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Maker Stories

A Throne For Your Trinkets: Tracy Shea’s Pedestal Jewelry Holder

April 22, 2016

Tracy Shea | Pedestal Jewelry Stand | UncommonGoods

Tracy Shea remembers her first time. As a sophomore at Ohio’s Mentor High School she took a ceramics course and was instantly hooked. “From the minute I touched clay, it’s always been something I wanted to do,” she recalls.

She scored a partial scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of the Arts, but ended up accepting a full-ride to a different college. “My parents refused to pay for an art education,” she explains. “They were like, ‘You’ll never make it as an artist.’”

Fast forward three decades and the Garrettsville, Ohio mom of two spends her days making her popular Pedestal Jewelry Holder. The lace-imprinted ceramic stand — fitted with 50 holes to hang earrings — was born from a desire to display heirloom pieces passed down to her from her aunt. Eyeing her collection “drove me to think, people have stuff that they don’t necessarily want to throw in a drawer,” she says. “People collect stuff for a reason — there are emotional ties. So this is a special place to put things that are really special.” She puts her process — and her life as an artist — on display.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Kristen Juen

November 30, 2015

Kristen Juen | UncommonGoods

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the people behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Kristen Juen, the artist behind our new Mauna Planter and Dish and Valley Hanging Planter.

Mauna Planter and Dish | UncommonGoods

When did you know you wanted to be an artisan?

I have always had a passion for creativity. When I moved to Austin recently it felt like the right time and place to pursue a path as a maker.

What has been the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artisan?

Sharing my joy and inspiration for creating with others!

Kristen Juen | UncommonGoods

What does your typical day in the studio look like?

I like to stay busy in the studio. I typically continue on a previous day’s work, while also starting something new so I always have something going. You will find me rolling out slabs, assembling new work, trimming, smoothing, and glazing. I also currently work out of a shared studio, so I learn a lot and gain inspiration from being around other creatives.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?

I do not have a specific trinket, but I gain so much inspiration from the outdoors. Getting out of the studio occasionally to take in the beauty, peace, and surprises that can be discovered in nature, is so important to the development of my creativity and ceramic wares.

Kristen Juen | UncommonGoods

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?

A kindergartner recently looked up at me during an art show in amazement and said, “Did you make all this?”

Valley Hanging Planter | UncommonGoods

What quote or mantrakeeps you motivated?

It can be scary to push myself to try new creative ideas that might completely fail. However, I recognize that my most exciting creations often evolve from these experiments. I am inspired and motivated to keep going by the Joseph Chilton Pearce quote, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

See the Collection | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Maggy Ames

October 10, 2014

Maggy Ames | UncommonGoods

One morning a few weeks ago I woke up extra enthusiastic. I couldn’t wait to get to work. That’s because my work day started with a trip into Manhattan to meet an artist whose work I’d loved since the moment I saw it on our tabletop buyers’ sample shelf. I was going to meet Maggy Ames, the maker of the some of the most beautiful stoneware bowls I’d ever seen.

When I got to Maggy’s space, one of the last working corroborative pottery studios in Manhattan, I was happy to see that she was as enthusiastic about the start of the work day as I was. She was ready to start throwing pottery, but she didn’t mind taking a moment to show me and UncommonGoods Photographer Emily around first. We snuck a peek at the kiln room just in time to see a fresh batch of bowls come out, watched Maggy’s team weigh and prepare clay, caught a glimpse at the secret formulas for a few glaze colors, and admired how the clay dust that seemed to touch everything in the studio made the place even more magical.

After our introductions and a little exploring, we watched as Maggy transformed a large, lumpy ball of clay into an exquisitely curved bowl–something she does about 15 times on an average day. Watching the process was certainly inspiring. Talking with Maggy, who’s been making pottery for 30 years and retired from law to became a full-time artist 5 years ago, gave me a much welcome creativity boost too. Whether you’re looking for little motivation to get making, some inspiring words of wisdom, or just some beautiful photos of art in the works, I hope you’ll love meeting Maggy and seeing her studio as well.

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Maker Stories

A Perfect Design for Your Knitting Nest

September 15, 2014

Aaron A. Harrison | UncommonGoods

The son of an architect father and artist mother, Aaron A. Harrison quickly gravitated towards all things creative. LEGO towers gave way to kindergarten art contest wins, which eventually gave way to an MFA in ceramics and sculpture. Knowing he wanted to play with clay forever, Aaron decided to turn his passion into a career once he started raising a family.

While working in production at a ceramic slip casting company that specializes in bird feeders, birdhouses, and nightlights, Aaron began to shift his focus from artist to designer. “It was here that I learned how to run a production studio,” says Aaron, “making products from clay was preeminent to making clay art.” Working with all the bird-friendly pieces at the studio also fostered an appreciation for the bird form, inspiring Aaron to incorporate the winged creatures into his own designs once he started his own studio in 2009.

Birdie Yarn Bowls | UncommonGoods
Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

On his process, Aaron says, “creativity as a designer follows the need to solve a problem.” In the case of one of his most popular designs, this problem was the unrolling of yarn. After two separate friends asked him if he made yarn bowls, he researched the concept, made some prototypes, literally put a bird on it, and the Birdie Yarn Bowl came to be. Each yarn bowl begins as a ball of clay that is then thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel. Once the bowl firms up, the bird is added, then the hook and holes. After an initial firing and glazing, each bird is painted by hand, then fired one more time to seal it all in.

