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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.

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoods
Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsWhat are your most essential tools?
My hands, trim router, machines I have built to aid in the fabrication of our products.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Having the task of creating products from records limits my scope, but also pushes me to innovate and consider the material in a very thorough way.

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsWhere does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Lunch, walking the dog, listening to records (but honestly, there is not much down time)

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Running a business is the business of the business. Designing, making, creating, etc. is part of the picture, but running your own business is not about being a good designer–a whole different set of skills and information is needed to start, run, and sustain a business.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Every day there are small victories–getting big orders out, coming up with a great new product. We celebrate with food.
And music!

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsWhat quote keeps you motivated?
“Maybe there’s just two extra pieces”–this is a quote from an episode of the Amazing Race that stuck with Jeff. There was a couple completing a statue as one of their challenges. They made a statue that looked complete but there were extra pieces. One teammate tried to figure out how they were incorporated into the statue, while the other just offered the advice that perhaps there were extra pieces to throw them off. It has offered Jeff a reminder to try to see things from another perspective and not be thrown off by what is handed to you.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Hire someone to do the books, make the sales calls, and organize the admin side of things.

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsHow do you set goals for yourself?
I try to have new product for every trade show (2x year) and for important catalogs (like the UncommonGoods holiday book).

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I am looking into purchasing a CNC router. It is a computer-controlled cutting tool that will make us very agile and aid in the design and production process.
UPDATE from Jeff: I have purchased the CNC router! It is really helpful in the aid of designing new products, a truly time-saving, mind-expanding tool. Woo hoo!

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoodsHow do you recharge your creativity?
I read a lot, and try to synthesize the ideas and information I encounter into something meaningful.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I meet with other designers and makers to discuss craft, business, design, etc. I also work closely with the guys who work in my studio, and we figure out a lot of things together–how to make a product, new design ideas, etc.

Jeff Davis Collection | UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

A (Snow?!) Day at the Beach with the E-tablet Sounds Speaker

March 20, 2014

When I first heard about the E-Tablet Sounds Speaker, I don’t remember being impressed. Considering that the description explaining the two capabilities of this case is 1. It protects any standard sized tablet from water or sand and 2. It functions as a speaker for the device inside, I think it’s more factual to say that I wasn’t slightly fazed.

To be honest, I figured this isn’t amazingly revolutionary for a society with flying drones and glass lens’ sized computers but I see how this would make the day of an iPad touting, Beach going enthusiast. Nevertheless, I being none of those, didn’t care.

But here it was, included in the group of products that my colleague, Adam, and I were mulling over and brainstorming product demonstration ideas for. That’s when he says something along the lines of, “You know what’s funny, Merchants want me to make a video for this beach product now and it’s the middle of winter… especially this winter.”

[Light bulb clicking on sound here.]

But first.. let me explain this winter. Over the last few months NYC has gotten smacked with Mother Nature’s back hand. Snow, sleet, heavy rains, ice, hail, flooding, polar vortexes, perfect spring days… we’ve seen a lot this season. That day was no different. As we met, snow was accumulating outside and forecasted to continue until 5-7 inches of fresh powder joined us on our commute home.

Conditions were even worse the following Thursday. Downpours of rain, snow and hail made an exciting combination. The lines between sidewalks and roads didn’t exist and the game of guess-which-puddle-is-actually-a-lot-deeper-than-you-think was in full swing. Nonetheless, E-tablet Sounds in hand, Adam and I made our way to Coney Island Beach.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words right? Well, the video above offers pages about the results from our experiment. Throughout all of the activities, the E-tablet Sounds provided the soundtrack needed to pump up the volume out there and keep my thoughts off of how much snow made its way in my boots. Once we’re able to experience dry beach sand in the Northeast again, I easily see a follow up trip happening where the only place I expect to see ice is in my drink.

The Uncommon Life

Mixtape Mixed Drinks: Butterbee Cocktail Recipe

September 9, 2013

We’re celebrating the drop of our Mixtape Glasses by mixing up our favorite cocktails and pumping up the volume on the songs that go best with them. First up–the Butterbee.

Butterbee Cocktail

The Butterbee is a yummy sweet grown-up treat.

The Drink:
Mix equal parts of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Butterscotch Schnapps
Top with whipped cream

The Playlist:
1. Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations
2. C.R.E.A.M. – Wu Tang Clan
3. Caramel – City High
4. Candyman – Christina Aguilera
5. Candy – Mandy Moore
6. Sugar, Sugar – The Archies

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Thumb Piano “Ka Limba Limba”

March 11, 2013

Research
The Kalimba is older than Jesus. Also referred to as a thumb piano, it has changed form and tuning numerous times over the last 3,000 years. It was initially made of bamboo and then independently created in metal form 1,300 years ago. Small and light, it was the perfect instrument for travelling griot storytellers in West Africa. They believed that the angelic notes could float up to heaven and bring spirits down to earth.

Upon plucking one of the metal tines for the first time, I immediately realized that there is indeed a mystical element to the tone it emits. It is also quite easy to play, especially the version I had, since it consists of only 8 notes. Has someone ever asked you to name one object you would take with you to a deserted island? This has to be it. It makes for great company. I immediately had an innate desire to contribute to the history of the Kalimba by writing a short song for it.

Hypothesis

I figured that the best way to learn this instrument was to make like a griot and play it while I walked. Living in NYC, I walk a lot. I figured I would bring it everywhere I went and play it everywhere I walked. I could probably come up with something decent in a week.

Experiment

I started with my walk home to the subway station. I developed a pleasing four note repetition. Still playing, I made my way down the stairs of the station, caught a train and sat down. On the subway, I memorized a few variations on the loop. It’s a fairly quiet instrument. When the train was moving, only I could hear it. When the train stopped, a man next to me glanced up, curious. I smiled. He smiled back, looked down and continued to read. Nothing is out of the ordinary on the NYC subway. I continue playing on my walk home. Head down, deeply focused on memorizing the verse. The next day I created a complementary verse and walked into a stop sign. No biggie. Griots used to do it all the time, I’m sure.

By day 3 I had a 40 second song that I could repeat. Guessing I would soon forget it, I wrote down the notes. For proper documentation, I named it Ka Limba Limba. It’s 11 lines long.

I recorded it here for your listening pleasure. It’s quiet, so headphones are suggested:

Conclusion
I thoroughly enjoyed playing this little instrument. My thumbs are a bit raw from playing for a week. I’ll likely wait a few days before working on my next song.

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Vinylphile

November 16, 2012

There’s a certain breed of music lover who, when given the choice, always takes the slightly gritty sound of vinyl on a turntable over a digitally remastered CD or a quick-and-clean download. Whether they love hard, fast rock or soft, soulful sounds, the vinylphile prefers their tunes straight from the grooves of an LP. They may have specific taste when it comes to their favorite recordings, but finding the perfect present for the owner of those particular ears doesn’t have to be a pressing problem. For the record, one of these gifts for vinylphiles might just be the chart-topper they’re looking for.


Cymbal of Peace Pendant / A Vinyl Collection Puzzle / Record Star Clock / Record Tie / Guitar Glasses and Coasters / Personalized LP Record / Record Cuff Bracelet / Recycled Record Book Ends