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Designer

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

Opposites Attract: Michael Stromberg’s Magnetic Art

July 9, 2014

Designer Michael Stromberg | UncommonGoodsOpposites attract as designer Michael Stromberg brings new concepts to life. “I realized that there was an entirely unexplored artistic outlet waiting to be defined,” says Michael of his eye-catching magnetic sculptures and games. “I also enjoy pondering the invisible forces that make these so unique.”

A magnet simply isn’t a magnet without forces that attract and forces that repel. Michael uses this principle in different ways, depending on his ultimate design. For games, he uses strictly repulsive powers as an added hurdle for skill. His art and sculpture, however, utilizes the power of attraction.

Michael began his journey into magnetic art after planning a tournament for a magnetic shuffleboard set he’d designed in the early 2000s. It seemed appropriate to have a magnetically-suspended trophy as the grand prize. After finding nothing on the market that fit the bill, he decided to create his own. “As soon as I began to work on the award, a fairly simple geometric design, my mind began exploring where I could go with this.”

25337_zoom1His sculptures always begin by establishing a focal point for the new piece. Once this has been decided, the frame and ancillary parts are designed as a complement. Everything eventually works together so that touching just one piece of the sculpture causes the other parts to come to life as if by magic.

Fascinated by how the magnetic attraction creates a fluid work of art, Michael says that his designs blend left-brained precision with right-brained imagination. Working with magnetics typically takes hours of re-balancing in order to ensure that the parts move the way he envisions. “Many artists use only gravity and wind to manipulate their work, both of which are predictable, natural forces. Adding magnetism causes new and fresh interactions.”

While his primary medium is wood, chosen for its unique grains and aesthetics, Michael has begun working with clay, fabric, and polymer resins—an exciting turn for his inspired takes on environmental sculpture. “As far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed making things,” says Michael, “from acoustic and electric guitars to snowshoes, I’ve enjoyed creative endeavors my entire life.” And with his beautiful kinetic pieces, his creative evolution continues.

Michael Stromberg's Designs

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

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jeff Davis

May 6, 2014

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoods
I had been cruising around Philly listening to XPN for a couple days. Lou Reed had just passed away. It was a very appropriate time to visit Jeff Davis in the Vinylux studio, a business created in celebration of everyone’s favorite music.

Jeff began collecting vintage records in 2002 to re-purpose into home decor and fashion accessories, the production of which looks similar to most of what I have seen in other studios: work tables, hand-tools, storage space. However, over time, Jeff realized there were machines and tools he required for his designs that did not exist — a vacuum to clean vinyl splinters, a machine to melt a record into a smooth bowl in a matter of seconds — so he took to creating them himself. Most artists show off their finished products, but in Jeff’s case some of his most impressive designs are his machines.

It wasn’t a surprise that a trip to Jeff’s studio would be incredibly exciting for me — all that vinyl and someone to talk to about my favorite albums — but it was a surprise to learn about the business savvy of one of our oldest vendors, to meet an entrepreneur who cares deeply for the safety of his employees, and see such an exciting company sprouting from a city I called home for so many years. Meet Jeff Davis, small business owner, expert at reincarnating old vinyl, and, in my opinion, example of what it means to be living the dream.

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Design

Meet the Bloggers from our Spring Jewelry Lookbook

April 17, 2014

This spring we wanted to highlight four of our newest jewelry collections by makers inspired by nature in a digital lookbook. Instead of styling the pieces ourselves, we relied on the skills of two talented bloggers, Jessa and Holly, who brought these botanical designs to life in their own personal way.

Before you check out the lookbook, discover the inspiration behind the looks they created for us!

Meet Jessa of Caked Vintage | Spring Jewelry Lookbook | UncommonGoodsMeet Jessa of Caked Vintage | Spring Jewelry Lookbook | UncommonGoods
Jessa of Caked Vintage

What makes handmade jewelry special in your opinion?
Handmade jewelry tells a story, a journey from concept to creation, you can hold in your grasp. It is intricate, intimate, and inspirational.

How do you like to spend a warm spring day?
Spring picnics are perfection! A blanket lunch amidst a faint floral breeze, paired with a sun-kissed nap, has to be one of spring’s simplest pleasures.

What inspires your spring wardrobe?
I am inspired by color; spring is the perfect palette of hues and patterns for designing and pairing your wardrobe.

What was your favorite piece to style? What do you love about it?
I am in love with the Shattered Glass Bib Necklace. It’s the perfect example of how something once broken can become something beautiful.



