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Design

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.

PicMonkey Collage

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.

blogcta-campfirecandle

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.

Pirate

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

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Molly McGrath

March 27, 2015

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Molly McGrath is a laser-cutting artist who marries her architecture training with her love for geometric shapes and bright hues. Molly’s statement art pieces are known for intricacy and precision, yet words like “lively” and ”fun” still come to mind when you see them. I visited Molly’s lovely studio in the heart of The Mission in San Francisco and it wasn’t a surprise that her open space mimicked her artwork’s aesthetic – flashing lots of playfulness with even more color. Her studio held lots of character, from her personable knick-knacks to her hand painted geometric doors, I simply couldn’t focus on just one thing. Natural light flooded in, her laser cut designs peeked out from drawers and vignettes, and her desktops were scattered with signs of production. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a real life Pinterest board titled “Interior Eye Candy.” It was clear that Molly built a home away from home – a space that was truly hers to the very core.

Molly McGrath | UncommonGoods

Creatives often try their best to limit distractions in order to stay focused on their craft. Yet it was procrastination for Molly that ignited the initial spark for her small business. As Molly told me, “I used a laser cutter extensively in architecture school – making models mostly out of birch plywood. I have always made jewelry and one day, while procrastinating, I decided to make some earrings on the laser cutter. That was the beginning!” Read about Molly’s friends Larry and Lola, what quote keeps her inspired, and her current obsession to perfect her craft!

Continue Reading…

Design

Uncommon Design School: Less is More

February 13, 2015

Love it or loathe it, we all know minimalism when we see it. A neutral palette comes to mind. Forms tend to be aggressively geometric. International Style buildings…Scandinavian furniture…deconstructed timepieces like our On the Other Hand Clock. Some find minimalist designs thrilling in their integrity. Others find them stark—even threatening. Whatever your reaction, one handy phrase comes to mind: less is more.

On The Other Hand Clock | UncommonGoods

On the Other Hand Clock

A conceptual cousin to ‘form follows function,’ this cool but cheekily contradictory aphorism is a close contender for the top modernist mantra—a quotable bit of wisdom that may still be echoing through the lecture halls of many a school of architecture and design. But, like Louis Sullivan’s alliterative catch phrase, less is more deserves an investigation of its history.

The phrase is most closely associated with the designer who embraced the association: architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For Mies, it was an apt slogan for his pursuit of design purity. The intentional contradiction helps make it memorable, but essentially it means “the less complicated the design, the better.” The less of less is more is apparent in the work of Mies and other midcentury modern designers, but the more means ‘better,’ with a note of pseudo-spiritual zeal.

Barcelona Pavilion | Wikipedia

The Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wikipedia

Much as Mies’ cigar-puffing visage comes to mind when you hear the phrase, he had to admit that he didn’t coin it. He credits his modernist mentor, Peter Behrens. The young Mies, working in Behrens’ studio, recalls that he showed his boss some design options for a factory façade, to which the elder architect replied “less is more.” This set the tone for Behrens’ elegantly minimal approach to industrial design, and Mies took up the banner for other types of buildings as well.

But wait—there’s more (or is it less?) to this story. The phrase crops up before Behrens was born, in a poetic context: Robert Browning’s poem Andrea Del Sarto (called “The Faultless Painter”) of 1855.

Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
 (I know his name, no matter)—so much less!
 Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.

Browning employs the phrase in an imagined diatribe by a B-list Renaissance painter who works in the shadow of the likes of “Michel Agnolo” (Michelangelo). Hardly the heroic, modern origins you might expect.

Bike Print | UncommonGoodsThe Bicycle Encyclopedic Print

Whether or not Behrens and Mies were aware of Browning’s poem, the phrase got a modern makeover that puts a positive spin on minimalist aspirations. Not to be outdone, maverick architect Frank Lloyd Wright quipped “less is more, only when more is no good.” Apparently, Wright wanted to indicate that he was hip to mid-century trends, yet wanted to keep his options open.

Design

Frank Lloyd Wright For Our Feathered Friends

January 28, 2015

When I saw the sample of our new Prairie Bird Feeder from across the room, I recognized its inspiration instantly: the so-called “Tree of Life” art glass pattern—probably the best-known motif from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo masterpiece, the Darwin D. Martin House.

