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Maker Stories

Portable Art de Vivre: Shujan Bertrand’s Designs for Living

November 5, 2015

San Francisco-based Shujan Bertrand draws design inspiration from many quarters and cultures—from her Korean-American extended family, from her husband’s French heritage and her time in Provence, and from the sustainability-focused culture of the Bay area. But her innovative àplat collection of totes was born in an “a-ha” moment related to a gift of flowers, a universal gesture of kindness and expression of the simple, shared beauty of life. Recently, we asked Shujan to discuss her love of designing for the “art of living,” and found that she’s in good company—from the Nabis to Ani DiFranco.

Shujan Headshot

Shujan Bertrand

You’ve said that your àplat line is inspired by the French art de vivre. What do you think defines that movement or lifestyle?

The French notion of the “art of living” is truly a way of life in my family. My French husband and I lived and designed in Italy and France for several years before returning to San Francisco. I created àplat in memory and translation of my family lifestyle in France and the daily rituals of sharing good food, drink, and good company. I’m Korean-American, born and raised in Manhattan Beach, CA, and although my husband and I shared similar family values and daily rituals, they were of course completely different culturally. My life changed after meeting my husband and then living in Europe, where I started to experience l’art de vivre. Everyday routines took on new meaning, and the mundane things around me felt like art and poetry.

My in-laws home in Nice—which they built with their own hands—is perched on a small hill overlooking the Mediterranean. They have a small fruit and vegetable garden that they pick from seasonally. In the summers, the lavender is harvested to make sachet pouches and the home is always filled with friends and neighbors, coming over to eat and drink homemade wine.  Every member of the Bertrand family started their personal wine collection at an early age, and it’s stored in the basement cellar. Each bottle has a personal story of where it came from, and when you decide to share the bottle that story gets shared.  You might call this an old way of living, but it was new for me.  It was beautiful.

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Lavender Growing in Provence

How does l’art de vivre inform your designs for the àplat collection?

There are many types of tart or pie carriers out there, but the ones I admired in France were my mother-in-law’s made of old linens by her mother. I also admired the bread bags and pouches that hang in every French kitchen, and the crates and baskets used to carry wine. These are products that have been around for a very long time in Europe—I simply brought them together into one community, into the àplat collection of culinary totes. This is why I say that àplat originated in France, and is deeply rooted in a culture of friendship, where socializing is not a verb but a life philosophy, and where generosity is a daily ritual. Àplat reminds us to find joy and pleasure in making the everyday beautiful.

Nabie Bertrand with the Sac a Fleur

Nabie Bertrand carrying the Sac a Fleur

The first tote in the collection was the à fleur bouquet tote.  I was on the way to Renee Zellweger’s gallery opening at Summer School, and I wanted to give her a beautiful bouquet for her new launch. When I picked up the bouquet, I couldn’t see the flowers anymore because they were covered in paper and cellophane with a ribbon. It didn’t feel like a gift anymore. This was my moment of insight: that a bouquet should be quiet (not crinkly plastic), and you should be able to see the flowers and let them be seen. That evening I began to sew prototypes of what I thought a bouquet tote could be, and shared the design idea with my husband and his parents who were in town from France. The next day, we brainstormed the possibilities of something good, something new.  I was so excited about the flower design that I extended the line to carry wine, food, and bread. In less than a few days, the design of the entire collection was complete. I let the samples incubate for about a month, then decided to share it with someone I trusted to give me honest feedback.  I showed it to Cathy Bailey, owner and creative director of HEATH Ceramics, who loved the collection and wanted to help me test it.

 aplat sketchesShujan’s sketches for the àplat collection

How did the design challenge of the àplat line differ from some of the other product design work that you’ve done?

The design challenge was very different because I was responsible for everything—from the raw material I sourced to the lifespan of the product. I committed to achieving a “cradle to cradle” design, and the àplat design challenge was to leverage local manufacturing to create a global brand. I committed to sustainability and designing products that produce zero waste in production, and most importantly are designed to last for generations. Part of this design challenge was designing a collection that consists of squares and rectangles so that I use 100% of the yard and end with zero waste. Another part of the key to sustainability is to not over-produce and exhaust resources. Currently, àplat is made to order by seasonal projections. To make the designs last, the straps are double locked in two locations, and four bar tacks help to keep seams steady to hold 15-20 lbs.  These products are designed for my 9-year-old daughter’s and 5-year-old son’s generation, but made to be passed down to their children.

Sac a Plat

Sac a Plat

Are there certain artists, designers, or movements that have inspired your work?