Meet Holly of Holly Dolly | Spring Jewelry Lookbook | UncommonGoodsMeet Holly of Holly Dolly | Spring Jewelry Lookbook | UncommonGoods
Holly of Holly Dolly

What makes handmade jewelry special in your opinion?
I know how much time and effort and love and passion goes into each and every piece. When it means that much to the designer, it means just as much to me.

How do you like to spend a warm spring day?
There is nothing better than spending a warm spring day by the water, watching the boats and snacking on a cannoli.

What inspires your spring wardrobe?
Color! I tend to hide in a neutrals and darker colors during the winter. The fresh, renewed feeling of spring makes me want to break out every single bright color in my wardrobe.

What was your favorite piece to style? What do you love about it?
The Golden Sunflower Necklace reminds me of this huge field of sunflowers that my husband I stumbled upon last summer. Just bright yellow as far as the eye could see against a bright blue sky. It was breathtaking.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Ana Talukder

April 7, 2014

Inside the Artist Studio with Ana Talukder Simpson | UncommonGoodsHere at UncommonGoods, we work with amazing vendors who constantly wow us with their creativity, artistry, and love of their craft. We don’t always get to meet the artists with whom we work; often relationships are forged through email and over the phone. Recently I was lucky enough to travel from our Brooklyn headquarters to Seattle to visit the studio of Ana Talukder , the super talented designer behind our beloved Latitude/Longitude jewelry collection.

Arriving at the studio, I was greeted with a big hug by Ana, and was immediately charmed by her bubbly and vivacious presence. I could not wait to see her studio and it was just as I imagined from hearing her description of it over the phone–a spacious and bright room with walls awash in her favorite color: purple. Her studio is a happy place, with touches of her personality everywhere–a purple peg board with small metal buckets to keep her organized, a board of inspirational quotes, and my personal favorite: an indoor window box of pansies (in purple of course!).

Ana and I looked at her new designs and talked about her process. I was wowed by how prolific she is, and how many new ideas she is constantly hatching. It was a great afternoon together and time flew by! Meet Ana and welcome to her colorful and inspirational world!

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Maker Stories

Ricky Giacco’s Eco-Conscious Concrete Creations

April 4, 2014

An avid container gardener and all-around horticulture-lover, Ricky Giacco founded NativeCast in 2010 to create and sell his handcrafted concrete “functional sculpture” while following environmentally responsible business practices. His “green concrete” is amazingly light, yet strong, and made mostly of recycled materials.

Ricky Giacco | UncommonGoods

Giacco’s uniquely creative planters come from an illustrious family tree. The Roman Colosseum, the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, and this adorable Cupcake Planter are all made of concrete, the most widely-used building material in the world.

DIY Cupcake Planter

The production of concrete uses much less energy than other building materials, such as steel, aluminum, glass and wood. But it’s not carbon-neutral, and we Earthlings use 19 billion tons of it a year. That adds up. In fact, about 7 percent of human carbon emissions comes from concrete manufacture. So at UncommonGoods, we’re big fans of Ricky’s innovative, ecologically sound concrete, which he makes from scratch in Chadds Ford, PA.

The Mix | UncommonGoods
You could call Giacco a concrete mixologist. He concocts new recipes using ingredients native to his region. But unless you enjoy the taste of seashells, pine cones, and crushed, reclaimed roadway rock, you won’t want to drink these cocktails. Your plants will love drinking from them, though; concrete makes a great planting environment. Because it’s porous, it allows air and moisture to move into plants’ root structure; and it maintains a more stable soil temperature throughout the year, compared to plastic or metals.

NativeCast is a family affair: Giacco is its creative head, his father handles most of the business end, his wife works on trade shows, his mother works in the production studio once a week, and Giacco says each member of his “rather large” family “helps out in one way or another.”

We wanted to know more about every aspect of his business, and he graciously allowed us to indulge our curiosity.

Ricky's Studio

You “design” not only your objects, but the material they’re made of. Does that give you a special satisfaction?
Designing the material I work with is very cool, and I am happy with the results I am getting. There is satisfaction in knowing that my customers also enjoy what I’m doing. I do know the material’s limitations, so as I look to design new pieces and expand the business, I am exploring some new material ideas.

The most important breakthroughs have been in the mixing process. We have successfully replaced the typical heavy aggregates with lighter and more eco-friendly options while maintaining a good strength. This process is much easier said than done.