 

Prairie Bird Feeder

But I suppose I should be able to spot such patterns at 50 paces. After all, I spent nine years as curator for the Martin House Restoration Corporation, helping to preserve, document, and share such designs with the public. I stopped short of getting a Tree of Life tattoo, but you might say that the Prairie style is in my blood.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed in concert with Nature—with a capital N, he insisted—and Drew Kelley’s Wright-inspired bird feeder design follows that organic lead. The cedar feeder is simply stained as Wright might have done, and its miniature roof is gently pitched and cantilevered like the rooflines of the Martin House and other homes of Wright’s Prairie period (c. 1900-1914). Add the art glass motif applied to the side panels, and those birds will be eating in sublime style.

Darwin D. Martin House

Darwin D. Martin House, Wikimedia Commons
But there’s another connection between Kelley’s bird feeder and the Wright house that inspired it. With relatively free reign on his ambitious Buffalo commission, Wright designed not only an interconnected complex of five buildings for the Martin family, but also an impressive complement of furniture, fixtures, art glass (nearly 400 pieces), and custom architectural details. He even designed custom clothesline poles for the kitchen garden and four limestone birdhouses to adorn the roof of the Martins’ conservatory.

Wright’s birdhouses feature multiple chambers in a colony-like configuration favored by purple martins. So, scholars suspect that the birdhouses were, in part, a play on the name of the client (martin / Martin). And like purple martins, the human Martins lived communally, with extended Martin family (Darwin D. Martin’s sister Delta Barton and her family in the smaller house in the complex) and servants living in the same complex. Beyond Buffalo, Wright also designed a custom birdhouse for the Westcott house in Springfield, Ohio.

Darwin Martin Bird Houses

Birdhouses, Darwin D. Martin House. Biff Henrich /IMG_INK, courtesy Martin House Restoration Corporation.
After challenging American architecture in the Prairie period, Wright went on to design some of the most iconic buildings of the 20th century, such as Fallingwater and the Guggenheim museum in New York. His body of work—both realized and conceptual—also includes a mile high skyscraper for Chicago, and a house for Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

Despite this dazzling portfolio, you can safely say that at least a few of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs were for the birds…and so is our new bird feeder.

Maker Stories

Glass Winner Heather Trimlett Melts Our Hearts With Her Vibrant Design

January 16, 2015

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

I remember the first time that I watched a glass artist use a torch. I was sitting in a glassblowing demonstration at an art fair, surrounded by a big crowd waiting to witness what would happen when molten glass meets high heat. The crowd’s silence gave way to an entrancing performance. Watching the artist manipulate red and orange glass was like getting hypnotized by a campfire. I couldn’t imagine the patience and precision required to work hand-in-hand with an alluring, deadly element.

One glance at Heather Trimlett’s Spiro Earrings instantly takes me back to that day. I can tell that Heather’s ability to twist glass into a freely flowing pattern requires an eye for enchantment. As I got to know Heather during this interview, it doesn’t surprise me that she found her niche in jewelry making. Her personality is just as warm, friendly, and colorful as her beautiful pieces. Her color palette is a perfect match for our assortment! Meet Glass Design Challenge Winner Heather Trimlett, and learn about the process behind her winning design, her first experiences at the torch, and how she views the world in multicolored glasses.

Spiro Earrings | Glass Design Challenge Winner | UncommonGoods

 

How did you come up with the concept of your winning design?
For years I have played, practiced and experimented with carefully layering different colors of glass on top of each other and creating twists made of these different colors of glass. When I realized that adding a rod of clear glass to my twists would magnify the colors and allow them to appear to float freely in the clear glass, I had my magic. This combination of layering and precise twisting came together for the Spiro Earring design.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

How did you celebrate when you found out that you won our Glass Design Challenge?
My first wave of euphoria came when I found out I had been accepted into the UncommonGoods Glass Challenge! I sent an email to all my clients, students and supporters, and asked them to please vote for my earrings! I was thrilled by their enthusiastic response.

Then I won, but couldn’t tell anyone! During the “period of secrecy,” I told a few close friends and toasted with a few glasses of wine. My insides were jumping up and down yelling “YEA!”

Once it was OK to tell, I sent an email to EVERYONE I knew to tell them I had won!

