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Studio Tours

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jen Pleasants

May 12, 2015

Jen Pleasants | UncommonGoods

On my right hand, I wear a ring every day on my index finger that reads “She believed she could, so she did.” This is my daily reminder that I’ve climbed mountains – and if I wanted to – I could climb 1,000 more. I was eager to visit Jen Pleasants’ studio, not only to tour her space, but to also personally thank her for designing something that I never take off and imprinting a mantra in my head that I’m sure I’ll never forget.

Before walking into her jewelry studio, Jen waved long crystals around me to take away any negative energy I might bring in. Although it was all in jest, I think this explained my time with Jen in a nutshell – quirky, positive, and radiating ultra hippie vibes.


Jen’s studio sits on a hill in Portola Valley, about 45 minute drive outside of San Francisco. It’s tucked in a quaint corner behind her home. Keeping it company is the beautiful backdrop of a classic Northern California view – trees, hills, more trees, and blue skies. My immediate thought was that Jen had the ultimate oasis that most designers would crave for to work on their craft. Although I was there professionally, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a mini getaway retreat.

If Jen’s pink-streaked hair and infectious positive spirit weren’t already enough of an excuse for me to sign up for a year’s worth of yoga classes, her studio space was. From the luscious hanging succulents, to her children’s precious painted hand prints on the walls, to the many inspirational printed quotes displayed – I could really feel and see the love she built within her surroundings. This is quite fitting to her company’s name, Show the Love. Show the Love’s recycled precious metal jewelry is hand sculpted by Jen herself and invokes beauty, magic, and girl power. Meet Jen Pleasants, jewelry designer, mother of three, and self-proclaimed hippie.

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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!

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Richard Upchurch

March 12, 2015

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

As UncommonGoods photographer Emily and I made our way to visit Richard Upchurch’s studio, our cab driver quizzed us on some of the local neighborhood acronyms. “Do you know what Tribeca stands for?” he stared at us in his rear-view mirror. “Triangle below Canal Street,” we laughed. “What about Dumbo?” “Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” we said in unison. “Do you know why this neighborhood is called Red Hook?” he mused as we turned down a one-way street lined with rugged facades. We were stumped. “Because of all these brick buildings?” I guessed. “I don’t think so!” he teased. “But seriously, I’m not sure. Do you know?” he peered back in the mirror.

Out of guesses, I stared out the window at the jumble of modern and old-fashioned storefronts. With its scattered cobblestone streets and uncanny industrial vibe (a holdover from when it was a busy shipping center), I felt like I was back in my old Pittsburgh neighborhood. That is, until I saw the beautiful view of New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty directly across from the studio’s dome shaped doors. 

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

Richard introduced himself with a comforting flair of southern hospitality. As soon as he learned about Emily’s Georgia roots, he started describing his favorite Georgia venues where he had previously performed as a touring musician, setting the stage for an afternoon with one of the best storytellers either of us had met in a long time. He walked us around his studio and described how Lil’ MibZoots, and Loopy Lou grew from blocks of wood into sound recording gadgets. He related the first days of his business brandnewnoise, and how it’s grown to become an influential internship provider for inner-city students. He gave us the inside scoop behind the bright green frog in the center of his workstation. (A project that involved a crazy collaboration with Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips!) We pointed to his old wooden thumb piano, among other oddities, and he elaborated with charming, sentimental tales. He pointed toward his favorite barbecue joint across the street, distinguishing all of the clandestine spots that make Red Hook so special. With each new story, he built the kind of environment that made us want to settle into rocking chairs, crack open beers, and chat about life. After meeting Richard, I am not surprised that he decided to set up shop in a neighborhood that’s so full of history, character, and unexpected treasures.

