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Design

Creative Design to the Rescue! (Of Homeless Cats)

March 7, 2014

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My cat Eddie thinking about cats who lack a nice warm bed like his

If you love cats–as we do–it’s painful to think of them having to brave the elements on their own during a freezing northern winter, especially this year. But here in New York City, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cats have no shelter. So, if you also love creative design, and believe in its potential as a force for good–as we do–it’s nice to learn about Architects for Animals’ “Giving Shelter,” a yearly funds-and awareness-raising initiative founded by animal lover Leslie Farrell.

CatHaus

“CatHaus” by Francis Cauffman Architects was voted the favorite of the 2014 attendees

Since 2010, every year, Farrell, Director of Client Development at architecture firm Francis Cauffman, has convinced a handful of top-notch architectural design firms to design, build and donate innovative outdoor winter shelters for homeless cats. Their creations are put on public display as a one-night benefit event for the Mayor’s Alliance for NewYork City’s Animals. Attendees vote for their favorite, then all the shelters are donated to caregivers who work with needy animals.

CatHive

“Cat Hive” by Incorporated Architecture & Design

Carlton

by Carlton Architecture PC

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“Time Machine for Kittens,” by Two One Two Design

Hairball

“Hairball,” by M Moser Associates

The creative designs of these shelters help the cause architecturally (they generate good ideas for future shelters) and in other ways, too, as Michael Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance, points out. “The media coverage with pictures of the flashy shelters is an eye-catcher that many people examine with interest, whereas they will skip over an article about the plight of cats abandoned to the streets through no fault of their own.”

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Homeless cat in Brooklyn (rescued and adopted a few days after this photo was taken)

Nobody knows how many homeless cats there are in NYC, but estimates range from tens of thousands up to a million. Most of them are scared of us, so they keep out of sight, which makes counting them difficult. While people often think of cats as natural loners, they actually tend to form colonies near food sources such as garbage bins near apartment buildings. Some feral moms could very well be teaching their kittens to scrounge your leftovers as you sleep. (I’ve witnessed this, a sight both adorable and sad.)

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African Wild Cat at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa. Photo: Sonelle

These felines are all trying to survive in what, for them, is an unnatural habitat. It’s not just that it’s so urban and industrial, but also that they’re not native to this part of the world. All of the world’s domestic cats are descended from a type of wildcat that lives in the deserts of the Near East. These cats are not designed to live in the NYC climate; those pretty fur coats are not enough protection during the winter, no matter how thick they get.

They need our help, especially as it’s humans’ fault that they’re out there in the first place. This population is made up of of strays, who are lost or abandoned tame pet cats (some of whom have regressed to a not-so-tame state), and ferals, the essentially wild (that is, not socialized to humans) offspring and descendants of non-neutered strays and pets who were allowed to roam. They have neither a consistent and healthy food source, nor shelter from the elements, nor protection from urban dangers such as cars, rat and other poisons, and cruel humans.

NYFeralCatInitiative

New York Feral Cat Initiative logo

Fortunately, there are many (though never enough) animal-lovers all over NYC who work hard to rescue tame, adoptable cats and kittens, and feed and protect the ferals. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters whose joint mission is “to raise awareness about the thousands of… community cats living outdoors throughout NYC’s five boroughs, to offer solutions to prevent the number of homeless cats from increasing, and to successfully manage existing colonies.”

outdoorshelter

Standard outdoor cat winter shelter design by Ashot Karamian

Building shelters that enable these critters to avoid freezing misery or death during inclement weather is part of the last part, managing colonies. (To read about solutions to prevent increases in the number of homeless cats, start here.) Of course, it’s not really necessary to build shelters that are more than just functional. As far as we know, cats aren’t offended by a styrofoam-and-duct-tape aesthetic. Phillips described the minimal structural guidelines as follows: “No heavier than two people can lift easily. Inner space should be no higher than 16 inches to retain the body heat of the cats with room for straw bedding.Waterproof. Constructed with weatherproof construction materials.” He added, “Water is the most destructive force. Snow does not normally damage shelters or enter shelters in comparison to driving rain or flooding.”