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

Can you tell us 3 fun, random facts about yourself?
1. I’m an avid gardener. Propagating my Staghorn ferns then sharing the babies with friends ranks high on the list of fun things about the garden. Spending all day Sunday in the garden is the definition of a perfect day for me. My fingers are perpetually crossed that one day my Proteas will decide to bloom. My newest venture is growing things we can actually eat.

2. I have become a collector of Lego figures. Probably the influence of a 4-year-old grandson. Or is it all those bright colors?

3. While I sit at my torch making beads, I watch bees drinking at my fountain. It’s amazing; there are hundreds of bees every day in the summer! The bees at the fountain, conversations with my students who are beekeepers and my concern for the declining bee population have led me to start studying beekeeping and trying to work up the courage to keep my own hives.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

Describe your workspace.
I have two workspaces with garden views. The studio is my space for glass work and includes torches, tools, and all things related to fire. Living in southern California has allowed me to comfortably work “outside” in my garage for 20+ years. I like to say I park my car in my studio. From my torch, I have a beautiful view of my front garden.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

My beautiful, bright new office is the second workspace. It’s done in my favorite color combo: lime and turquoise accented with black and white. A large glass door opens onto my garden at one end. I sort beads, make jewelry and take care of paperwork in this space.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

Who or what are your design influences?
1. Color! This is the #1 driver for me. Sometimes I feel like a magpie chasing shiny things. I am constantly aware of the color around me, checking for combinations that might work well with my glass work. I love how bright colors can be in the California sunshine!

2. Order. I love orderly things, mechanical things, symmetry and repetition of line and shape. The fine mechanics and shine of a well-made tool truly inspires me.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

Describe your first jewelry designing experience.
I was born to be a maker of things. I have always sewed, crocheted, built stained glass windows and many other things.

Playing with pop beads as a child was probably my first jewelry making experience. I still think they are a hoot and use them as design inspiration with my students.

Once I found flameworking (making beads at a torch), my career was set. I backed into jewelry making out of a need to do something with the plethora of beads I was making. My jewelry is simple and clean, as well as a nod to my love of symmetry and color. Clean, repetitive simple shapes are my favorite.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

Can you walk us through the set by step process of creating the Spiro Earrings?
The first step in making my Lime Spiro earring is to make the twist that will be the spiral pattern within the earring. I start with one rod of clear glass and three rods of color. I heat the four rods and melt them together. The colors are placed around the clear like the stripes in toothpaste coming out of a tube. While the glass is molten, I carefully twist and stretch it out until it is about the diameter of a pencil and then let it cool. This is my twisted cane.

Next, I begin to create the bead itself. I heat a stainless steel mandrel and a rod of lime glass simultaneously. The size of the mandrel determines the size of the hole in my bead. I carefully wrap one layer of lime green glass around the mandrel as my base layer. Next, I heat the twisted cane gently and carefully, wrapping it around the lime green layer. Lastly, I apply a very thin layer of turquoise glass. I continue to head the bead gently to bring it to its final smooth shape.

I place each finished bead into the kiln to anneal (cool gradually) overnight. For me, the next morning is like Christmas when I open the kiln to see all that I accomplished the day before. I remove the beads from the mandrel, clean & polish them and then assemble them into the Lime Spiro earrings.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

Are there any interesting future projects you would like to pursue?
When I am not on the road teaching or home making beads, my 10+ year goal is to learn battuto, an Italian glass engraving technique.

Creative people all have those days (or weeks!) when we feel lost, unmotivated, or stuck.  How do you keep yourself inspired?
1. I am always charged up after teaching a class. My students give me energy, support and inspiration!  Their questions create new puzzles for me to solve all the time!

2. Glass Bead Yoga. Production work gets me back into the groove. The repetition it requires is calming, feels good and safe, like an old friend. My mind has the space to settle down and regroup, ready for the next design idea.

Heather Trimlett | Glass Design Challenge Winner

Design

Uncommon Design School: Form Follows Function

January 8, 2015

From musical wine glasses to self-filtering popcorn bowls, the distinctive variety of our collection relies on interactions of form and function. Sometimes these interactions are straight out of the design handbook; sometimes, they’re more playful and ironic. Whatever the case, a familiar phrase comes to mind: form follows function. You’ve probably heard it batted around—at a cocktail party or in your undergrad art history course—but you may not know where this quotable bit of design history originates.