I love and respect the Nabis so much that we named our daughter Nabie after them. Like other progressive artists at the turn of the century, they pursued the goal of integrating art with daily life. Also, Nabi means Butterfly in Korean, so the art movement and the beauty of nature brings a lot of meaning to me.

I like designer Eileen Fisher for her approach to design and manufacturing.  Her background and efforts to put herself through college and build a beautiful business inspires me to do the same with àplat. I also put myself through college, and thankfully was given a full scholarship to the ArtCenter College of Design (I would have never made it otherwise). I hope one day to give back to the community and maintain local, sustainable manufacturing like Eileen Fisher. On the food front, I strongly support the farm-to-table movement, buying local and eating from small local producers.

Sac a Pain

Sac a Pain

Do you have any favorite quotations that provide a philosophy to live and work by, or inspiration for your work?  

Many…but perhaps a few that come to mind:

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.” – William Blake

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” – Ani DiFranco

A Plat Making Details

Reinforced strap detail and tools

Can you describe your studio space? What are some of your favorite features and the inspiring qualities of where you work?

For a year, I worked out of my home/office while I still had my corporate job, and inventory was in my garage and a local factory in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.  For three months now, I’ve been working out of a shared space, thankfully across the street from my factory. The studio’s most inspiring aspects are the people I share it with!  From Stanford tech engineers to MBA folks and amazing accessory and apparel designers. Visually, the studio is a melting pot—a representation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, from hardware to software. We share a fully equipped prototyping lab and machine shop with 3D printers and several industrial sewing machines—perfect for making anything. It’s a great reflection of my past in tech and my future in soft goods.

A Plat Farmer's Market

Sac a Plat at the farmer’s market

Can you give us a peek at your working on now or what’s next for you?

Yes—very happy to share!  I’m collaborating with Top Chef Melissa King to create a limited edition àplat tote. We will feature it this holiday and extend the line in Spring 2016. Also, I’m eager to collaborate with the Museum of Food and Drink. I don’t know anyone there yet, but I’m hoping they’ll be interested!

See Shujan's Collection | UncommonGoods

The Uncommon Life

Behind the Scenes at Our Holiday Showcase

August 26, 2015

Holiday Showcase | UncommonGoods

In the wild world of Public Relations, or PR, “Christmas in July” lasts all summer long.

Print magazines start curating their holiday gift guides well in advance of December. For our PR team, this means that there are endless opportunities to secure exciting holiday placements throughout the summer!

Setting Up | Holiday Showcase

Lucky for us, it only takes a short trip over the Brooklyn Bridge to reach the offices of today’s most popular publications. Every year, we invite magazine editors from all over the New York City metro area to preview products from across our assortment. This summer’s event was hosted at the beautiful Rogue Space Gallery in Chelsea, complete with happy hour hors d’oeuvres and free samples to take home.

All in the Details | UncommonGoodsChildrens | Holiday Showcase Gallery Corner | Holiday Showcase

Not only do we love the chance the meet our media partners face-to-face, but we’re also grateful for the amazing opportunity to personally show editors what makes UncommonGoods’ assortment so special.

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PR Manager Elise welcoming the Home Market Assistant for VOGUE.

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UncommonGoods’ CEO Dave Bolotsky chatting with editors from Martha Stewart Living.

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Our Home Decor and Garden Buyer Jamie sharing her expertise with Family Circle

 Vogue | Holiday Showcase

The Home and Market Editor for Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine checking off products to sample from the PR team!

The Holiday Showcase didn’t just stop with happy hour. In addition to mailing gift bags and print lookbooks, we also shared a digital lookbook with those who couldn’t make it to the gallery.

Garden Close-Up 2 | UncommonGoods Imbibe | Holiday Showcase

The Holiday Showcase was made possible by the hard work of multiple departments throughout UncommonGoods, including marketing, creative, merchandising and operations.

Buyers | Holiday Showcase | UncommonGoods

The buyers of UncommonGoods!

Make sure to check out the hashtag #UGHoliday on Instagram and Twitter for a behind-the-scenes look at our past editor’s events!

Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Andrea Panico

August 20, 2015

UncommonGoods is excited to unveil what we’re proud to call the Uncommon Collection – an assortment of some of our very favorite offerings that fully embody our core values. Each week we introduce new artists in our This Just In-spiration series, but we’re happy to give a special introduction for one of the artists helping us grow this collection of truly uncommon designs.

In meeting our five key standards, all designs featured in the collection are original and demonstrate exceptional ingenuity, while makers adhere to responsible business practices and leave a minimal footprint on our environment. What makes an artist’s design special and motivates them to have a positive impact on the world is certainly worth sharing. Meet Andrea Panico, the maker behind Jewelry in a Bottle, exclusively at UncommonGoods.