Whether you’re looking for creative inspiration, or just hoping to get a sneak peek into an artist’s everyday life, you’re in good company. Pull up your favorite chair, sit back, and enjoy our tour of Richard’s Brooklyn Studio.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Dave Marcoullier

February 10, 2015

Dave Marcoullier | UncommonGoods

Rocking red flannel, Dave Marcoullier, a San Francisco-based woodworking designer, was dressed like a true lumberjack when I showed up to take a tour of his studio. Passing gigantic Burning Man iron monuments that were displayed behind a fence outside, I was led into a warehouse that sheltered a world of more peculiar sculptures and organized chaos. I felt like I was in an abandoned carnival tucked away inside a hoarder’s ultimate dream maze. I was in a place that’s the second home for over 250 artists, blacksmiths, inventors, creative minds, and in Dave’s words, “mad scientists.” I didn’t spot anyone right away, but I heard banging, drilling, and faint shouting throughout the warehouse space. A dog brushed pass me, and Dave immediately told me how friendly she was.

Dave Marcoullier Wooden Routings | UncommonGoods

Stacks of random puzzle pieces of wood, metal, found items, car parts, and other bits and bobs were everywhere. I couldn’t decipher what objects they once were, but I had a feeling their future life would be interesting. I was officially Alice in a very, very different wonderland.

Dave was “the guy in the corner with the loud machines.” His space was positioned in the back – where his power tools and materials waited to be played with. My eyes couldn’t focus on just one thing because there was so much to look at. Wood pieces, big and small, tall and short, skinny and wide – were sprinkled along the walls and stored inside of trash cans. There was a huge cargo container placed in the corner, the inside was cleverly morphed into another mini workshop within his workspace, where more tools, gadgets, and machines were proudly displayed. I recognized his designs that were scattered under and on top of tables, all of them at different stages: just started, almost done, completed masterpiece.

From his Infill Fanicle Table to his City Skyline Wooden Routing, Dave’s intricate designs are truly uncommon and make a charming addition to any space. Read on to learn more about this maker and get a glimpse at his unforgettable creative space.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Phil Thompson

January 14, 2015

Phil Thompson | UncommonGoods

Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, Jeanne Gang—some of the greatest, most renowned names in architecture–have marked their space on the Chicago skyline. Their skyscrapers, public buildings, and homes in the Windy City have shaped modern design over the centuries. It is no wonder, then, why illustrator Phil Thompson finds inspiration in Chicago’s Prairie Style bungalows, classic six-flat brick Craftsman buildings, and skyscraping architectural landmarks. As a recently departed Chicagoan, I can attest that Phil and his wife and studio mate, Katie, live in one of those architecturally remarkable apartments that most of us dream of finding. Built in 1912, the Craftsman flat has many of its original Deco fixtures and warm, comforting wood detailing.
A colleague here at UncommonGoods tipped me off to Phil’s intricate custom home portraits. The cleanliness of his structured, blueprint-like approach suitably matches the sparseness of his studio. He surrounds himself just with what he needs: drawing paper, a basket full of trusty micro-pens, and drafting tools. There are a few exceptions to the sparseness—all of which are largely contained within a small bulletin board—a calendar, the usual lists of to-dos, and some inspirational quotations. Phil also prominently displays a beautiful postcard-size watercolor by his grandmother to remind him of his artistic roots.
I am always thoroughly impressed and warmed by artists that are able to seamlessly and successfully blend their passions and skills. Phil and Katie are two of those artists. He pairs his discerning eye and exacting hand with a passion for accurately rendering architectural styles and the home. Phil’s Classic Home Portraits honor those places where we build memories, families, and community.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Judi Powers

December 11, 2014

Judi Powers Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

When I received the smile-from-ear-to-ear news that I would be visiting Judi Powers’ workspace for a studio tour, I didn’t even try to hold back my excitment. As the go-to person who organized the design challenges from our Brooklyn headquarters, it wasn’t every day that I was able to schmooze with our talented design challenge winners in person. And being Judi’s number one fan girl, I knew this studio tour would be a special one.