Popcorn Bowl with Kernel Sifter | UncommonGoodsThe Popcorn Bowl with Kernel Sifter

Chicago, 1896: a maverick American architect sets out to define an emerging building type that will transform American skylines from coast to coast in the next century—the tall office building, or “skyscraper.” Through a progression of projects, from the Wainwright building in St. Louis to the Guaranty building in Buffalo, Louis Sullivan showed an increasingly clear vision of how the tall office building—a form driven by commercial imperatives—could be designed to reflect its essential nature as a “tall and soaring thing.” At the same time, he put down his pencil long enough to write a sort of manifesto for his skyscraper vision: “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered.” In this essay was an innocent turn of phrase destined for design school glory: “…form ever follows function.” Like in the old game of “telephone,” this phrase was slightly paraphrased in the retelling, becoming “form follows function,” and a design nerd’s bumper sticker was born.

Prudential (Guaranty) Building | Louis Sullivan

Prudential (Guaranty) Building, Wikipedia 

Not to be outdone, Sullivan’s famous protégé and master appropriator, Frank Lloyd Wright, adopted the aphorism but put his own transcendental spin in it, saying that “[form follows function] has been misunderstood—form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.” It’s a prime example of Wright extending his mentor’s principles into his own organic definition of design. But when Sullivan coined the phrase—and when Wright re-branded it—they intended it as an assertion of an aspiration, rather than the revelation of any Platonic design truth.

Frank Lloyd Wright

 Frank Lloyd Wright, Wikipedia

In retrospect, Wright’s insistence that form and function are inextricable stifles his progressive potential. Postmodern design offers examples of form forcing function—one of the main critiques of branded, “starchitect” design of the last few decades. In 2009, Alice Rawsthorn declared the demise of “form follows function,” citing its fading relevance in the age of digital design.* Counter to this obituary, some recent products demonstrate an ironic inversion of the form / function relationship: Lee Goodwin’s Driftwood and Birch iPhone Docks bring unabashedly organic flair to design-for-digital applications, while Jeff Davis’ Record Amplifier draws sound from old records in an unexpected way.

Birch iPhone Charging Dock | UncommonGoods

Birch iPhone Charging Dock

So it seems that Louis Sullivan’s most quotable concept is still on designers’ pin boards today, if only as a platform for playful inversions of his intent.

 

*NY Times, “The Demise of ‘Form Follows Function’”

Maker Stories

Jewelry Winner Kristin Schwartz Stops To Mold The Roses

November 4, 2014

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | UncommonGoods

As you may have learned in our recent Uncommon Book Club Picks, I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things,” a novel about a female botanist who seeks to discover and explain the inner workings of the world during Darwin’s era. Alma, the story’s protagonist, is raised in her father’s renowned botanical estate, and spends much of her adulthood studying and admiring the estate’s plant collection. After further examination of the Buds Necklace, Kristin Schwartz’s winning Jewelry Design Challenge entry, I’m convinced that Kristin and Alma are kindred spirits. Like a trained taxonomist, Kristin appears to have studied every curve of the Lapsana flower before delicately molding it to metal clay. I can imagine Kristin with Alma’s microscope, calculating precisely how to add a subtle blue-green patina to her winning pendant. 

Here at UncommonGoods, our buyers love anything that has an exciting story. When Kristin’s story entered our radar, we didn’t hesitate to introduce her handmade collection into our assortment. Kristin’s fascination with her natural surroundings is beautifully illustrated in both her designs and her workspace. Meet Jewelry Design Challenge Winner Kristin Schwartz, and learn about her transition from the corporate world, why she keeps Champagne in her fridge, and how nature inspires her tiny pieces of art.

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | Buds Necklace | UncommonGoods

How did you come up with the concept for your winning design?
I take molds of plants for a lot of my work, so I am always on the hunt for tiny plants and flowers that might translate well to jewelry. I knew as soon as I saw this tiny yellow flower it was going to be good. Most of my plant-based pieces have an organic (random) shape, but I thought a round pendant would appeal to more people.

