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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Makes Brooklyn Great?

December 18, 2015

Neighborhood Leaf Map | UncommonGoodsNeighborhood Leaf Maps

Brooklyn! How we love your tree-lined streets, your tiny restaurants with expansive backyards, and your many, many, many bicycles! We got our start in Manhattan’s West Village, and though we can see the Chrysler Building and a thousand tiny windows light up every night from our office window, we can’t help but get the warm fuzzies when we think about our home, the borough that brought us Coney Island, Peggy Olson, and Twizzlers.

And so, as you begin to order and receive your goods (many of which are shipped from the very same Sunset Park building where this is being written) enjoy a few Uncommon facts that make our borough so beloved.
Steel Pizza Cutter | UncommonGoods

Steel Pizza Cutter

1. Until 1898, Brooklyn was its own separate city. In order to strengthen resources and economic growth, lawmakers decided to merge with New York City. Double the bagels, double the pizza. We consider it a win.

Coffee Straws | UncommonGoods

Coffee Straws

2. Brooklyn has approximately 2.5 million residents. If it were separated from the rest of New York City, Brooklyn would become the fourth most populous city in the country. This would explain the lines in the coffee shops.

Coney Island Reclaimed Wood Coasters | UncommonGoodsConey Island Reclaimed Wood Coasters

3. The first roller coaster in America opened at Coney Island in 1884. It was known as a switchback railway, it cost a nickel to ride, and it traveled at a blistering six miles per hour. Hold on to your hats!

The Tourist Babysuit | UncommonGoods

The Tourist Babysuit

4. Coney Island also saved the lives of roughly 6,500 premature babies. In 1903, Dr. Martin A. Couney wanted to treat the infants using an incubator he’d developed but no hospital would fund his research until he had proof that it would work. Coney Island funded his study on the one condition that the research be done out in the open…in the amusement park’s sideshow. Visitors paid a dime to look through the makeshift hospital ward’s window, allowing a rare glimpse of the medical marvels. Parents of the infants were never charged for the treatment and by 1943, hospitals were finally convinced to open their own preemie wards.

Tote Along Picnic Blanket | UncommonGoods

Tote Along Picnic Blanket

5. Brooklyn’s Prospect Park makes up the borough’s largest green space, measuring at 585 acres. Frederick Law Olmsted, the same designer behind New York City’s Central Park, designed it. When asked which park he preferred, he said his Brooklyn creation was the nicer of the two. Bring a picnic blanket and a couple croissants on a beautiful fall day and we can’t argue.

Balloons Over Brooklyn Bridge | UncommonGoodsBalloons Over Brooklyn Bridge

6. Some things invented in Brooklyn: the deep-fried Twinkie, teddy bears, the roller coaster, and the first bank credit card—so pretty much, your ideal weekend.Elephant Bookends | UncommonGoodsElephant Family Bookends

7. When it opened to the public on May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. After a year of use, some pedestrians were still skeptical about the safety of the bridge. In order to prove its stability, P.T. Barnum walked 21 elephants over the bridge in 1884.

She Believed She Could Framed Art Block | UncommonGoods

 She Believed She Could Framed Art Block

8. The Brooklyn Bridge was essentially completed by a woman. Emily Warren Roebling’s husband Washington was the civil engineer tasked with the job, but became bed-ridden after developing caisson disease. Taking over dealings with politicians, engineers, and contractors, Emily stepped in as the first woman field engineer, using her own knowledge along with input from her husband to spend the next fourteen years finishing the bridge. She was the first person to take the journey across the bridge upon completion.

Brooklyn Bridge |UncommonGoodsBrooklyn Bridge

9. The first animal to cross the bridge was a rooster. We could tell you more about why, like how the rooster was seen as a symbol of victory, but we’d much prefer to linger on the image of a street smart rooster making his way to the city.