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When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I’ve always had creativity running through me. My mom was an art teacher and my dad a biology teacher-turned school principal. So I sort of had the yin and yang of influences. I wrote poetry as a kid and played piano (by ear) starting at age 5. But I never thought I wanted to work in a creative field. I planned to be a doctor, even all the way through my undergraduate degree! It took me applying and not getting accepted to medical school to think about what I was meant to do and what was important to me. After getting a job at an architecture firm, everything clicked for me. I knew I was in the right place. At that point, I started taking foundation design classes and then eventually got my masters in Industrial Design at Pratt.

Jewelry in a Bottle | UncommonGoods

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
Everyone says it’s important to do what you love and I believe that’s true. There are so many other things that influence our day – office interactions, family obligations, even the weather – so having a baseline of truly enjoying your work and your process helps provide balance. I have worked for quite a few designers, and that can be a huge challenge. So even more exciting than becoming a professional designer was starting my own business, when I finally had the opportunity to chart my own course.

Pico in workspace 2

What does your typical day in the studio look like?
Typically, I attack the “to-do” list I’ve made the night before. ( It seems like all my urgent emails come in after I leave!) I also often straighten up my space. I’m a firm believer in “everything in its place and a place for everything”. I can think more clearly when there’s not too much visual clutter around me. After that, we deal with any retail or wholesale orders, getting them ready for shipment. The rest of the day is reserved for whatever project is most pressing at the moment – whether preparing for a show, designing new products for our jewelry line, or working on the many additional design projects we do here. My day typically ends with a stop at the UPS store, where I ship our orders.

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 have pictures of my kids on my computer screen. It helps to see them, to jolt me back into “full person” mode. It’s easy to get pulled strongly into whatever project is at the top of the to-do list. For the same reason, I keep a piece of Desert Jasper on my desk. It’s a beautiful rough stone believed to bring a sense of tranquility and wholeness and to balance physical, mental, and emotional bodies. It also stimulates creativity and imagination, which a designer always needs!

Pico in workspace

Did anything in particular inspire your design?
Most of my designs are inspired by architecture, or great buildings. I am a minimalist and like the objects I have in my home to be clean, simple and multifunctional. This jewelry holder was inspired by the idea that what we use to store our jewelry should be as nice as the jewelry inside! I wanted something more than a “box” that also functioned and kept the jewelry from becoming tangled.

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartener for the first time. What do you think they would say?
I have a first grader and she usually says everything is “beeeeaaaaaauuuutiful.”

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not”
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Why is sustainability important to you?
Having worked in architecture and design firms before starting my own design company, I learned about sustainability as it pertained to large scale multimillion dollar projects. At the scale of a building, or buildings, the choices we make as designers have such visible impact on so many levels. I think small businesses may think they are too insignificant to have an impact, but I believe every little bit counts. In my design process, I try to create pieces that will endure and that will be handed down as heirlooms. We have enough mass market companies making “throw-away” products – my goal is to have people enjoy what they buy from me for years to come.

In what ways does your design reflect social and environmental best interests?
The ecosystem of my typical design and production process involves quite a few moving parts, and I regularly review that system to see where I can do better. Whether it’s shipping logistics, material usage, or how my team is set up or costing, all the factors get reevaluated. For the most recent design I did with UncommonGoods, we used recycled bottles in combination with wood for our jewelry holder. We worked with existing bottle sizes and designed around that, fitting the lid design in with these constraints. The idea for this piece came from a design in my own line, and we were able to make it less expensive AND in a more environmentally conscious way. Superb!

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Maker Stories

Round Up the Kindling and Light Up the Campfire Candle

July 21, 2015

Copy of Joe on Chair copy

Portland designer Joe Gibson finds inspiration at the nexus of the pristine natural world and practical modern design:

“It’s the remarkable natural beauty that surrounds us, combined with the creative culture of Portland, that drives my design aesthetic.”

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Joe is the main creative force behind Revolution Design House, a small maker-space in Portland, Oregon, where he and his business partner Dylan craft handmade home furniture and accessories. It’s easy to see his nature-meets-modern-design mantra manifest in some of his most popular designs – first with the runaway success of his Boxcar Planter, and most recently with the way cool Campfire Candle.

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He refers to his innovation of the candle as a “happy accident” – probably along the same lines as the first Homo erectus to innovate the campfire campfire . It was after the Boxcar Planter process that Joe honed in on his design philosophy – “exploration and investigation with no expectations” – but the spark was truly lit after Joe tinkered with X-ACTO knife and geometric shapes during an intensive 3-hour workshop on 3D form he and Dylan teach through Oregon College of Art and Craft.

