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Studio Tours

Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studios: A Year of Creativity

January 8, 2016

Inside the Artists' Studios | UncommonGoods

One of the most exciting things about serving as Editor of The Goods is that there’s always a Maker Story right around the corner. I am honored to get opportunities to meet talented artists, to see what they make and how they make it, and– when I’m extra lucky– to actually step inside their creative spaces. Over the past year, I had the pleasure of visiting several artists and seeing them in action, as did a few of our blog contributors, photographers, and buyers.  

From woodworking to weaving to jewelry making and beyond, we saw so much creativity last year that we couldn’t help but give our 2015 Studio Tours one more chance to shine before heading out with cameras and notepads to capture more inspirational moments in the year to come. Here are a few hand-picked highlights from those Studio Tours, complete with a few inspirational quotes, photos that made me want to drop everything and start a new creative project on the spot, and plenty of great advice. 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with David and Christopher Steinrueck

November 10, 2015

Christopher and David Steinrueck | UncommonGoods

 David and Christopher Steinrueck, Photos by Emily Hodges

Brother duo, David and Christopher Steinrueck, work out of their woodshop in the heart of San Francisco.  After spending just a few moments inside a space that invites noise from wood slicing tools and is spotted with patches of fallen saw dust, it’s not hard to see that sustainability, craftsmanship, and community are the values that build the very foundation of their business, Wood Thumb. David, Chris, and their team salvage reclaimed wood’s natural beauty when crafting it into everyday function and modern design. From their Wooden Beer Caddy to their Magnetic Bottle Opener – their beautiful craftsmanship is obvious and “there is no part that is unnecessary and everything is created with intention.” Read on to find out what community means to David and Chris and why you might want to pop in for one of the woodworking classes that they offer the next time you find yourself in San Francisco.

Wooden Beer Caddies by Christopher and David Steinrueck

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Nils Wessell

October 16, 2015

Nils Wessell | UncommonGoodsNils in his Brooklyn woodshop, photos by Rachel Orlow

Nils Wessell is the creator of our Tablet Holding Cutting Board , an innovative design that allows cooks to easily prep ingredients with their electronic tablets ready and enabled right in front of them. While heirloom cookbooks are becoming a thing of the past, Nils’ cutting boards are beautifully-crafted and sturdily-constructed, meaning they bring a dose of tactile beauty to cooking in the electronic age. 

When I first read our This Just In-spiration interview with the Brooklyn-based designer and woodworker, I got the impression that he’s not only a talented craftsman, but also someone who is truly passionate, not only about his own craft, but also about art across a broad spectrum. When I learned that his woodshop is located in nearby Industry City, I knew I had to pay him a visit to learn more about his thoughts on the pursuit of creativity and the challenges (and rewards) that come with balancing art and business. 

Once in Nils’ creative space, I saw work, experimentation, knowledge, and–at the risk of sounding a little cheesy here–the magic in the sawdust all around me. Nils’ studio is a mix of books, designs in the prototype phase, power tools, and exquisitely-crafted cutting boards in different stages of production. Read on to see some of these works in progress, hand tools and heavy machinery, and our interview with Nils. 

Nils Wessell | UncommonGoods Studio Tour

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Maker Stories

Inside the Maker’s Studio With Casey Elsass

September 10, 2015

Casey Elsass | UncommonGoods

 Casey Elsass in his Brooklyn kitchen, studio photos by Rachel Orlow

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Casey Elsass at his workspace in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Casey and his employees prepare and bottle Bees Knees Spicy Honey. The operation is located in a food preparation complex featuring local culinary favorites and well-known names like Roberta’s Pizza and McClure’s pickles, so it was clear that Casey’s popularly acclaimed (dare I say alternative?) condiment label – MixedMade – was in the right league. As Casey welcomed us to his facility, my eyes were immediately drawn to two things: 1) his awesome beard and 2) the tremendous stock of honey in the room, and the tremendously large vat that in the next few minutes that honey would accumulate in. It was a beautiful and captivating idea, a vessel of liquid gold large enough to bathe in. But I don’t think the FDA would consider that an OK thing to do.

Bees Knees Spicy Honey | UncommonGoods

When the time came for Casey to crack the seal on one of the massive, 60 lb buckets of honey, a sweet and mildly floral honey smell filled the air. I wondered how he holds back – what’s stopping him from sticking his face in that bucket Winnie the Pooh style? As he prepared to dump the bucket into the huge, silver tank where the contents would get infused with chili pepper goodness, he filled me in on his story: “I’ve always been a foodie – that’s why I started this – but I was actually making my own hot sauce way before we decided to do honey. MixedMade started as our experiment to see if we could launch a condiment in 30 days, but hot sauce is a really crowded market. We kept the hot, lost the sauce, and Spicy Honey was born.”

Keeping Bees in Upstate NY

Bees from Honeybrook Farms

But – it was clear that Casey had acquired a new-found knowledge and appreciation of honey. He sources all of his honey from a family-owned and operated farm upstate a ways in the Hudson Valley, and he frequents the farm to help out with harvests and build hives. “We actually built 30 new beehives exclusive to the company on my last visit – we’re lucky to have such a close relationship with them.”

Read on to learn more about the process behind Spicy Honey – from the hive to your home – Casey’s worst honey-related accident of all time, and what’s next for MixedMade.

