Box: Love / 7 Ceramic Guitar Picks / 8 Instrumental Lighting Lamp

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