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Rubbermaid container cat shelter by by Ashot Karamian (photo by Ashot Karmanian used with permission)

“You could use a basic Rubbermaid container for a cat shelter, which is quite common and perfectly fine because it works,” says architect Sofia Zimmerman, who, along with her husband and business partner, Adam, has participated in Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter three years in a row. “But as designers,”she continues, “we love the idea of someone walking down the street and coming across something that is artful, unusual, or even beautiful. Cat shelters are often found in alleyways, parking lots, and other places where finding something delightful is rare. But here’s a chance to do something nice looking–for the cats, their caregivers, and the people that might catch a glimpse.”

zimmerman

by Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design

“This third one, that we did this year, is perhaps the simplest, but in many ways our favorite. It was all about upcycling. We re-used a cardboard box and sealed it with duct tape. Inside, we lined it with styrofoam that came as packaging material for a lamp. And then we had to add another layer of insulation. This was the chance to do something delightful! We collected nine pairs of old jeans, cut them into long strips, and created a very very long braid. We wrapped it around and around the box, using as inspiration braided rag rugs–the ones you see in storybooks all the time with cats curled up on them!”

She adds that “During that process, we actually learned about the environmental impact associated with creating a pair of jeans….don’t get us started!”

fiberglasspod

“Fiberglass Pod,” by Elham Valipay and Haleh Atabaki, co-founders of MishMish, an example of a structure built with camouflage in mind

Different situations may call for specific architectural strategies. Phillips describes varying and “colony needs,” such as “camouflage; difficult specific dimensions to fit an exact spot; or fitting in visually with the design of a building nearby to please a particular property owner willing but not thrilled to have shelters placed on his property.”

If you want to help feral cats where you live, Phillips says, “Offering of your time to assist a local caretaker in your neighborhood is the best way to contribute to the long-term welfare of a community cat colony. The more widespread the support in a neighborhood the more likely the cats will accepted. Volunteering to feed the colony one or more days a week is a great help, when so often only one or two people shoulder the care for an entire colony.“

Or, if you’re crafty and love the idea of experimenting with small-scale architectural design that will actually be used, here’s your chance to do it, fur real! (sorry…)

vernacular1vernacular2vernacular3

Above three photos: “Feral Vernacular” by deSoto studio architecture + design

All photos copyright Marisa Bowe, unless otherwise indicated.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Cassidy Schulz Brush

February 2, 2014

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No matter how much I prepare before a Studio Tour, I never know exactly what to expect when I step into a creative workspace. On the way to my most recent artist encounter I traveled up New York Avenue by bus, out of my own Brooklyn neighborhood and into a close by, but unfamiliar, area somewhere between Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, I wondered what I’d see when I arrived at Cassidy Schulz Brush’s studio, Urban Chandy. After getting off at my stop, I wandered down a street that seemed to be a mix of industrial and urbane. I walked past warehouses and large trucks making deliveries, but also passed several people who looked like they could be on their way to art shows or coming from trendy coffee shops.

When I entered Cassidy’s studio, I found that same juxtaposition of city chic and industry. Of course, it’s what I should have been expecting all along, considering that Cassidy and her team so beautifully combine mechanical elements (like wires, sockets, and bulbs) and gorgeous reclaimed materials (like barn wood or vintage ceiling tiles) to create her chandeliers–or chandies, as she calls them.

The space is lit by a combination of sunshine pouring in large windows and the exposed bulbs hanging from its many chandies. Stacks of wood, various tools, and spools of wire line most of the walls there, and the remaining wall is covered in chalkboard paint and filled with chalky lists and numbers. Surrounded by so many details, I felt like I could explore the studio all day examining the many combinations of old and new. Here’s a closer look inside Urban Chandy, and some great advice from Cassidy Schulz Brush.

Continue Reading…

The Uncommon Life

Getting to Your Intersection of Love: A 6 Step Road Map

January 23, 2014

Intersection of Love | UncommonGoods

Valentine’s Day is approaching and, as the old saying goes, love is in the air. We’re extra giddy about celebrating Saint Valentine’s holiday this year thanks to a special collection of fun new art created by our Product Development team. The Intersection of Love ™ is a way to show the world that your one-and-only has a special place in your heart.

On the other hand, Valentine’s Day can be a total bummer for those who are feeling unlucky not in love. And, since our blog team is made up of women at different points in the journey to the intersection of love, we decided to pool our experiences one night over a couple glasses of wine and share our best advice for those looking to arrive at the corner of commitment.

1. Make an itinerary for your journey. Know who you are and what you want.
Some travelers are just looking for friendship, others are looking for marriage, and some want something in between. Before hitting the road, evaluate what you really want. Look at the map of where you’ve already been to evaluate past relationships, then make a note of where you want to be, who you want to be there with you, and what you want to do to find that person.

