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The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Fresh Air Compost Collector

July 5, 2012

Background Research

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, designed by Heather Tomasetti and Tal Chitayat, is a smart-looking, new-fangled container for storing your compostable food scraps.

Image: Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society

First, for those of you who don’t already participate in the wonderful world of composting: what is it, and why should you do it? In a nutshell (ha-ha, see what I did there?), composting is piling up a lot of waste plant matter–fruit and vegetable peelings, moldy bread, browned avocadoes, raked leaves–in a specific way that makes them decompose in the same manner, but at a faster rate, than they naturally would on their own.

Compost Heap, a 39 Day Time-lapse

Not only does this divert them from the general waste stream and thus the landfill, but “finished” (thoroughly broken-down) compost works magic on plants, not only in an eco-positive way, but also in terms of complex plant science. I tried it, and my plants shot up like they were on steroids.

You’ve probably heard of people keeping worms in bins in their homes in order to compost. But you don’t have to do that. You can just save your scraps and bring them to a compost site run by your community, or a neighbor. However, there’s no getting around the fact that saving compost scraps means keeping them at room temperature for at least a few days if not longer, which can have its unpleasant aspects. The purpose of the Fresh Air Compost Collector is to make them less so.

Time-lapse Fruit and Vegetable Decomposition

See? It’s not necessarily gross. It’s natural, and fascinating to your inner biology nerd.

Most indoor compost collectors either have a lid to prevent odors from escaping, or, like the one I used to have, above, use charcoal filters or other devices to absorb them. (Admittedly, the ventilation-promoting, filter-holding, cut-out flowers on the lid are nicely done.)

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, on the other hand, is designed to allow air to circulate around the scraps in order to slow down the rot rate. (The inventors refer to “air flumes,” and there are no such things, but calling them that is kind of adorable on their part.) Oxygen can get in and heat and moisture can get out, so your moist, vegetably, fruity leftovers evaporate a bit, preventing “anaerobic” (oxygen-free) breakdown. That’s what causes quick bacteria and mold growth, evil-smelling slime, and the fruit flies it attracts.


The Fresh Air Compost Collector will allow me to enjoy composting, relatively undefiled by disgusting smells and unwelcome fruit flies.


I got my Fresh Air Compost Collector in January and have been using it ever since. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to work all that well, because I usually believe in the tried, true, and un-chic, and this is pretty stylin’ for a waste receptacle.

I was game to try, though, because it was a pain to deal with my old compost pail. With that one, I was never sure if I was supposed to put a bag inside it to collect the scraps, or drop them directly into the naked pail.

If I just put them in the pail, it would soon absorb their collective noxious stink. But plastic bags would never stay upright enough to catch the scraps when I dumped them in (which almost invariably happened when I was cooking and unwilling to stop, open the pail, and hold up the stinky, slimy bag to get the scraps in while somehow keeping it upright so as to not spill its contents). Paper bags disintegrated when wet. And when I pulled the bags out to bring it to the compost pile, they always dripped putrid, decomposing produce juice on me, either then, or on the way there, or when I dumped their contents into the community container.

So, on to the new one: First of all, the design of this container is deceptively simple. You can’t really perceive this until you use it, but it’s very well thought-out in every detail.

The sides and bottom of the container have ribs that stick out and keep the bag from lying flat against them. Any liquid that might drip evaporates instead of pooling and festering.


Image: Picker's Treasures






The spring-loaded lid, which is full of tiny holes that allow air to circulate but keep out the flies (just like the tin panels of an old-fashioned pie safe), pops open when you press the button, and stays open without having to be held.

A detachable metal frame keeps the bag upright, so you can toss your scraps into it without getting glop all over yourself. The frame is strong, but light and very easy to lift off and click back into place when you put in a new bag.

One ergonomically crucial factor for me is that, because of where it needs to be stowed in my kitchen, it has to fit under my all-the-way-open dishwasher door, and at 9” tall (and 11.4″ long by 8.5″ wide), it does.

Whether its 1.3-gallon capacity is a good size for you or not depends on how often you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, and how often you’re able to drop off your saved scraps at a compost pile. The one I go to, the North Brooklyn Compost Project, is only open Saturday mornings, so I have to keep my scraps for up to a week (or longer, if I miss the day–see below).

There have been weeks when it was too small for me (I joined a food coop, got overly ambitious, bought too many vegetables, then got busy with other things and most of them went bad in my fridge).

There have been other times when it was too big (my cat died suddenly, I wasn’t up to cooking for a long time, didn’t bother to grocery shop, and put only coffee grounds and the occasional squozed-out lemon in there).