PicMonkey Collage

“The idea of the workshop is to let go of expectations and to begin manipulating the shapes into more unique objects, not by pre-determining the shape but by responding to what is right in front of them,” Joe says. He assembled a simple form almost on impulse and took it home to contemplate what it could be. “A candle seemed be a natural fit since the forms I were making were hollow cavities,” says Joe. It was later that night – over a few beers with his team – that his wintertime longing for a camping trip spontaneously inspired the campfire candle.

Joe bow tie with bike - photo from Christine

Joe perfected the design to be “an amalgam of a long-established, traditional candle-making process with a modern design twist;” he uses old-school techniques alongside a sleek, geometric form.

“I honestly assumed it was going to be an easy, no-brainer. I was wrong! Candles seem really simple, but the science of the wax and wick are tricky. Candle making is truly an equal ratio of science and art; everything matters, from the size of the wick to the shape of the candle and everything in between.”

Despite having some serious metal and woodworking experience under his belt, working with wax initially went a bit against the grain for Joe: “I knew very little in traditional candle making, so I did quite a bit of research and tons of prototyping.” To melt the wax for the candles, Gibson jury-rigged some slow-cookers, which he still uses to this day. The wax is poured into two-piece silicon molds and cooled.

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This process is called ‘gravity casting’ – “the concept is rather straightforward, and surprisingly, we’ve been able to manufacture quite a lot of candles here in our shop.”

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It’s likely that Portland, Oregon will continue to kindle the flame of Gibson’s creativity for some time. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2004 to attend Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he graduated with a double major in Wood and Metals: “My plan was to move back to San Diego once I finished with school, but after a year of being here I knew the Pacific Northwest was the place for me. The creative energy and natural beauty were just too strong, and after five years of school, I jumped right into being a full-time maker.”

Joe in shop - photo from Christine

“Portland in general is a great place for creative folks to do their ‘thing.’ It nurtures craft in every aspect. We pride ourselves on craft brew to craft bikes and even the craft of sea salt!”

Maybe you don’t live in an area with easy access to grounds for tents and trails, or maybe you’re just trying to stave off the compulsion to get a fire going and roast marshmallows on your living room floor; either way, Gibson’s candle serves as a beacon of the great outdoors, the Pacific, Northwest, and the creative community of Portland no matter where you light the wick.

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Maker Stories

Meet the Extraordinary Designers of the Extraordinaires® Design Studio

June 12, 2015

Groundbreaking designer Paul Rand once exclaimed, “Everything is design. Everything!”

While Rand’s declaration of design universality is sweeping and inspiring, it can also be confounding; its broad appropriation of, well, everything can stifle further conversation. If everything is design, then what’s the nature of everything? What’s so important about design? Where do you begin?

Irish designers Anita Murphy and Rory O’Connor suggest a place to begin, offering a way for curious non-designers to explore the process, challenges, and rewards of design through The Extraordinaires® Design Studio, an inviting activity kit that challenges young minds to think outside the box. Whereas Rand staked his claim to the totality of human endeavor, Murphy and O’Connor’s approach assumes nothing, first asking the most basic questions: “what is a designer?” and “why does the world need designers?”

Anita Murphy and Rory O’Connor

Designers Rory O’Connor (left)  and Anita Murphy (right) with their Extraordinaires Design Studio Kit

Through the guided play of their studio game and the introduction of some extraordinary “clients” (the Extraordinaires themselves, including a teenage vampire, a fairy detective, and a gentle giant), Anita and Rory invite hands-on exploration of these fundamental questions, raise many more, and encourage young designers to ask their own in a spirit of playful inquiry and empathetic discovery.

We had the pleasure of discussing the inspiration and aspirations behind the Extraordinaires with Anita and Rory in a recent conversation:

How does the Extraordinaires Studio experience differ from that of being a professional designer in the real world? What’s been simplified or enhanced here?
Many professional designers comment on how effectively we’ve captured the design process in the Extraordinaires Design Studio. We’ve presented design as a simple 3-step process, while in reality it’s a looping process, involving constant iteration for a professional designer. A key element that’s been enhanced is the Extraordinaires themselves. In the real world, a designer solves design challenges for ordinary people. In the Extraordinaires Studio, you’re tasked with helping characters with extraordinary needs—like a giant or superhero, robot or ninja—and who wouldn’t want to design a remote control for a ninja?