Ricky's workbench

Gun

Tell us a bit about the process of making your concrete.
Our green concrete is made by hand and is a fairly complicated process to mix. It is made of Portland cement, sand, lime, recycled concrete, post consumer plastic, shells and pine mulch. The ingredients are always the same, but the ratios tend to vary. This is due to a number of different factors; the biggest ones are air temperature and the technique being used to craft the pieces. We use different application processes depending on the individual product. This forces us to hand mix many small batches of concrete.

Is it a form of hypertufa?
It is not exactly hypertufa, but the concept of modifying the concrete mix for planters is the same.

Where and how do you get the recycled material you use? Is it pre-crushed? Do you treat it? Does it affect the color of the stone?
Our recycled content is all locally sourced. The reclaimed concrete is cleaned and crushed into very small pieces so we can properly incorporate into our mix. We do not treat the recycled content any further. The recycled content does not affect the color of the stone. It acts as filler so it is really contained within the concrete walls.

What factors come into play when making these decisions about materials and their suitability for a given piece?
The things I am trying to do with any given piece are fairly straightforward. The first is to make the container as strong as possible while using the smallest amount of concrete material. Then I look for the most efficient way to apply the concrete. And the last part is mostly using the best concrete mix to achieve the surface texture for the container. This process does take a bit of experimentation to get production rolling.

Ricky Giacco

MaterialsDo you actually hand cast every piece yourself? How do you do it quickly enough to fill the demand?
I do cast every piece myself and it is time consuming. I have the experience which allows me to move fast, but efficiency really comes down to making good molds and have a quick system to fill each one.

Your family helps a lot; that sounds lovely… depending! Do they all have a lot of these planters and other items in their homes?
Yes my family helps quite a bit and yes they all have planters in their homes. This is how we test out the product and improve others. I think working with family is a very special thing, if you can find a way to be productive. I’m sure it is not for most people. However, I am constantly surprised how much I like it.

Your materials are sustainably smart. Do you think construction or other types of companies, governments, etc. could use this kind of material on a large scale?
I certainly think it’s a good concept for an eco-friendly building material. However there is a lot of science involved in engineering concrete. What we make is intended for a craft application. I know there are plenty of scientist, engineers and universities working on the construction grade eco-concrete.

Concrete is alkaline, and very porous. Are your planters best used for alkaline-loving plants that don’t need a lot of water?
Yes, concrete is made from limestone, which is an alkaline rock, and therefore alkaline plants will do best in our containers. If you wish to put an acid loving plant in concrete, a liner is recommended. And it is porous, and is better for plants that don’t need a lot of water. In my opinion, porous is good all around; potted plants die because of over-watering.

How should one take care of these pots?
The concrete containers are fairly easy to care for. What I tell most people is to avoid standing water. It can stain over time and in freezing temperatures can crack concrete. Other than that, they are pretty easy to use.

Apple Bark Planter

Your Apple Bark Planter was cast from a crab apple tree that got sick and had to be removed. It sounds like you’re very sentimental about plants! What are your favorite things to grow?
I did know this tree for many years and was disappointed to see it go. I had this idea to make the planter, and I think it turned out pretty well. My favorite plants are cactus and succulents. They seem so exotic to me. I love how rugged and nearly indestructible they are. I wish I lived in a warmer climate to grow them beyond my containers.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist Studio with Stacey Lee Webber

March 5, 2014

Stacey Lee Webber Studio Tour | UncommonGoodsPhiladephia jewelry designer, Stacey Lee Webber, creates her pieces from pennies and small coins—making art from what could easily be overlooked and discarded. The same can be said for her incredible studio and living space. Situated within the former Globe Dye Works factory–a space she calls home, work, and the location of her wedding–her space is one of the most uncommon I’ve ever visited. Aside from having been saved from scrapping and recycled, the factory is home to many other designers and just oozes creativity. Stacey’s studio also serves as storage for her creative friends’ projects that won’t fit anywhere else.

After I was done drooling over the space, I got to know one of our artists in a deeper way. Behind the beautiful necklaces and cufflinks on our site is a process of sawing, filing, and tiny metal splinters, creating the kind of dichotomy that makes handmade pieces like hers so special. When I see a coin, I see an opportunity for a Tootsie Pop. When Stacey sees a coin, she sees art–just another reason why it’s so fun to try to get inside the mind of our designers.

Take a stroll around Stacey’s creative space and get to know this Uncommon Artist.

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