How did you celebrate when you found out that you won the first Jewelry Design Challenge of 2014?
I was inspired by a friend a couple years ago to keep a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator in the event of an unexpected victory or celebration, big or small. Of course I popped it open! And then got back to work.

How did you discover our Jewelry Design Challenge?
I have received the UncommonGoods catalog for a very long time and one day I received an email from the people at Jewelry Design Manager (Bejeweled Software) that said UG was looking for entries for the challenge.

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | UncommonGoods

Can you tell us 3 fun, random facts about yourself?
1. Iʼm in my 40s and I love that my Dad still calls me Kiddo.

2. I am not athletically inclined, but I did play soccer when I was six years old. The only goal I ever made was for the other team. It did happen right after half time, so I have to give my kid-self a break.

3. I love collecting shoes, but would rather be barefoot.

What different techniques do you use when creating your designs?
My designs usually start with one question: is it plant-based or is it done completely by hand? Sometimes I have a very specific piece in mind and I just have to figure out how to make it happen. For the most recent series, the image was in my head for YEARS while I mentally worked out the details. It actually turned out better than I had imagined with a combination of hand work and a plant mold. Other times, I see a plant that just needs to be featured on a piece of jewelry. It usually turns out pretty well, but I do have a pile of molds that have never turned into anything. I rarely draw ideas out on paper unless there are multiple elements that require serious problem solving and test runs.

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | UncommonGoods

Describe your workspace.
I love my workspace! It was the number one reason for buying my house. Itʼs in my basement, but full of natural light. Through all the windows I am surrounded by trees. And I have a ringside seat to the wrestling matches between my two boxers, Lumen and Kisa (pictured below).

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | UncommonGoods

Who or what are your design influences?
All my work is about growth, change and connection. It may not be totally obvious in all my work, but those are the seeds of my ideas. So, of course, nature plays a huge influential role, as do relationships.

Describe your first jewelry designing experience.
It was definitely unintentional. When I was still in the corporate world, I took a four hour metal clay class only because I had never heard of it. I made several pieces of unrelated…somethings, just to get a feel for the process. Jewelry eventually became my focus when I got great feedback on experimental pieces.

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | UncommonGoods

Can you walk us through the step by step process of creating the Buds Necklace?
I work solely in Precious Metal Clay (PMC). For those who are not familiar, metal clay is made up of microscopic particles of recycled silver [or bronze or copper]. All those particles are held together with an organic binder. It looks and acts much like modeling clay.

For this piece I took a mold of the tiny Lapsana flowers. Once the mold has cured, I roll a piece of metal clay onto it. I remove the piece of clay and turn it over onto a flat surface. While the clay is still wet I cut out individual pieces (in this case, circles) and let them dry overnight. I then try to get them as perfect as possible by sanding edges and smoothing surfaces that need it. It is much easier and less time consuming to do this with dry clay than it is with metal. When the pieces are ready, they get fired in a kiln. When the temperature reaches 1,650 [degrees Fahrenheit], the binder has burned out and all the silver particles melt together. There is an 8 to 12 percent shrink rate and the result is a fully metallic, pure silver piece. I drill a hole in it for the jump ring. When it comes out of the kiln, there is some fire scale on the surface. That is scratched or sanded off before I put the whole piece into a patina to get the green color. It is then sanded again, leaving minimal color behind. I think the color brings out the texture and design a little more. I wire-wrap a clasp onto a piece of hand-painted silk cord and add the pendant. Tah-da!

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | UncommonGoods

Whatʼs your favorite thing that someone has said about something you made?
There was a woman who recently came to my table while I was selling at Pike Place Market in Seattle. I asked how the day had been treating her so far. She sighed and said, “I am so happy to be on front of such a peaceful space with pieces of art I relate to.” She didnʼt buy anything but the compliment was worth so much more.

How do you keep yourself inspired?
Living in the Northwest is great for natural inspiration. I am still amazed at all the different plants that bloom in the spring. I sell my work where 10 million people visit every year. I get to hear a lot of stories. Talking and connecting with people is also great inspiration for me.

Design Challenge Winner | Jewelry Design Challenge | UncommonGoods

What are your hobbies outside of jewelry design and running your own business?
I donʼt really have much time for a whole lot, but I love to cook and work on my house and in my yard. Essentially, my hands are always dirty.

(Photos by Lauren Williams)

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