Aaaaand there have been weeks when I missed the compost drop-off day. By “weeks,” I mean “three weeks in a row.” (In my defense, this happened in the middle of winter.) Then it started to smell, though it never got as bad as my old one did.

But those aren’t fair testing conditions; no composter could deliver fume-free service under such circumstances. In general, the Fresh Air Compost Collector performed as promised: it emitted way fewer smells than my old composting pail, and the only time fruit flies were appeared were that one time when I pushed the limits of biology way too far. Even then, I saw only the beginnings of mold.


You’re meant to use compostable liner bags with the Fresh Air Compost Collector, because unlike plastic ones, they “breathe.” Since the bags start biodegrading as soon as you put moist food in them, I was sure they’d break in the container, or on the way to the compost pile. As a precaution–because I don’t like coffee grounds mixed with fermented mango skin and slimy rotten cucumber bits dripping down my legs–I put the bag into a plastic shopping bag for the walk to the compost pile. But it was never actually necessary, even after three weeks. None of the bags has broken yet. Still, I recommend holding the bottom of the bag in such a way that it won’t tear when you pick it up. The speed with which they (and everything in them) break down increases as the temperature gets warmer.

The container can easily be taken apart and put in the dishwasher, though the one time I needed to wash mine (following the three-week-no-compost-pile era), I did it by hand.

Tip: Don’t buy the wrong type/size of bags like I did once, duh. Doggie bags! Rusty Marmalade (RIP) was so disappointed in me.


I’m impressed with this doohickey. The Compost-Scrap-Saving Experience no longer means mess, stink and flies. As all three of those are greatly disliked by humans, no wonder the Fresh Air Compost Collector won a 2012 Green House Design Award. Six months in, I’m still happy with it, and am looking forward to filling it with the remains of this summer’s delicious fruits and vegetables.


Noteworthy Design: Wedding Wishes

June 8, 2012

Picking a personal wedding gift is tricky. It has to be sentimental, but not too cheesy. Functional, but with more appeal than the stereotypical kitchen appliance. And, of course, it should be something the couple will cherish for years to come. Our community agrees, David Voorhees’ Personalized Wedding Wishes Vase has it all.

Time and skill go into creating each of these wheel-formed, hand-decorated pieces, but using the finished product is actually quite simple. Each vase comes with a wedding poem (written by Voorhees) and blank sheets for writing your own wedding wishes.

The couple can use the vase instead of a traditional guest book, or place it near the guest book table. As guests enter the reception, they are asked to write their very own special messages to the couple and drop them into the vase for the newlyweds to read on their first anniversary. Since the bottom of the vase is perforated, the artwork doesn’t have to be destroyed for the messages to be enjoyed a year later.

Our buyers loved the handmade vase the moment they laid eyes on it, but wanted a little “relationship advice” before making the commitment to carrying this uncommon good. Our voters agreed that the custom creation is certainly something special.

“This is a really great idea, beautiful and made in the USA,” Christie told us.

Renee agreed, “I think it sounds like a great idea, and gives lots of warm thoughts on the 1st anniversary…”

“I love the idea of opening this on the couple’s first anniversary! The perforated bottom is fabulous, since I would hate to wreck the vessel otherwise,” said Alli.

Now Voorhee’s design is an UncommonGood, and it’s receiving fantastic reviews from those celebrating the marriages of loved ones in their lives.

“This was the perfect answer for a wedding gift for a couple who were older, found love again, had two households to contend with and needed no more appliances or other like items,” explained Judy the aunt from Long Beach, CA. “Family and friends were able to write notes they will open in a year. What a nice way to wish a new happy couple on their way.”

Mary from Ashville, NC also shared a 5-star review: “This is my absolute favorite wedding gift to give! It is a beautifully hand thrown vase that has a personalized message on one side with a floral design hand painted on the other side. At the reception, guests are encouraged to write a personal hand written message to the couple on paper and put it into the Wedding Wish Vase. Then, a year later, on the couples first wedding anniversary, they open the vase and read all the messages the guests wrote to them on their wedding night! How awesome!! This is such a lovely, unique, personalized, meaningful wedding gift.”

We’re proud to see such wonderful feedback coming in for such a clever and beautiful handmade piece. We’re looking forward to feedback from happy couples as they open their Wedding Wishes Vases to read warm messages and words of wisdom in years to come!


Secondhand Saris, Firsthand Fair Trade Fashion

April 8, 2012

This new sari handbag was brought into our assortment with the feedback and support of 558 customers.

