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The Uncommon Life

A Journey Through the UncommonGoods Warehouse

December 17, 2013

So many boxes are coming and going through our warehouse right now – from Inbound where products arrive from our artists and vendors, to Outbound where your orders are carefully assembled and packaged for shipment. In this bustling time in our facility, we wanted to share the journey of a package through our space here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

We hope you enjoy!

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. 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Robert Blinn, Carl Collins, Peter Knocke & Daniel Stillman

October 7, 2013

the men of GothamSmith | UncommonGoodsSome designers have a creative studio, some have a company work space, but for this Studio Tour I rode my bike to the apartment of Carl Collins, the gathering-space of GothamSmith. It was early on a Tuesday morning and before they went their separate ways for the day, Pete, Daniel, and Carl got together around a handmade wooden table to meet with me and get some work done. There were few idle hands at the table; as we talked about how they all met and became GothamSmith, Carl was busy sketching new designs, Pete stamped their logo on muslin bags, and Daniel cut chain to assemble necklaces with pendants just delivered by Shapeways – a NYC-based 3D printing service that brings their designs to life.

As they reminisced about their original meeting space – a now-closed watering hole – and flipped through a book of anecdotes and inside jokes that they published for each other a couple years back, I couldn’t figure out which came first, the business or the friendship. Although Rob wasn’t able to join, I could tell these four guys are as passionate about their friendship as they are about their brand, an idea born from a lack of manly items at a handmade craft show.

Meet the guys of GothamSmith!

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How To Make It: Designing Your Website | Design Panel + Happy Hour

September 17, 2013

How To Make It: Designing Your Website | UncommonGoodsDesigning a webpage from scratch can be daunting! There are so many design decisions to be made to properly showcase your handmade designs. On Tuesday October 1, meet UncommonGoods Associate Art Director Rebecca Paull Marshall, jewelry designer Caitlin McNamara, and Training and Support Manager Ariele Krantzow at our next event and get their advice on putting together a beautiful and effective website. Submit your website for a direct critique from our panel during the discussion.

Stick around after the talk for some drinks, snacks, and networking with the UG team and other local creatives. enables everyone to design, publish and host stunning HTML5 websites. No coding, no previous design skills, just log in to Wix and start creating with our easy drag-and-drop website builder! In that spirit of encouraging creativity and enabling entrepreneurship, in 2010 Wix founded the NYC Wix Lounge. The Wix Lounge is a completely free co-working, event and exhibit space for creative professionals. Grab your laptop, pop into the Lounge and enjoy a productive work day, great networking opportunities, and amazing events. The Wix Lounge provides free support to New Yorkers, giving them the tools and tips for successfully launching and managing their businesses’ online presence. To learn more about the Wix Lounge, please visit

To learn more about the panel and sign up, visit our Events page.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kasia Wisniewski & Nicholas Foley

June 3, 2013

Living in New York City you learn very quickly not to judge a book by it’s cover – every door hides a secret in this city. Upon walking up to Kasia Wisniewski and Nicholas Foley’s building I had no idea what was in store. Only a few blocks from my own place, and on a block with manicured brownstones, Kasia and Nick’s door was gated and uninviting. But upon being greeted and swept upstairs to their apartment by Kasia, I was surprised to be standing in the treasure hidden from the street. Their home is what I imagine Marie Antoinette’s place would look like if she were a Brooklyn artist – a mix of Baroque accessories, Mid-Century furniture, antique sewing machines, dress forms. And right there, among their beautiful furniture and artifacts, was an industrial laser cutter, taking up what I imagine could be a sizable second bedroom.