Honeybrook Farms

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Tricia Wright

August 7, 2015

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I visited Tricia Wright, maker of the Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug, and her beautiful home studio in the heart of San Francisco. From bright pop art, mod furniture, to quirky collections – the moment I walked in I knew that I was very much in a designer’s living space. (Times two because – fun fact -her husband is a designer as well!) While her adorable dog, Major, greeted me as I admired her succulent plant collection and charming outdoor deck, she explained how her home has been a work in progress over the past few years. But now, it’s finally at the stage where she’s comfortable with it being as is – giving her a lot more time to innovate and make “stuff.”

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“Rugs weren’t always my craft. I bought a loom from Craigslist and actually just learned how to weave this year, ” Tricia laughed as she described to me how she “accidentally” got into weaving. A few months back – Tricia noticed she still had a pile of unused bike tubes leftover from an art sculpture she built. And being the sustainable artist that she is – she didn’t want to throw them out. “At the time – I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to make. But I knew something great could come from them.” When she finally came up with the idea of making rugs out of the bike tubes, she suggested that her friend who knew how to loom professionally take the tubes. But her friend – who obviously knew about Tricia’s incredible crafty talents and natural DIY finesse – convinced her that she should definitely learn on her own. When she saw the listing for the wooden loom on Craigslist – Tricia took it as a sign to stop debating, sign up for local weave classes, and just do it. Six months later, the Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug design was for sale at UncommonGoods.

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I was blown away by Tricia’s home and design space (I mean, who wouldn’t be impressed by a wall of beer bottle caps and an entire shelf collection of old-fashioned irons?), but I was even more inspired by her story. I left with a simple reminder: You can’t be perfect in everything, but you sure can try.

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Get inside the head of Tricia Wright and see how San Francisco inspires her work, how she celebrates the little things, and why she associates herself with the Karate Kid.

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What are your most essential tools?
My bike, my camera, and my shuttle.

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Where do you find inspiration within this space?
The act of weaving is calming and the repetition allows my mind to both wander and focus, if that makes sense. Things bubble up while I’m weaving. Working the loom leaves room for a lot of subconscious creativity and inspiration.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Well since my studio is in my house there are plenty of distractions or shall we say downtime. Because of the physical nature and repetition of weaving, I force myself to get up and stretch. I’m a yoga addict so it’s easy to get up and slip into a couple of stretches which is not something you can easily do in an office. And when the dog wants a belly rub or to go for a walk, I can almost always say “let’s go!” That’s not great for productivity, but it’s great for the dog.

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It’s a tough life.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer starting a business?
I have learned so much throughout my career. I’ve gotten better at not only knowing when to trust my own design and design decisions; but I’ve also figured out when I need help. This comes from years of seeing what has and hasn’t worked. I’ve learned it’s important to ask for opinions and help when you’re stuck or when something isn’t coming together quite right. It’s great to have a community of friends to lean on when you need input. No one can have all the right answers.

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How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I didn’t know it as design at the time, but I’ve been designing recycled products since I was a kid. I used to sew and reconfigure Goodwill clothes that “fit” into the strict high school dress code. When I see something being thrown away I go into my typical brainstorm pattern: how can I reuse, repurpose, or remake that thing into something worth not only keeping but enjoying again? This particular product started when I created a sculpture for an art show at our local bike /coffee shop. The leftover tires from that project were piled on the floor, and they looked so comfortable to walk on. I started thinking about all the spent tubes that end up in landfills, and before I knew it, I had a loom in my studio and was taking weaving lessons from a master textile artist in Berkeley.

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What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Read more. My sister would say the same thing to me.

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How do you set goals for yourself?
I try to keep my goals to under 3 a day and not get too far down the road mentally. The “future list” is too unattainable and can be overwhelming. I have general ideas of future goals but I believe in keeping it simple. My goals are more like daily achievements so I can see that I have accomplished something, even if it’s small.

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How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I have a very supportive family and circle of friends. We don’t make a huge deal out of the wins, but everyone is up for a celebratory beer at the local pub. To be honest, we’re just as likely to go to the pub even if we don’t have anything to celebrate (whoo-hoo, it’s Tuesday!), so maybe that’s not a great answer.

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What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“To do good you actually have to do something.” Yvon Chouinard

Action can be louder than words and everyone has a skill that our environment needs. The environment can’t help itself so it’s really up to us as a species to use our own skills, whatever they may be. Doing something positive doesn’t have to be monumental; it can be a simple action. If I keep working towards my daily goals for positive change then eventually I’ll look back and I can see what I’ve accomplished and then maybe a bit of good for our world will have come of it all. This idea drives me to action.

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What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Ha! Becoming a better weaver will be a life-long process. I was taught by a wonderful weaver and she said just practice and keep doing it. I think of it as a Karate Kid (wax on, wax off) process where I hope to someday have all the weaving knowledge.

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How do you recharge your creativity?
Easy – I go outside. One of the best things about working for yourself is you get to take breaks when it makes sense for you. Late afternoon, I find I need to be outside. I live in San Francisco, where I can wander my neighborhood or go for a bike ride by the bay. The city is filled with color – there are great sounds, smells, and flavors. When I come back I’m always happily inspired – you can’t get a much better city.

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Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I can’t say enough good things about the weavers I work with. They have not only taught me to weave but they really enjoy helping people as teachers and friends. They have been so generous with their time and suggestions, and they are always there when I have a question. I also rely heavily on new perspectives from my core group of friends when I brainstorm design, marketing or sales techniques, or when need a fresh perspective. I am grateful for all the support everyone has given me.

Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug | UncommonGoods