Indian women have worn saris, beautiful, often embellished sheets of fabric, for hundreds of years. The traditional garment can be worn in many ways, but every sari, no matter how lovely, will eventually be draped a final time.

Fortunately, the gorgeous fabrics don’t have to go to waste when the sari no longer serves its traditional purpose. Artisans in India wash and repair the cottons, rayon, and silks from secondhand saris, then transform them into fashionable, functional handbags.

The one-of-a-kind creations are handmade by skilled craftswomen who are given a fair wage, allowing them to earn a living while staying in their villages near family instead of having to travel to bigger cities.

After the fabric is cleaned, the craftswomen cut it into vibrant strips and organize it to ensure that each bag expresses rich color combinations, from bright jewel tones to deep earth tones. Since saris are often patterned, sometimes quite elaborately, each bag also features interesting details within individual fabric strips.

The artisans hand-sew the fabric strips to the white cotton lining, creating the light, ruffled look of the bag. To add to the functionality of the piece, a wooden toggle and a fabric cord are both attached for fastening.

The finished product caught our attention, but this product story really pulled us in and we couldn’t wait to share it with our community. We were thrilled to find that our community voting app users stood behind the product, too.

“I think this is a beautiful bag and the cost is very reasonable,” Michelle told us via the voting app. “I plan on buying it and knowing that each bag is different make it even better! I will not see this bag coming and going.”

Nataly drew on her own experiences to add her feedback. “Reminds me of my travels in India, how I always noticed that no matter how remote the location and how outdoor the environment, they keep their Saris SOOO vibrant and beautiful,” she wrote. “Every where you look–bold statement making colors.”

We also saw a ton of Facebook and Twitter love for the Sari Bag. “Love this bag! I think saris are so beautiful. What better way to reuse them?” @kellyatate tweeted.

We love seeing such enthusiastic support for our potential products and we’re pleased that this fair trade, handmade, upcycled bag is now an uncommon good!

The Uncommon Life

Contest: Share your Favorite New Designs & Win!

March 7, 2012

We love reading voter feedback in our community voting app and we want to thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for new designs and talented designers with the chance to win!

Share your favorite potential products on Twitter and you could win an UncommonGoods gift certificate to help buy your favorite new design (or one of the existing uncommon products you’ve been pining for).

How it works:

1.) Pick one of the products up for voting that you think should become an uncommon good.
2.) Visit the voting app, cast your vote, and tell us why you love the product in the comments section.
3.) Follow us on Twitter and tweet your pick @UncommonGoods. Make sure to include a link to the product voting page.

We’ll pick 5 winners to each win a $5 UncommonGoods gift certificate. We’ll announce winners on March 19, 2012.*


1.) Craft a clever tweet. Tell us why you love the product or designer in 140 characters or less. (Reading the product story can be a big help here.)
2.) Vote on as many products as you’d like while visiting the voting app. The products aren’t in competition with each other.
3.) Use the share buttons on the product voting page to encourage your friends to vote for the product you chose, or tweet @ your design-savvy friends to invite them to vote for a chance to win.

Could it be any easier? Yes! Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what we’re looking for. But, of course, you’ll have to show us up with even better tweets.

The Sari Bag has my vote @UncommonGoods! Handmade from recycled materials. Thumbs up!

Judie Bomberger’s family garden stakes should be the next good @UncommonGoods! They’re so rustic yet fun!

Please carry Little Paper Planes @UncommonGoods! My kids (& I) would love them!

I’m a-MAZED by the Labyrinth Game @UncommonGoods! I’ll buy it even if I don’t #win!

I voted for Christina Kober’s fortune cookie #design @UncommonGoods b/c it would make an amazing gift for @mybestie!

We’ll choose the cutest, most clever, and most creative tweets to win. We can’t wait to see your pick and hear why you think it will make a great uncommon good. Happy voting and good luck!

*P.S. This contest is only open to residents in the 50 states and District of Columbia. (We’re sorry about that, but that’s how far we ship!)


Uncommon New Designs: Foodie Favorites

January 9, 2012

Whether you’re a great cook, a self-proclaimed foodie, or a competitive eater in training, you’ll love these epicurean-friendly new designs.

In fact, our community voting app contains a medley of tools to get you baking, broiling, chopping, and whipping.

The Twisk Whisk is just one of these clever kitchen inventions.

The Twisk transforms from a robust round mixer to a slim flat mixer with a simple twist, and it’s easy to store in flat form. This whipping wonder is pretty impressive, but a few other new products up for voting are just as innovative.