Expansion Pack and Case

The Design Studio features an extensive array of bizarre characters – Extraordinaires – each of whom present a unique design challenge

Assuming the goal of the Studio isn’t necessarily to produce the professional designers of tomorrow, what are the main skills fostered or lessons learned?
Empathy is a key skill fostered in the Studio. You must design for the needs of the Extraordinaire. This involves thinking about what others want, and not just what you like…thinking about the end-user. It offers a structured approach to creative thinking and problem solving, reinforces that there is often more than one answer to any challenge, and that the key is to ask lots of questions. While we would love to inspire a new generation of designers, our real goal is simply to encourage people to look at their world in a new way, to ask questions and consider how they might make it better for themselves and for others.

Do you see this primarily as a competitive game, and if so, what does that teach about the competitive nature of design? What can this experience teach about the value of constructive critique?
The Studio is more collaborative than competitive. The only person you are competing against is yourself as you try to make each new design better than your last. When playing in a group, discussion tends to become more collaborative as players use “yes… and” feedback to add to each other’s design. In the Awards ceremony, we designed the cards so that any feedback is focused on the features of the design and not on the player.

Design Kit Testing

Amateur designers collaborating on their fantastic designs 

Although it coordinates with the Extraordinaires website, the Studio seems to emulate the look of a tablet or laptop, but using low-tech, analog media. Did you consider making the entire product a digital interface? What was behind the decision to make it paper and hand drawing based?
We did consider an entirely digital platform for the Extraordinaires. When we first came up with the idea, however, we made the decision to keep it as a physical toy, thereby making it more accessible to children, in a way that digital wasn’t. Many designers still swear by pen and paper for capturing ideas. There’s something powerful about the eye/hand/brain interaction that occurs when doodling on paper. Many design lecturers have also expressed their gratitude that we kept it analog. They share their frustration with too few students taking the time to capture their ideas on paper before turning to their computer. In the future, we will enhance the play experience with certain digital elements, ultimately creating a hybrid digital/analog experience. We do intend to keep the pen and paper for the foreseeable future, however!

Have you considered ways to allow players to realize their designs or inventions in three-dimensional prototypes – like connecting to 3D printing tools?
We think there’s nothing more satisfying that seeing an idea made real, in 3 dimensions. The whole ‘maker movement’ excites us greatly. We’re already exploring options on how we can support players wanting to realize their ideas in 3 dimensions.
Our background is in 3D animation, so we know only too well what a huge leap it is to take an idea on paper to a 3D model ready to print. We think a more realistic approach is to build prototypes using found materials like cardboard, construction toys, or modeling clay. This way, you can test your design and refine it before digitally modeling it and printing out parts. We say, “before you make it, design it.”

 

Deluxe Design Studio Kit | UncommonGoodsDeluxe Design Studio Kit 

How does the Studio encourage players with design abilities but limited drawing skills or other ways to represent their ideas?
Design is not about being a great artist; good design is about great ideas and solutions. We encourage people to find their own way to communicate their ideas; this may be by drawing and sketching, but it could also be a written document, physical model, or video presentation. We factored this in when we created The Extraordinaires app. It allows you to record a presentation orally to accompany your design.

Can you comment on the spirit of innovation in contemporary Ireland? Did that spirit inspire any aspects of the Studio?
There’s an incredible amount happening here design-wise. In fact, 2015 is the Year of Design in Ireland! There is a large program of events planned to explore how design can really help people. This resonates strongly with us.

Being from Ireland, which is really just a small island on the edge of Europe, we have always been grounded in our Celtic heritage of craft and storytelling, while looking externally to Europe, North America, and Asia for additional inspiration. It’s exciting for us to hear from schools in Singapore, gamers in Poland, or families in the US who play with and love our products.

Any particularly good user feedback you’d like to share?
We really value the feedback we receive from customers and fans. We’ve been told that the Studio takes children’s creativity seriously. We’ve received praise for the way it appeals to both boys and girls. In fact, some of our biggest fans are female. Others appreciate the flexibility it offers, allowing a child to play on their own away from screens or as a family in a group. Many parents have expressed their surprise at just how much they enjoyed the experience of designing for the Extraordinaires.

Our favorite feedback is that the Studio drops you into a real design experience. It breaks down the design process and combines drawing, creative thinking and fun.

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The UncommonGoods team had a lot of fun designing with the kit – now Mr. Pirate can finally open his restaurant

Ready to meet the Extraordinaires and help them with some of their extraordinary design needs? Their box full of playful design challenges and fantastic fun is just a few clicks away, and no design degrees or drafting skills are required.

See the Collection |Design Studio Kits | UncommonGoods