Painting the Birdie Bowl | UncommonGoods

Aaron works out of his 500 square foot basement, painting each individual bird himself and packing each completed yarn bowl for shipping. “It’s not uncommon to find my children wrapped in bubble wrap or making packing peanut soup for their dolls,” says Aaron of his at-home operation. For inspiration while he works, Aaron keeps drawings from his children around, as well as a LEGO calendar (“my second favorite pastime after ceramics”), and an architectural drawing of an observatory from his father.

Aaron's Studio
Packing the bowls

With all this inspiration by his side, it’s no wonder Aaron’s work has been featured in Knit Simple, Vogue Knitting, and Knit Scene. Though he’s “still waiting for Oprah or Martha Stewart to place their orders,” Aaron gets immense satisfaction from the feedback of others, telling him that his piece inspired them to be more creative. Both this and the opportunity to work from home are the ultimate pay-off. “Sitting at the wheel three to four hours a day, working long into the night to finish an order, and the physical strain of manipulating the clay can take its toll,” says Aaron, “but I am working for myself and I can see my children grow up. In the end, it’s a tremendous blessing and extremely satisfying.”

Buy the Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with JoAnn Stratakos

July 14, 2014

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods
At UncommonGoods, we’re always excited when we launch a product that in time reveals itself to be a complete game-changer; an overwhelmingly popular product that sheds new light on what makes something a runaway sensation. But every once in a blue moon, we meet a new product that we know will win hearts as soon as it is placed in This Just In. Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn was the latter. From his goofy blue eyes to his chubby little feet, we were smitten and didn’t have any questions as to whether everyone else would share our love for him.

So we decided to take a trip to Pennsylvania to meet Elwood’s creator. By “we” I mean Senior Buyer Candace, Purchasing Planner Maham, and myself, and by “trip” I mean a car ride outside of cell phone service to a place where the streets had no name. Literally, we had to call when we were close so the artist could give us directions that Google couldn’t help us with. We were warmly greeted by ceramicist JoAnn and her spirited team of Mudworks helpers who were eager to show us how our most beloved new product is born. It was easy to fall in love with people as it was to fall in love with their creations so we are excited to share our visit with you.

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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


Ceramics Design Challenge Winner Announced!

May 29, 2014

In the past, the judging of our design challenges have occurred behind closed doors, either discussed through a conference call or in a room with our buyers and guest judges. Last night, we decided to take quite a different spin with our judging: to make it live for the public and contestants to watch via Google Hangout! (Yes, even including the critiques!) We’re a company that values transparency and we want all of our finalists to benefit from our judging as much as possible. Sure, we can jot down a few notes, and send the comments in an email the next day — but I think we all can agree that nothing beats hearing what the judges have to say in real time.

Below is our very first Google Hangout judging session for the Ceramics Design Challenge. The judges we invited to spill their expertise onto the table about each individual piece were Joanna Hawley, a designer and the voice behind the blog Jojotastic, and our Assistant Buyer, Hannah Weber. (Gaby and I joined in on the fun by moderating the conversation and putting in our two cents when we felt it was needed.)  Be sure to watch and see who our Ceramics Design Challenge winner is!























Congrats, Ronald and Jeni! Your ceramic piece is beautiful!


An Easy Answer to Olive Pit Etiquette

May 15, 2014

Enjoying olives discreetly isn’t always easy. Where do you ditch the pit? In a crumpled napkin? On the side of your hors d’oeuvre plate for everyone to see? The usual options aren’t exactly attractive. With that in mind, we created the Olive Server.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

This innovative dish solves the pit problem, holds your picks, and displays those tangy, salty treats in style. To design the Olive Server, our Product Development Team partnered with Paul Brothe, a ceramicist who conceptualized the piece based on his love of nature-inspired ceramics, a modern, lead-free take on traditional Majolica pottery, and the goal of keeping pits unseen.


When Brothe first presented his prototype, we loved that it was made of sturdy earthenware painted a natural green color, and provided a way to both serve olives and hide pits. From there, we made a few adjustments to make the Olive Server even more appealing to our customers who want practical serveware with a fun twist.

Original Prototype

While the original design featured a porcine, two-holed opening for depositing pits, we decided to give the pit cavern an oval shape and one larger hole. We wanted to make the piece really pop, but we didn’t want to detract from the realistic olive form, so we chose four colors to accentuate the incorporated shapes.


The fruit-shaped basin is actually two parts. The bowl holds the pits, keeping them in one place for easy cleanup, while the lid keeps them under cover. We chose to line the bowl with a pimento-inspired burnt orange and give the exterior an olive green color. We also added a shade of green to the “leaf” where the olives sit and a branch-hued brown to the pick holder. Now each individually-functional element of the server is uniquely eye-catching, enhancing the look of the all-in-one display.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

To create the finished servers, each piece is cast from a mold, inspected and trimmed, thoroughly dried, and then fired overnight at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.


Two techniques are used to glaze these bisque fired pieces—dipping and brushing. The glazing is done by hand using special glazes formulated in-house at Brothe’s Jersey City, NJ studio, so the colors are truly unique. The colored servers are then fired overnight one more time, allowing the glazes to fuse together and create a smooth, glassy surface.


The result is a high-quality dish that provides an attractive way to serve olives, keeps pesky pits out of sight, and is uncommon enough to stir conversation at any cocktail or dinner party.

Buy the Olive Dish | UncommonGoods

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