The Cut and Collect cleans up the prep process a bit, while Nesting Utensils and this collapsible Cookbook Stand help you stay organized.

Now, you may want to share your home-cooked creations with your family, but this can be a chore if you’re serving picky eaters. Fortunately, one of the newest additions to our assortment can help.

My Food Passport encourages kids to take tasty travels through trying new foods. Once the journey is complete, they can stamp their passport with a sticker to prove their culinary courage.

We have something new for those who are already quite adventurous and love to try a variety of flavors, too.

These Stoneware TV Dinner Trays are perfect for portioning your favorite main courses, veggies, and desserts.

Would you love to get cooking with new foodie favorites? Visit our community voting app to add your comments to the mix, or stop by our this just in page to see more uncommon new designs!


Uncommon New Designs: Stylishly Rugged

December 29, 2011

Beards have been in style for some time now, and from beard art to facial hair championships, we’re pretty sure they’re here to stay.

We’re celebrating this hairy phenomenon with the Men’s Shaving Kit in our community voting app, which is actually more for keeping a fuzzy face looking good than actually shaving.

This rugged-chic set got us thinking about other great products that mix a natural, outdoorsy feel with high design.

Also in our voting app, lovely light blue Antler Mugs are sweet and simple, with big game appeal.

Another solid new design, the Quadro Bottle Opener, incorporates natural agate. The rugged, volcanic rock looks harsh when collected, but when carved and polished it’s colorful, rich, and sleek.

Of course, many ladies are outdoorsy, nature types as well. Another new design, Tasha McKelvey’s Mushroom Ring Dish may not feature a fungi specimen recognized by naturalists, but it is made from stoneware clay pressed against a piece of wood from a 100-year-old barn, giving it a weathered, textured look and feel.

Would you stash your ring in this little dish next time you want to work with your hands? Know a bearded fellow who could use a break from being burly to pamper his cheeks and chin? What’s your favorite outdoorsy trend?

Maker Stories

Don’t Knock on Wood–Wear It!

December 26, 2011

Looking for a new look for the new year? Why not try a style that incorporates reclaimed wood into modern fashion? David Steinrueck’s creative ties are a clever way to celebrate living against the grain.

David took a moment to tell us about his design inspiration, finding salvaged wood in the San Francisco area, and how to wear a wood tie with any outfit.

Q: How did you get the idea to create ties made out of wood?

I started Wood Thumb with my brother Chris in January of 2011. We wanted to prove that with a little bit of community support and minimal funding, a craft can be turned into a thriving company. The wood tie was designed to allow unconventional people to stand out from the crowd and make a bold statement to the world.

Q: Why reclaimed wood? Is it difficult to get the type of wood used to make the ties?

We use reclaimed materials in part due to our belief in zero waste products and also because of the incredibly beautiful wood we were able find in salvage yards around our area. We are lucky enough to live in an area of the country where we can track down an abundance of old redwood that we are able to use in our process. By using reclaimed wood, we offer every customer a unique product, each with its own special past life.

Q: How do you recommend wearing a wood tie? Casual with jeans? As part of the formal look with a suit?

There are many ways to rock a wood tie:
The Tech Slacker – Wears her tie to the office with a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of New Balance shoes.
The Urban-Eco – Wears his tie with a worn collared shirt, khakis and hiking boots or sandals.
Center of the Club – Wears his tie with a bright collared shirt, a blazer, dark shades, and dress shoes. Bottle service.
The Mission – Wears her tie with 1950s collared shirt, skinny jeans, and sneakers.

Q: Did you expect such a great response to your unique design?

The very first tie we made was received with excitement from everyone we showed. We have grown our production from 50 ties/week to 500 ties/week and we are still not able to keep up with our current demand. Nonetheless, I am still astounded every day that so many people are enjoying the work and craft that we put into each tie.

Thanks, David! We love the suggestions on how to rock a wood tie! We’d love to hear more ways to jazz up outfits with offbeat accessories. What’s your favorite uncommon statement piece?


This Just In: Mushroom Kit

October 12, 2011

It can be hard to get kids (and some adults) to try new foods, especially if those foods are kinda funny looking. Mushrooms, for example, are quite delicious, but some folks just aren’t in to fungus.

Those caps can seem a bit strange, plucked from the dirt, packaged in foam, and wrapped up in plastic at the grocery store. But, you don’t have to go to the supermarket to find edible mushrooms. You can actually grow them easily at home, so picky eaters can see from just where their food is coming.

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