That’s another thing about New York City – you have to make it happen by any means possible. For Nick and Kasia that mean taking out a wall, building a ventilation system, and giving up precious real estate to fit the laser cutter that helped Kasia leave her job in luxury fashion design and start working for herself. But nothing is wasted – they have used the cutter to create Kasia’s wall art and jewelry, to cut stencils to create other designs, and Nick even used it to cut wood to create a suspended indoor garden. Getting to tour their space and talk about their work was truly inspiring and a reminder that nothing is earned in this city without a little sacrifice.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
We are collectors! We’re surrounded constantly by reminders of things we love- from books and photographs to piles of fabric and knick-knacks from our travels. Living in Brooklyn has forced us to be creative with a limited space, so we’ve put our passions front and center. Nick is starting an indoor vegetable garden in the corner of our living room, so a lot of it is creating our own inspiration as well.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Working from home means we’re working on and off from the time we get up to the time we go to sleep – but when you’re doing stuff you like, it’s not work. I usually take an hour or so to go for a run around midday and we always watch something funny during dinner at the end of the day.

We also have a blog where we detail our food and design experiments, so working on that is sort of a treat for us as well.

What are your most essential tools?
Our most essential tool is our laser cutter- we use it not only to create products like our You Are Here map, but we also use it to create tools for our other projects, from stamps and stencils to jigs and frames. My industrial sewing machine (a birthday gift from Nick to me) is another Collected Edition MVP.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Transitioning from a full-time job in a high stress fashion company to being my own boss was terrifying. I think the hardest part was really realizing how fast time goes by when you’re working on projects by yourself. At first I would beat myself up if I didn’t have something solid and concrete at the end of the day – but mistakes and revisions are 95% of the design process.

What advice would you offer yourself of 5 years ago?
I would encourage myself to follow my instincts and believe in my vision. I think all designers suffer from insecurity, but if you focus on making good work and being true to your aesthetic, others will get onboard.

How do you set goals for yourself?
We both have a very clear idea of what we want our lives to be like in 5 years or 10 years – but the path to get there is still developing! We are both big fans of lists – both small detail and big picture. I try to set manageable goals I know I can reach, while always keeping in mind the endgame.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Every victory is celebrated by figuring out how to win the next victory.

What quote keeps you motivated?
This Samuel Beckett quote pretty much sums up creative entrepreneurship. I think there are very few designers that ever feel completely satisfied with their work – you should always be aiming to “fail better” on the next go-round.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m starting to experiment with casting. I love using tutorials from sites like Instructables to inform my experimentation. We also have an electroforming set-up that we both worked with some in college but is now lying dormant – that’s another avenue we have been exploring and requires a lot of trial and error to perfect.

How do you recharge your creativity?
The only time I can ever really relax is when we go away – whether on a proper vacation or just a day trip. A change in scenery does wonders for the mind.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Since so much of what we do is custom, each piece is really a collaboration with the client. My favorite thing is to work closely with a customer to bring an idea to life – it’s a beautiful thing to know that what you do brings happiness to another life.

The Uncommon Life

Celebrate Cycling for National Bike Month

May 17, 2013

Since May is National Bike Month, and today is is Bike to Work Day, we’re celebrating by sharing some stats about how our team gets our bike on.

In NYC, biking to and from work is among one of the regularities of city living. When the subway stations are too hot, humid and crowded during the summer, it’s not too uncommon to see bikers out enjoying the breeze as they cruise through the boroughs to work. Actually, NYC has ranked #7 on the Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities list and have you heard about the new Citi Bike Membership program? Awesome.

Jessica McDonough, Associate Art Director, on a cruise.

Here are some quick facts about UG bike riders:

How we get to work.

Lee Griffin, Operations Manager, walking his bike through the warehouse to his office.

The time we spend riding to work.

Mindy Wilson, Human Resources Manager, gives biking a thumbs up.

Who’s biking by department.

And the top three UGooders (combining commute in miles, commute in minutes and frequency) are…

#3 – Laura Frost, Customer Service Assistant Manager
8 miles, 60 minutes, Average of 4 – 6 times per month

#2 – Erin Fergusson, Senior Manager – Merchandising
8 miles, 40 minutes, Average of 3 times per week

And, our #1 bike commuter is…
Dave Bolotsky, Founder and CEO
8 miles, 35 minutes, Average of 3 – 4 days per week


El Anatsui: All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

May 14, 2013

Like most Americans, I’m pretty unaware of artists who aren’t American or European. Embarrassing but true: interpreting the art of very different cultures takes work, and I tend to approach art (as I do most things) impatiently, wanting immediate pleasure. So I’d never heard of Ghanian-born, Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui when the Brooklyn Museum opened his first solo exhibition in a New York City museum. (Which runs through Aug. 4, 2013.)