Brooklyn Map Throw | UncommonGoodsBrooklyn Map Throw

10. In 2006, workers discovered a bomb shelter from the Cuban Missile Crisis in the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was filled with water, 352,000 packets of crackers, and blankets. A label inside said: FOR USE, AFTER ENEMY ATTACK. No one’s sure who exactly was meant to benefit from the high, yet low profile safe place.

DIY Embroidery Poster Brooklyn Bridge | UncommonGoodsDIY Embroidery Poster Brooklyn Bridge

 

11. Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood (setting of Saturday Night Fever and birthplace of fictional Mad Men character Peggy Olson) was originally called Yellow Hook. However, after a yellow fever plague spread throughout the area in the 1840s, residents decided it was time for a name change. Florist James Weir suggested Bay Ridge and it was formally adopted in 1853.

Adventure Filter Water Bottle | UncommonGoods

Adventure Filter Water Bottle

12. The bad news: The 1.8 mile long Gowanus Canal is one of the most heavily contaminated water bodies in the nation. The good news: It’s now a superfund sight and the EPA is going to clean it up. The crazy news: We have absolutely no idea what’s growing/living in there. Even the EPA is clueless and believes the hostile environment could have spawned an entirely new species. See? Even our environmental issues are adventures in science!

Classic Home Portrait | UncommonGoodsClassic Home Portrait

13. Brooklyn loves its brownstones. We love brownstones so much that we build fake ones to house subway maintenance and ventilation sites. At 58 Joralemon Street, you’ll find a stately brownstone with blacked out windows—the only inclination that the building’s façade is…well, a façade. The building also provides emergency exits and electrical conversion for the trains. How’s that for urban camouflage?

Why You're So Awesome | UncommonGoodsWhy You’re So Awesome by Me Book

14. Some awesome people who first became awesome in Brooklyn (in no particular order of awesomeness or relevance): Jean-Michel Basquiat, Scott Baio, Pat Benetar, Mel Brooks, Steve Buscemi, Tony Danza, Richard Dreyfuss, Edie Falco, Lena Horne, Michael Jordan, Jimmy Kimmel, Eddie Murphy, Rosie Perez, Lou Reed, Carl Sagan, Barbara Streisand. Also Mario—the fictional game character that jumps on mushrooms and sometimes sprouts a raccoon tail with which to fly. Who knew?

Men's Military Field Grooming Set | UncommonGoodsMen’s Military Field Grooming Set

15. UncommonGoods is located in Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Army Terminal—the same place where Elvis Presley shipped out for an eighteen-month tour of duty on September 22, 1958.

Mason Jar Speaker & Amplifier | UncommonGoods

Mason Jar Speaker & Amplifier

Want some unofficial Uncommon Knowledge? Nothing beats the pizza, dog-friendly bars, and free concerts in the park. Also, drinking out of a mason jar while wearing flannel has been proven (no it hasn’t) to increase the enjoyment of said beverage by as much as 90%.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Barry Rosenthal

June 6, 2014

Barry Rosenthal | UncommonGoods
When our team learned that renowned photographer Barry Rosenthal calls our building, The Brooklyn Army Terminal, home to his studio we couldn’t wait to work with him on a project. Once that project–Pop Top Six Pack Glasses–was ready for our customers’ eyes, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about the set. Learning more about Barry’s work and the creative process that lead to the finished product got me, and the blog team, even more excited about having such a talented artist as a neighbor. Knowing that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out his studio space, our own photographer, Emily, and I made the (very) short journey across the BAT atrium to see where Barry assembles his collections of found artifacts and other objects to create captivating photos.

Join us in exploring a new corner of our building by stepping into Barry Rosenthal’s studio, taking a look at some of his unique work, and finding out what goes on behind the scenes when the camera isn’t clicking.

Barry Rosenthal Art | UnommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
Passion is a tool. My passion to keep exploring. Passion creates more work.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I can work anywhere. I started the project by shooting outside. Collecting, sorting and shooting in the field. My current studio is a workspace and acts as a library of my collections. It’s basic and barebones as I look to eliminate distractions.