I first met Judi at one of our How To Make It design events – not knowing that she was one of our contestants who submitted an entry into our Jewelry Design Challenge months before. I complimented the gorgeous necklace she was wearing, and that’s when she revealed to me that she actually tried to submit that same piece into one of our past Jewelry Design Challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. I immediately knew which entry she was speaking of – a poorly lit photo that didn’t capture the beautiful craftsmanship I saw in person. I told her to submit again with better photos, and didn’t think I’d hear from her anytime soon. Less than a month later, Judi sent in another submission except this time – with much better photos. After passing through three rounds of judging and receiving samples of Judi’s work, it was apparent that the jewelry judges were in love with the handmade A Tree Grows Necklace and crowned her our next jewelry grand prize winner.

Since then, Judi has repeatedly told me that her jewelry career has blossomed. She’s added two more lovely designs into our assortment (including this eye-catching Ear Climber) and has become an irreplaceable member of the shared space studios of Brooklyn Metal Works tucked away in the streets of Brooklyn — where she creates more of her nature-inspired pieces. Meet Judi Powers, an artist and advocate for sustainable jewelry, positive thinking, and good ol’ second chances.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Ronda J Smith

November 14, 2014

Ronda J. Smith Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Studio tours are one of my favorite things about being a part of the blog team here at UncommonGoods; it’s impossible for me to leave a creative space and not feel fascinated, energized, and most of all – inspired. (Okay, and maybe a wee bit jealous.) There’s always new designer lingo, unusual tools, or interesting processes I discover when stepping inside a vendor’s creative haven, and my social media-obsessed alter ego immediately wants to Instagram and tweet everything I see.

Ronda J Smith’s In The Seam studio is absolutely no exception. From her super-duper mega printers to real life Pinterest-like wall quotes and images to her beloved chair that’s showered with eye cut-outs, my curiosity ran wild – and then ran some more. Yet, as much as I adored her studio, it wasn’t exactly In The Seam’s home that got me pumped up for life and wanting to run out the door to simply make something, anything. It was Ronda. She led me to not only feel like I took two shots of espresso, but was ready to conquer the world. I was on a high. Ronda’s energy and enthusiasm towards her craft, projects, and space was overwhelmingly contagious and uplifting. It taught me that whatever I’m doing in life – I should always have that much passion for it, nothing less.

Meet spunky Ronda J Smith, maker of our Indulgent Foods, Elements of NYC, and Custom Pet Pillows. Step inside her studio and be prepared to feel your creative juices flow.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Maggy Ames

October 10, 2014

Maggy Ames | UncommonGoods

One morning a few weeks ago I woke up extra enthusiastic. I couldn’t wait to get to work. That’s because my work day started with a trip into Manhattan to meet an artist whose work I’d loved since the moment I saw it on our tabletop buyers’ sample shelf. I was going to meet Maggy Ames, the maker of the some of the most beautiful stoneware bowls I’d ever seen.

When I got to Maggy’s space, one of the last working corroborative pottery studios in Manhattan, I was happy to see that she was as enthusiastic about the start of the work day as I was. She was ready to start throwing pottery, but she didn’t mind taking a moment to show me and UncommonGoods Photographer Emily around first. We snuck a peek at the kiln room just in time to see a fresh batch of bowls come out, watched Maggy’s team weigh and prepare clay, caught a glimpse at the secret formulas for a few glaze colors, and admired how the clay dust that seemed to touch everything in the studio made the place even more magical.

After our introductions and a little exploring, we watched as Maggy transformed a large, lumpy ball of clay into an exquisitely curved bowl–something she does about 15 times on an average day. Watching the process was certainly inspiring. Talking with Maggy, who’s been making pottery for 30 years and retired from law to became a full-time artist 5 years ago, gave me a much welcome creativity boost too. Whether you’re looking for little motivation to get making, some inspiring words of wisdom, or just some beautiful photos of art in the works, I hope you’ll love meeting Maggy and seeing her studio as well.

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