El Anatsui, Ink Splash, photo by Aaron Bunge

Ink Splash, 2010 – Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Gravity and Grace (detail), 2010, photo by Aaron Bunge

Gravity and Grace, 2010 (detail) – Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Now, thanks to Kevin Dumouchelle, Associate Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands at the museum, who organized the show, this lazy ethnocentrista has been gifted with a reward she didn’t deserve: a broad, deep encounter with overwhelmingly spectacular art. Totally accessible on a number of levels, El Anatsui’s work drew me in, motivating me to spend much more time learning about it than I normally do at an art show. I went twice. I watched all the videos. I never do that.

Afor, 2010

Afor, 2010 – Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

I thought this show would be of interest to the UncommonGoods community for two reasons: first, because it bridges the same fertile territory between “art” and “craft” that a number of pieces in our collection do, and second, because we love art made of recycled and upcycled materials. El Anatsui is perhaps the maestro of this practice.

Drainpipe, 2010 and Peak Project, 1999 – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Using tools ranging from chainsaws and welding torches to improvised small crafts tools, he has marked, joined, and shaped materials ranging from yucca graters and railroad ties to driftwood, iron nails, and obituary notice printing plates. More recently, he has focused on condensed milk can tops and used aluminum liquor bottle caps, with various brand names, from a distillery in the university town and contemporary art mecca of Nsukka, Nigeria, where his studio is.

Red Block, 2010 – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Anatsui prefers not to call what he does “recycling,” and in fact, the connotations of that word are too narrow in the context of his work. The discarded materials he uses are so miraculously transformed into beautiful, shimmering, sumptuous works of art that his preferred word, “metamorphosis,” does seem more apt. At least one critic has dubbed it “alchemy,” and I can totally see why. (They’re metamorphosed into money as well; at least one piece is rumored to have sold for about a million dollars. So UG will not be offering his stuff any time soon, unfortch.)

Earth’s Skin, 2007 – Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

The show I saw (twice!) at the Brooklyn Museum consists of 30 works in metal and wood, the largest and most visually dominant of which are huge, mosaic-like, hanging tapestries made of the aforementioned bottle caps.

Earth’s Skin, 2007 (detail)- Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

A tremendous amount of meticulous craftsmanship goes into every tapestry, as you can see in this short Art21 video. Each is composed of thousands and thousands of aluminum liquor bottle caps. Anatsui’s 40-odd assistants cut and fold the caps into a seemingly endless multitude of shapes. “For each new pattern or texture that I’m introducing,” explains the artist, “I have to show them how it’s done. Because I find that, as an artist, if you don’t maintain physical contact with handling the material… the work might end up not having a soul.”

Earth’s Skin, 2007 (detail) – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

They then painstakingly “sew” them together with copper wire, patchwork-style, in a dazzling variety of color and texture groupings, Many depict traditional Ghanian symbols and patterns, while also evoking the history of the African slave trade, in which liquor was a commodity that Europeans exchanged for human beings, as well as the contemporary reality of global consumption and waste. Surprisingly, Anatsui received his early education in a Presbyterian mission with a European curriculum, and was isolated from his own culture until, in his late teens, he decided to “indigenize [his] consciousness” by immersing himself in Ghanaian culture. That probably at least partly explains someone like me found his work so easy to engage with.