Inspiration comes from going out into the field and collecting. I need to periodically find new material to work with. Later when working on the set to place the elements into a composition, I find a different kind of energy. When I see how the various components start to play off each other, that positive energy makes me want to continue the discovery process.

Inside Barry Rosenthal's Studio  UncommonGoods
Flowers for Inspiration | UncommonGoods

Where does downtime fit into a day in the studio?
I’m a resident artist at chashama. I have a small studio in a large space with sixty other artists. When I to take a break, there is always another artist to talk to or share ideas with.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Make more pictures. It takes discipline to create.

Photography Tools

How do you set goals for yourself?
Long and short term goals are all based on reaching a new plateau. Whether in my art practice or marketing my work, there are always more opportunities for self improvement and finding openings that lead to new partnerships.

Barry Rosenthal in National Geographic Brazil

Barry Rosenthal’s Photo on the cover of National Geographic Brazil

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Book a flight to somewhere I’ve never been before.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation.’ Creative viewing.” – William S. Burroughs.

William S. Burroughs quote

I take the term ‘observation’ in this context to mean discovery by curation. I don’t know what I will find in the field, and I may not know what I will do with what I find, but somehow fully formed themes are sparked just by the simple act of ‘seeing’ what is out there. I carefully curate not just what goes into a piece but what I leave out.

There is also a second meaning here. To make the process complete, the audience plays a role by using its power of observation. Someone trained to ‘see’ can bring an audience into a new experience.

Barry's found collectionsBarry's found collection-Gloves

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Developing my vision. I am constantly tweeking the way I present a new piece. At first I tried the grid then perspective now I am doing new work based on time. What I pick in thirty minutes becomes the next idea.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Every time I return to my hunting grounds new ideas form. Getting out into nature renews this project.

Barry Rosenthal Pop Tops Glass | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I like to share my work and ideas. I am involved with several ongoing ‘salons’ where work is shown and ideas are discussed and refined.

Pop Top 6 Pack | UncommonGoods

Barry Rosenthal Glasses | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Becky Cooper: Making of Mapping Manhattan

March 21, 2014

Becky Cooper | Mapping Manhattan | UncommonGoods

An idea is a powerful thing. And some may agree that an idea can be even more powerful when it’s explored on the streets of New York City. The contagious thought ‘anything can happen’ is amplified in this urban playground. From cross walks to subway rides, if you look closely you can almost see the ideas that are planted deep in New York minds. Some people, you can just tell, are simply daydreaming while others are working to make something of their ideas–and will most likely succeed. Becky Cooper was one of those wandering, deep-in-thought souls, and she succeeded in turning her big idea into a reality.

The summer after her junior year in college, Becky got the idea for her project.  She studied literature at Harvard University and she was inspired by the novel Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. It’s a book that offers an alternative approach to thinking about cities, how they are formed, how they function, and how human nature is a constant foundation for them. For better or for worse, every New Yorker has a story of their own. Nostalgic. Gloomy. Romantic. Scandalous. Bittersweet. Happy. Becky wanted to slow people down, have them think, and share with her their special New York stories. Instead of just having conversations with those people, Becky wanted them to illustrate those stories. With the help of her friend Dan Ashwood, an animator, Becky designed a map of Manhattan and letterpress printed it.

blank mapback

At first, Becky wanted this project to be completely serendipitous and initially didn’t make direct contact with the strangers. She hid the maps, with directions for completing them and her P.O. box address already marked on the back, in random parts of the city for New Yorkers to find. She placed the maps between the cracks of the Waldorf Astoria doors, inside copies of The Catcher in the Rye at Barnes and Noble, on benches that sat on The High Line, and anywhere else she felt like anyone would be pleasantly surprised to find the small blank canvases. But as time went by she found that the maps she was distributing among the streets of NYC weren’t showing up in her mail.