2. Choose Your Mode of Transportation
Where will you feel comfortable meeting someone? Many people find love online these days. There’s nothing wrong with that, and although it can be scary setting up that online dating profile, once you make the decision to do it it’s a lot easier than you think!

It’s also okay to go the old-fashioned route. Get out there and attend events where you can meet people with similar interests, talk to your friends to see if they’re interested in setting you up, and don’t feel like you have to commit to the same mode of transportation for the whole ride.

3. Read the Road Signs
You’ll come across some important road signs along the way, so it’s important to be able to read those signals. Some things are easy to pick up on (your potential partner stops texting), but others are a bit more subtle. It’s impossible to tell what another person is thinking, so trust your intuition. Spending time with someone is sort of like taking driver’s ed. You’ll learn new things along the way.

4. Check Your Gas Gauge
You don’t want to run out of gas, but that can happen if you leave a lead foot on the accelerator. It’s okay to tap the brake, or even pull over for a bit if you think you’re going too fast. Keep your tank full by making conscious efforts to keep your relationship exciting. Also, take the time to really think about your relationship and if what you’re putting into it (and getting from it) is creating a mutual valuable experience.  If your tank does start to get low, it’s time to evaluate whether it’s working or if it’s just time to move on.

5. Know When to Flip on Cruise Control
So, you have a full tank of gas and you’re feeling pretty comfortable? When your relationship is in a good place, you don’t always have to stress about what’s next. When you get to this point, make time to enjoy just hanging out together (even if you don’t have big plans), get to know each other’s friends and family, and learn little things about each other you didn’t know before. Sometimes it’s fine to relax and take in the scenery.

6. Knowing When You’ve Arrived at the Intersection of Love
When you reach the intersection, you can pretty much drive with your eyes closed (though we certainly don’t recommend doing that on any actual road trip). When you’re both in the same place emotionally and have the same idea of what it means to “arrive” then it’s almost as if your GPS has announced “Destination on left.”

Disclaimer: The blog team at UncommonGoods are not relationship experts. We don’t have degrees in interpersonal psychology, and the advice in this post probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously. However, we do sincerely hope you find your way to the intersection of love!


Intersection of Love | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Meghan Ellie Smith

December 13, 2013

Meghan Ellie Smith

Clutter Castle is what Meghan calls her eccentric home studio, tucked away in the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn. When I saw the odd, yet beautiful, string installation hanging from the ceiling, a collection of wooden instruments displayed on the wall, and a creepy plastic hand sitting on its own mini mantel, I fully understood how the Clutter Castle earned the honor of its name. But it’s funny, although I was like a kid in a candy shop in her vintage oasis — oohing and ahhing at every corner, I didn’t find it overwhelmingly chaotic. I felt as if the odds and ends of all the clutter were actually masterfully organized to push the use of imagination and a creative atmosphere. Which made perfect sense, because those were my exact thoughts about Meghan’s winning art piece, Chaos Mountain. The bright and earthy colors bleed into one another with no particular pattern, yet the shaped splices are meticulously placed. I love it. Perhaps the juxtaposition between the crashing watercolors and structured mountain reminds me a little of myself: a bit messy, a bit random, a bit chaotic, but in the end of the day, I know what I want to do and exactly where I want to go. “Not all who wander are lost,” a favorite quote by many free spirited individuals, resonates within the illustration of Chaos Mountain. Meghan Ellie Smith,a true free spirit herself, is not only the Queen of Clutter Castle, but officially wears the crown of our latest Art Contest. 

Continue Reading…

Design

Inspiration for Innovators: A New Collection of Patent Art

November 12, 2013

Creativity is one of our greatest joys and highest values at UncommonGoods. It makes us so happy when we come across or develop an imaginative, original design, artwork, or product that will bring something special into our customers’ lives. We’re in awe of the creative geniuses throughout history whose ideas, experiments, innovations and inventions have transformed life altogether.

Actress Susan Cabot as a chemist inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp WomanActress Susan Cabot as a chemist/inventor Janice Starlin in the 1959 Roger Corman film, The Wasp Woman

Learning about how great inventors and product designers have pursued their ideas from dream to reality, persisting through the grueling effort of iterative failures and breakthroughs, is incredibly inspiring. Our Product Development team wanted to create a new wall art collection that would link the often quiet presence of innovation in our daily lives to the grand and sometimes dramatic history of invention.