El Anatsui creating his wall installation, Gli (Wall), 2010 / Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas / Photo: Nash Baker ©

El Anatsui doesn’t like to tell curators how to hang the pieces, so they have to be strong from every angle, as there’s no way to predict what kind of stress any given area might sustain. Before uniting all the sections of a piece, his crew pulls each section this way and that, to test their strength and make sure they’ll withstand being hung and re-hung in indoor and outdoor installations around the world. Without this careful craftsmanship, Anatsui’s brilliant, painterly compositions couldn’t perform their artistic function for long.

Black Block, 2010 – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

There’s no way to adequately describe in words or photographs how stunning, and varied, his work is. Some of the hangings, pieced of solid color blocks of flattened parts of caps, are monolithic and imposing, even though they’re made of what’s easily recognizable as garbage. Some, made of cap parts shaped into circles that are loosely woven together, are semi-transparent, and hang above and around you making the room you’re in look transcendentally magical, as if dust motes had turned to gold.

Gli (Wall), 2010 – Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Brooklyn Museum photograph

Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

One of the most amazing things about his work, to me, was that usually in the art world, consumer items, brand names, and garbage are used to say something negative and depressing. We’re meant to be reminded of the way consumer culture and advertising infiltrates nearly every aspect of our lives, usually degrading the environment in the process. When I see this kind of work, I often think, “I didn’t need you, Mr./Ms. Art School Graduate, to tell me about this. We all already know it.”

Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

But Anatsui’s work lifts you up and inspires you in all sorts of ways: artistically, environmentally, physically, and, dare I say, metaphysically. Anatsui shows us that the possibilities of re-use to create value of all sorts are unlimited.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Kristy Hadeka & Sean Tice

May 7, 2013

Days before I made it to the Red Hook work space of Sean Tice and Kristy Hadeka, they were putting the finishing touches on Brooklyn Slate Co’s new home, a space that took a hard beating during Hurricane Sandy. A line painted on an exposed brick wall shows where the water came up last October. At the time they were beginning construction on their new office and showroom, and had begun to store all of their merchandise and computers.

Months later, their space is a rustic, welcoming meeting space where they can work on new designs and meet with clients. I was happy to learn that behind the homey facade, Sean and Kristy were as warm as their aesthetic–serving as true advocates of their new neighborhood and neighbors. Take a look inside their work space and see what makes Sean and Kristy (and Garp) of Brooklyn Slate Co such Uncommon Artists.

What are your most essential tools?
Sean: An oversized work table, drafting light box, and good music playing. Editor’s note: The music was indeed very, very good.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Kristy: When we found this space, it was completely stripped down and raw. We built it out using materials and colors that make us feel really comfortable and at home. It’s open, airy, and relaxing – perfect for finding inspiration.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
K: Red Hook is a great neighborhood to walk around and explore – whenever we need a few minutes, we pick a direction and go for a walk.
S: Our dog also accompanies us at the shop on most days, so we take him to the park in the morning and late afternoon. I usually stop by Baked for a coffee or tea, then we go and throw the ball around.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
K: You should never be afraid to ask for help. Whether you need feedback on an idea you’re working on, or you find yourself managing an area of the business with which you have no experience, it’s important to know you can always go to someone you trust for feedback.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
S: We celebrate small victories every Friday with Beer Friday, when we pair a new beer we haven’t tried before with a cheese. Often, someone on our team will bring in something homemade for us all to enjoy, and we’ll pair a beer with that.
K: A big victory always requires the team head to the Ice House, one of our favorite watering holes in the neighborhood.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
S: We recently started developing other tabletop items that aren’t necessarily made of slate. I typically sketch ideas by hand, but I’m learning Google SketchUp so I can create more detailed renderings.

How do you recharge your creativity?
K: We both love running. It’s a great way to reset or gain perspective, especially when you’re stuck on an idea. There’s also so much to see in New York, and running is the best way to do it.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
S: Collaboration comes into play in two ways – on the one hand, we’re always exploring ways to collaborate with other producers in New York. Within the company, everyone is encouraged to speak up as new ideas come to them. Our shop and office are one and the same, which encourages open communication between everybody. Even if you’re not participating in a particular conversation, just overhearing a discussion can plant a seed in your own mind.

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