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Behind The Scenes

Maker Stories

Inside the Designers’ Studio
with UncommonGoods’ Product Development Team

September 16, 2016


UncommonGoods Product Development Team

UncommonGoods’ Product Development Team: Carolyn Topp (Director of New Business & Product Development), Elisha Janas (PD Associate Designer), Emily Reside (Senior Product Designer), Tiffany Jyang (Senior Product Developer), and Morgan Tanner (Senior Production Manager), photo by Emily Dryden

Each month, we have the privilege of bringing you a look inside an artist or designer’s creative space. Sometimes we hop on a train and head someplace nearby in Brooklyn, sometimes we hit the road to see friends a little farther from New York City, and every now and then a jet-setting contributor will helps us feel a little closer to a studio that seems worlds away. These adventures are always entertaining and inspiring, and they give us chances to get to know the people who make the goods we sell a little bit better. 

While planning some upcoming Studio Tours and reminiscing about the many great experiences I’ve personally had seeing where our products are made and meeting the people behind them, something occurred to me: We make products. Right here at UncommonGoods, a team of product designers, developers, and managers is at work coming up with brand new uncommon creations. 

I realized that despite all of the studios I’ve personally visited, the folders of photos from other folks’ tours I’ve sorted through, and the blog posts I’ve edited, I still haven’t given our readers a look at the place where we develop our very own designs. But that’s about to change. Welcome to this behind-the-scenes look at our Brooklyn office, where you’ll see works in progress, inspiration and advice from our Product Development team, and even a quote from The Boss (Springsteen, that is; not Dave Bolotsky).

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A Serving Solution
as Amazing as Chocolate

June 13, 2016

Few treats are quite as inviting as rich, decadent chocolates. That familiar, sweet scent. The lure of its velvety texture. The promise of a few moments of the unique pleasure the mouthwatering morsels will bring.

What could possibly make this bite-sized treat even more appetizing? A presentation that gets chocolate out of the box and on full display. The A-Maze-ing Chocolate Server does just that, and offers a clever solution when it comes to stashing those leftover wrappers.

“We wanted to create a presentation worthy of chocolate, because chocolate is amazing,” said UncommonGoods’ Senior Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang, who worked on creating the design for our Uncommon Collection.

The initial idea for the piece was, in part, based on the success of other Uncommon Collection items that offer unique serving solutions. Products like the Pistachio Pedestal, Popcorn Bowl with Kernel Sifter, and Cheese & Crackers Serving Board  are all unique presentation options that each tackle an entertaining challenge–discarding nutshells, dealing with pesky unpopped kernels, and keeping enough cheese and crackers on deck to keep snackers satisfied. With these designs in mind, the Product Development team thought about other ways to improve the presentation of foods frequently served at dinner parties and cocktail hours.

A-maze-ing Chocolate Server | UncommonGoods

“Sometimes there’s an excess something that you don’t want to carry around at a party or stick in your pocket,” Tiffany explained. “In [the case of chocolates] it’s the wrapper. This [server] is an all-in-one solution.”

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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Impact: UncommonGoods’ Animal-Friendly Choice

February 19, 2016

To date, our Uncommon Impact series has focused on stories of environmental and material sustainability drawn from our many talented makers. But UncommonGoods’ own mission has always focused on a positive effect on people and the planet, inviting us to find uncommon impact in our own history and company culture. One way that we’ve done this is to be an animal-friendly company from our start seventeen years ago. Since then, environmental sustainability has come to the fore even more, and animal-friendly choices, whether personal or commercial, can be a major factor in minimizing our negative impact on the earth.


Vegetable Parchment Platter

UncommonGoods’ commitment to not carrying items that harm animals stood out for me as a vegetarian for over 20 years. This was a factor when I joined the UncommonGoods team in 2014, a principle that is also important to our founder, Dave Bolotsky. As a vegetarian since 1974, Dave felt it was important to establish a cruelty-free character for the company and its collection, a choice that aligned with our concern for people and the planet and our dedication to sustainability. This extends to our policy of not showing items on our website or in our catalog propped with animal products (only veggies on our grills and kabobs, for example).

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The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Jason Walters

July 28, 2015

Jason Walters, UncommonGoods Area Operations Manager 

My hometown…
Peterstown, West Virginia.

I’m passionate about…
Books, movies and TV. I love that they allow us to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

The best gift I’ve ever received is…
A quilt that my grandmother made for me. I’ve moved around a lot on my way to Brooklyn and I can’t say that I have too many of the possessions that I started out with, but the quilt will always be something that I bring along.

The word or phrase that best describes me…

When I’m not working, I’m probably…
When the weather is nice, I try to spend as much time outside as possible, so a picnic in the park or drinks outdoors are two of my favorite warm weather activities. Otherwise, you’ll probably find me at BAM. I try my best to see all the movies that come through.