Thomas Edison with lightbulbThomas Edison looking stern while holding a light bulb

Thinking about history led them to the National Archives online collection. Then they had their light bulb moment. What’s a more universally-recognized symbol of inspiration than… the incandescent light bulb itself? What more prolific inventor has there been than Thomas Edison, with his 1,093 patents? And how cool is it that the National Archives collection includes some great-looking documents that were central to Edison’s most transformative inventions? (Answers: None, None, and Very.)

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Design

How To Make a Vegan Dream Catcher

October 30, 2013

I am pleased as punch to share my DIY dream catcher tutorial on UncommonGoods! I work for a public relations firm called Small Girls PR, and we recently threw a party for our client, She and Reverie. At the event we had a dream catcher craft station and provided the guests supplies and tips on how to make their own whimsical piece during the party! I’m a big fan of UncommonGoods, and wanted to share with their design community how easy it is to make one with just a few supplies. And just to add a cherry on top, knowing that UncommonGoods’ is very animal friendly, I created a fun vegan dream catcher tutorial! Below are photos and step-by-step directions for you to start making your own right at home!

Supplies

 

Step 1

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Step 3

Step 4

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Remember, you can substitute the supplies with any other arts and crafts you may have lying around at home. For example, if you don’t have felt feathers, perhaps you can use tassels or jewelry pendents. And if you don’t have faux suede you can switch it out with bright ribbons or earthy hemp cords. Have fun with this project and be creative! Below are a few snap shots from the She and Reverie event with the guests having a little bit too much fun making these dream catchers. SheRev082413_PiOv_090 SheRev082413_PiOv_057 SheRev082413_PiOv_055 SheRev082413_PiOv_053 SheRev082413_PiOv_020

Inspired, but don’t quite have the time to build your own dream catcher? Check out UncommonGoods’ Dream Catcher Necklace.

Design

3 Easy Steps to Make A Necklace Display

October 17, 2013

Hey you jewelry lovers, I’m Christina from Tales From The Thrift. I’m so used to showing off all my thrift shop finds that sometimes I forget to blog about the projects I conquer when I’m not vintage hunting! Naturally, my projects usually have something to do with actually organizing all of my random finds. Like a lot of other jewelry hoarders, I’m shockingly bad at storing my treasures, almost to the point of embarrassment. Every piece I own — from the fancy gems gifted by loved ones, to my huge collection of thrifted trinkets — gets stuffed into old jewelry boxes and dusty pouches or tossed haphazardly onto my nightstand before bed. Obviously, this strategy leads to plenty of tangles, tarnishing, tears, and loss. But finally, after one missing earring too many and some minor soul-searching, I realized it was time to become a responsible jewelry-owning adult and embark on my first-ever DIY storage project.

Tales From the Thrift

I kicked off my mission with a plan to create a simple display for some of my favorite necklaces. I began scouring a few local thrift stores and stumbled across some wood-framed, canvas art pieces–one black with silver handwriting, and the other with an abstract floral print–at Goodwill. (I ended up abandoning the floral canvas, and sticking with the black/silver piece, which features a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. If you’re curious, you can read it in full here!) I scored both items for around $4.

Tales From the Thrift
What you need: Other than some old wood-and-canvas artwork, just some nails and a hammer.

Tales From the Thrift
Step 1: Hammer your first nail at the top/center on the front of the wooden frame. Make sure you keep the nail exposed by at least a half-inch.

Tales From the Thrift

Step 2: Hammer a few more nails in a similar fashion, evenly spaced on either side of the middle nail, so you end up with a nice, balanced row.

Tales From the Thrift

Step 3: Put the display on your dresser or hang it on the wall, and arrange your necklaces. Enjoy a life free of tangled jewelry.

Tales From the Thrift

For rings, earrings and bracelets, I supplemented my DIY display with a few handmade jewelry stands and holders from UncommonGoods. UG’s gorgeous Hand Of Buddha Stand is perfect for my “real”  jewelry that I wear daily, and I added a light blue Pedestal Holder and pewter Labyrinth Bowl to hold my other assorted baubles.

buddhahand

 

Tales From the Thrift

Tales From the Thrift

Of course, I still have plenty of jewelry stowed away and out of sight, but my DIY display definitely helps me keep my most-loved necklaces organized and easy to find. And best of all, my new set-up is as pretty as it is practical!