Becky Cooper | Mapping Manhattan | UncommonGoods

Determined to make the idea work, Becky decided to take the bold approach of directly walking up to individuals on the streets and speak to them about her Mapping Manhattan project. In the beginning, she would just explain the idea, offer them a map, and walk away. As she approached more and more strangers, the end result of the project became less important as she began to focus more on the connections she was making. Swapping stories and creating ties became the reason she was stopping these everyday New Yorkers. She walked for hours, exploring Manhattan neighborhoods, and aimed to meet as many different types of minds and souls that she possibly could. As the weeks went by, the maps began rolling into her mailbox, proving that connecting with a person face-to-face was much more impactful than sprinkling maps in “strategic” parts of the city.

Becky Cooper | Mapping Manhattan | UncommonGoods

The finished illustrated maps were overwhelming for Becky — they were diverse, creative, simple, and beautiful. She received maps that were splattered with colors, to maps that were inked in words of wisdom or wit. She received a map of the different locations where one’s ex-wives resided, a map of a painted brick wall from Inwood to Battery Park, and a map describing the different parts of the island between “Fear” and “Relief”. The project gained so much momentum that she even received maps from high profiled individuals, such as Yoko Ono. From the beginning of this project, Becky tinkered with the idea of publishing a book of the maps. As the maps continued to roll in one-by-one, she realized that the book could actually happen.

Yoko Ono's Map3 diffeent maps

When the book was published, Becky knew that it was worth every step she took down Broadway and Houston and every avenue in between. She charmingly titled it Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and sometimes hate) Story of 75 New Yorkers.  These collection of maps, paying homage to the love-hate relationship one has with this concrete jungle, can hit a few emotional spots (from the feel-good to gut wrenching) for any city dweller.

Mapping Manhattan | Becky Cooper

“This project will always be ongoing. My P.O. box never closed. That would just be a shame.”
– Becky Cooper

Becky Cooper | Mapping Manhattan | UncommonGoods

We invite you to contribute our artist community and be part of the creative process by entering our Mapping Manhattan Contest; download and create your own artistic rendition of what Manhattan means to you. Keep it for your personal inspiration or send it in to add to Becky’s growing collection. Submit your map by May 31 for a chance to win the Mapping Manhattan book and a framed art print of your choice. 

The Uncommon Life

Mapping Manhattan Contest Details

January 1, 2014

Mapping Manhattan Contest DetailsBecky Cooper’s Mapping Manhattan Project is not yet complete. She wants you to illustrate your special New York story in a map so her project can grow, and doing so could earn you a copy of her book and a framed print of your choice. Here’s how to participate:

1. Print out the blank map.
2. Illustrate your unique New York story.
3. Say that ten times fast.
4. Mail your completed map to Becky by May 31, 2014.

Becky Cooper
PO Box 302
New York, NY 10163

Becky will choose her favorite illustration and the UncommonGoods Social Media team will contact the winner in early June.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Carolyn Topp

September 30, 2013
UncommonGoods Director of New Business and Product Development Carolyn Topp
Carolyn Topp, UncommonGoods Director of New Business and Product Development
My hometown is…
I grew up in Ardsley, NY, also home of the late great ice cream magnate Tom Carvel.

My favorite product we’ve developed at UncommonGoods is…
Always something new that will soon be in our assortment; this month it is “My Life Story – So Far.”

I’m inspired by…
Possibilities.

My guilty pleasure is…
I don’t believe in guilt.

An uncommon fact about me…
I was a cellist in Harry Alshin’s junior string orchestra (Westchester County, NY). We performed a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC (in the early 1970s) and each member of the orchestra was listed in the Congressional Record.

My favorite place to eat in New York City is (was)…
Florent– it represents a time and a place in NYC that no longer exists.

My style is…
My personal style is urban practical and classic.
My decorating style is eclectic – a mix of old and new, colorful, and comfortable for people and pets.

Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
Something new each day.

Would you rather… Spend a day on the set of Mad Men OR get front row seats and backstage passes at a Bruce Springsteen concert?
“You cannot be serious” (to quote John McEnroe) with this question. Bruce.