Something that always makes me laugh…
Bad puns, Popsicle stick jokes, general Dad humor. In fact, here’s a freebie, where do cantaloupes spend their summer vacations?………..At John Cougar’s Melon Camp! You’re welcome.

The most challenging thing I’ve ever done is…
Deciding whether or not to tell you, the internet, the Melon Camp joke. Ultimately, I thought the world a better place with that joke out there. Again, you’re welcome.

If my 6th grade teacher could see me now, he or she would say…
“Oh, hi Jason, I see you finally got the braces off….and is the beard new?”

An uncommon fact about me…
I am a Knight of the Golden Horseshoe. Every year in West Virginia, students who score well on a test covering history, geography, economy, government, and general state trivia (Did you know that Don Knotts and Mary Lou Retton are from WV?) get inducted into the Society of the Golden Horseshoe. The end result is a knighting ceremony where each student kneels and then someone would do the thing where they tap a sword on both of your shoulders! I’m not positive that my knighthood is legitimate in any way, but occasionally I will request that people call me by my proper title of Sir Jason. No one ever has….

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Jen Coleman

July 22, 2015

Jen Coleman, PR & Social Media Coordinator

My hometown…
Coral Springs, FL.

I’m passionate about…
Good food, travel, and sustainable living.

If my 6th grade teacher could see me now, he or she would say…
I had two teachers in 6th grade, and I’m sure both of them would make the same comment that every adult who knew me as a child always says: ”When did you get so tall?”

If any fictional character could be my best friend, I would choose….
This is hard! Some people might expect me to say Liz Lemon, but she’s far too busy to be a proper best friend. I would want to be best friends with Deb Perelman, the blogger for Smitten Kitchen. I know she’s not fictional, but bloggers have an online persona, so I consider her a character people follow…yeah, it’s a stretch. But anyway, I just want her to cook for me and tell me funny stories.

Something that always makes me laugh…
Alpacas. They have the funniest facial expressions!

My relationship with Mother Nature is…
Connected and important, but often leads me to a guilt trip. There are so many ways I should improve my choices, starting with cutting down on disposable coffee shop cups.

A song I love so much that I played it until I was sick of it…
I think I have a bad habit of doing this to every song that I fall in love with, so I’ll go with an album instead. Over the years, I’ve played the heck out of Pet Sounds until I can’t listen to it anymore. But usually I just need a little break before I start bingeing again. I love how the same songs take on a new meaning as I get older.

My guilty pleasure is…
Dawson’s Creek. I thought I would outgrow that show and the unrealistic dialogue, but I’m still hooked whenever I watch it.

An uncommon fact about me…
I’m a boxer! (Yes, really…)

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Kenneth Cooke

July 16, 2015

Kenneth Cooke, Drop Ship Lead

My hometown is…
Brooklyn, NY

I’m inspired by…

An uncommon fact about me…
I love cheese on my pancakes, waffles and French toast.

The word or phrase that best describes me…
Always on the go.

My guilty pleasure is…
Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

My favorite place to travel is…
Everywhere. I’ve been to 8 different countries and that number continues to grow each year.

Something that always calms me is…
A nice 3-5 mile run is always best.

When I’m not working…
I’m probably at home reading or out an about in NYC trying the endless supply of restaurants.

Favorite place to eat in NYC…
It’s safe to say that this Thai restaurant called National is where I frequent the most. I’m currently making my way through the whole menu. It’s located right across from the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

If I could try something once…
I would have to say swimming with sharks. I usually freak out when small fish swim by me, but I’m sure I could toughen up just one time.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Brian Hashemi

July 8, 2015

Brian Hashemi, Director of Marketing

My hometown is…
In Virginia somewhere. I didn’t really grow up in a “town”, it was really just the middle of the forest. Well, like a house in the middle of the forest. A house in a forest that was technically in a suburb of DC. My backyard flowed into a state park, so I could walk for miles back there without running into another house. It was great as a kid to be able to explore – I once found an old bootlegger’s hideout back there, a dilapidated building full of old, rusty stills. It was pretty much exactly like the house they find at the end of The Blair Witch Project. The place I grew up looked a lot like The Blair Witch Project.

I’m inspired by…
The fact that existence exists, because it doesn’t have to. There is something weird and profoundly mysterious about the idea that we are here at all. It’s really much weirder than we allow ourselves to think about.

I chose to go into marketing because…
Marketing chose me. I’ve felt my way through a series of jobs that I’ve found progressively more fulfilling, until finally landing at a company and role and team that I love.

If my 3rd grade teacher could see me now, he or she would say…
That I’m much bigger now? That my math and verbal skills have progressed (but my handwriting hasn’t really)? I don’t know, I think my 3rd grade teacher is dead. So I don’t really think she’d say anything.