Tales From the Thrift

Maker Stories

Piece by Piece: How Jim Golden Captures Collections in Photographs

October 12, 2013

Photographer Jim Golden | UncommonGoods

Photographer Jim Golden started his career as a retoucher in New York City’s fast-paced world of advertising, but traded in taxis and skyscrapers for scenic natural landscapes and crisp Oregon air. Now he owns his own photography studio and, when he isn’t capturing the majestic landscapes of the Pacific Northwest or creating beautiful portraits with his lens, he’s creating visual records of unique collections.

The items in each of these collections come from different times and places. Each grouping is like a history book, telling the story of a product and celebrating how the design has changed over the years and varies across its kind. Each thing in every group Jim photographs fits just right into the arrangement, creating a stunning still life.

Mixed Tape Puzzle | UncommonGoods

The subjects of each of these photographs arrive at Jim’s studio in many ways. Some are complete collections belonging to friends, some are from others working in the space, and some are “cobbled together” from thrift stores, internet auctions sites, and craigslist.

Despite the time Jim spends finding the perfect assortments of interesting things and carefully organizing them into scenes, he says he’s not one to hang on to too many objects himself. “I don’t have a lot of space these days,” he tells us. “I have 3 bikes, some die cast cars, some old cameras. Nothing amazing. I collect photos of collections! A friend recently commented that I collect through my camera, referring to my work outside of the studio (cars, houses, landscapes) which I thought was an interesting observation.”

Camera Collection | Jim Golden | UncommonGoods
Jim Golden | Photography | UncommonGoods

It’s no surprise that he learned to use the camera in this way. “My father was a serious amateur photographer,” Jim says. “[He] always had a camera in the car and would shoot this and that and every so often we’d have slide shows to see what he shot.”

After assisting his dad as a kid, Jim went on to college and began his technical training, ready to go into the field at a professional level. “I thought I wanted to be a commercial photographer, but after assisting in college I thought it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I graduated and started working for a retoucher in NYC, and he taught me that trade and I retouched for a while, then transitioned to shooting for a living in the early 2000s… I left New York City to get away from the intensity of the advertising world and to live in another part of the country. I wanted to be closer to the outdoors and especially the mountains in the winter. Portland was really affordable at the time, so it was easy to make a living and snowboard and skateboard a lot.”

The artist founded his own studio in 2006 in a converted grocery store from the 1930s. He describes it as “a free-standing building with a little parking lot and a big awning out front that the produce used to be under.” When he bought it, it was filled with cubicles, so he had to gut it to create the classic white box studio with “a 2000 square foot shooting space, a cyclorama, and about 1500 square feet of offices and a conference room in the back” that it is now. “It has great storefront windows so you never feel isolated in the dark, but it’s very functional,” he says. “It’s basically my dream studio from back when I would think about what my [future] studio would look like.”

Jim Golden Studio | UncommonGoods

All of this space is necessary, because photographing a large collection takes up what Jim calls “a pretty big footprint.” The objects are placed on the floor in a 10 foot by 8 foot formation and the camera is positioned 12 feet in the air, but that’s just set up. Space is also needed to store and sort the pieces before and after the photos are taken.

“We like to have about 2-3 times more stuff than we think we’ll need, ” Jim explains. “We spread everything out on big tables and edit it down to our favorite items. We then place our favorite stuff on the floor and move them around to see what feels right, then work off those pieces, they tend to be the larger pieces, generally. We mark the edges of the frame with tape measures and fill in the image. It’s a fine line between what works and what doesn’t; I know it when I see it. I worked with a very talented stylist, Kristin Lane, on some of the images, it’s a very collaborative process when we work together. Otherwise, I usually go in with 2-3 plans of attack and arrange the items myself.”

Set up | Jim Golden | UncommonGoods

This work may sound arduous to some, but it results in truly unique, detailed, and beautiful photos like those featured in our assortment of collection puzzles here at UncommonGoods. “I think all [photography] genres have their challenges in a way. When it comes down to it, it’s all making images, and I’m passionate about it regardless of the challenges,” Jim says.

The photographer’s advice to others willing to accept the challenges that come along with trade is to “shoot shoot shoot, every day.” He continues, “Always have a camera on you. Take the time if something catches your eye. It’s a cliché, but shoot what interests you, it shows through the work if you’re inspired…. as glamorous as this industry sounds, it can be a grind sometimes. You need to ask yourself if you can go the extra mile every time– because you need to. It’s immensely rewarding, but also hard work. ‘You’re not special, work hard’ was a quote I read recently. Very true.”

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