The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen is…
Let’s see – I once saw some dogs eat a baby horse, that was pretty amazing. Oh, and ghosts; I’ve seen two ghosts. Well, one was sort of a spirit that visited me in a dream. The other was like a real, physical ghost (that I saw in a graveyard in Scotland). So yeah, I guess I’d say ghosts. I don’t know, was I supposed to say something more profound, or more poetic? Like, “The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen is the sun rising over Everest.” I have seen the sun rising over Everest – but I still say ghosts.

If I could travel back in time, I’d…
Stand very still, trying not to create any paradoxes that would destroy the universe, make my image disappear from photographs, or cause humans to follow an alternate evolutionary path resulting in us now all being lizard-tongued beasts.

Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
So much. I’ve been lucky enough to have been exposed to so many different sides of the business; it’s really been a thorough education. I’ve gotten the chance to take on many things that I don’t think I’d ever have gotten the opportunity to do at another company. I came in as an analyst, but have been given responsibility for everything from PR to project management at various times – I love learning the ins and outs of new things, and how to optimize different programs. I’ve also learned that I can have a viable, successful career without compromising something about myself.

An uncommon fact about me…
I am constantly replacing my bones with metal. I have metal rods in one arm and one leg, because of soccer injuries. I’m hoping that thousands of years from now, when alien archeologists unearth my skeleton, they’ll point to me as the missing link between organic humans and the cyborg overlords that subsequently took over the earth.

Would you rather… go without music for a year, or go without travel for a year?
I couldn’t go without music. I mean, how do people get anything done without Ke$ha blasting over their headphones on repeat? Music is an everyday thing, travel is a treat.

The Uncommon Life

Our Uncommon Book Club Picks

October 20, 2014

Once the weather gets dreary and the bikes get put into storage, the typical morning commute of a U-Gooder involves a meandering, pre-coffee descent into the New York subway, followed by a (hopefully) quick transfer to the N or R trains. These are the two main lines that run through our neighborhood of Sunset Park, so it’s not unusual to bump into coworkers with their noses in a book. Given these frequent literary sightings, it seemed apropos to ask my fellow U-Gooders just what has them so engrossed that they almost miss the 59th Street stop.

What are you reading right now?
Nikki Desautelle“I just finished Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, the final book in a series which starts off as a darker, more grownup up version of wizard school a la Harry Potter. It’s great because it allows me to continue my life long fantasy of the magical life that was STOLEN FROM ME.”
–Nikki DeSautelle, Graphic Designer

What’s your all-time favorite book?
Brian HashemiTropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. I remember walking into my college bookstore freshman year, reading the first paragraph, falling in love with it, and immediately deciding Henry Miller was my favorite author ever. Years later, and after reading every single book (both fiction and non-fiction) that Miller ever wrote – and he wrote a lot – it still holds true. Actually, just over Labor Day, I visited the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, which was like a pilgrimage for me.”
–Brian Hashemi, Director of Marketing

Rebecca Marshall“It’s a tie between A Tale of Two Cities (the first book that really sucked me in; it made me love reading) and Prince of Tides. (I have no idea why I love this book. I just do. Every time I put it down I wanted to pick it back up.)”
–Rebecca Marshall, Associate Art Director

Reading tablet or the real thing?Jen Grim
“While I own hundreds of real books, I vote for tablet. I travel a lot and love the convenience of always having several books to read without having to sacrifice suitcase space for books.”
–Jennifer Grim, Director of Customer Service

Jille Natalino
“The real thing. I read a novel on my iPhone once and my eyes hurt for weeks afterwards, but more importantly: I m a bit nosy— I like to know what other people are reading on the subway and can use any excuse to talk to strangers (the fault/charm of being a Southerner.) Therefore, I prefer my books to proudly display their titles as well”–Jille Natalino, Graphic Designer

Sum up your you life with a book title.Emily Hodges
Catch 22 – From deciding what shoes to wear in the morning, to choosing what to eat for lunch, to booking an AirBnb accommodation for my next travel plans — I’m always thinking “I should have went with the other choice” even if I know exactly why I didn’t.”
–Emily Hodges, Community Outreach Associate

Jen ColemanMe Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris—sums up how I feel before my morning coffee!”
–Jennifer Coleman,Community Outreach Assistant

Other titles that made the cut: Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan), Jitterbug Perfume (Tom Robbins), The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho), Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert), and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers).

Probably the best takeaway from this office poll is how eager everyone was to talk about what’s in his or her reading queue. Just add some good wine and bite-sized snacks, and we’d have had a good old-fashioned book club meeting. Too bad a crowded subway car isn’t an ideal setting for a tasteful crudité.

Do you have a can’t miss book club pick? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @UncommonGoods!

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