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Studio Tours

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Margaret Dorfman

September 9, 2014

Margaret Dorfman | UncommonGoods

As the UncommonGoods Jewelry Buyer, I see amazing artistry from artists and designers using all sorts of materials. We are always delighted when we find an artist who uses uncommon materials in an unexpected way. Margaret Dorfman is one such artist. She transforms fruits and vegetables into parchments that she then uses to make gorgeous bowls, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.

Margaret’s relationship with UncommonGoods has been a long one, dating all the way back to 1999. Fifteen years later, she continues to delight us and our customers with her lovely organic creations. As a huge fan of Margaret’s work myself, I was super excited to meet her and learn about her process.

Margaret’s studio is tucked away on a lovely tree lined street in Oakland, California. I knew I had arrived at the right place as I walked down the path to her studio entrance. That morning, before my arrival, she had received a delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables and the walkway was lined with boxes and bags containing all imaginable varieties of fruits and veggies. I saw pears, oranges, papayas, cabbages, and bell peppers just to name a few!

Orange Earrings

Stepping into Margaret’s space was truly like stepping into a secret garden. Shelves were lined with finished pieces and the vivid jewel toned colors of her work popped against the crisp white walls. On the center table of her work space, she had oranges piled high and had pulled finished pieces made from oranges so I could see the “before and after.”

Margaret was lovely–so warm and welcoming–and she let me pepper her with questions about herself and her technique. I love hearing about the path our artists take to doing what they do. Margaret’s path was an uncommon one; she spent many years as a professional sign language interpreter, before leaving in 2001 to concentrate on her art. In seeing her work with such dexterity as she cut into fruits and vegetables, I could see the connection between her years as an interpreter and her current work as an artist.

Holding up her pressed vegetable parchment sheets to the light was magical – the pieces are translucent, and you notice every detail of the intricate structure of the vegetables and fruits. The colors in her pieces are vivid. I was struck by how the original colors were retained, even after being pressed.

As our visit came to a close, Margaret introduced me to her frequent studio-mate, her cockatoo Bindel, a sweet boy with a spirited personality! It was a such a delightful end to a great visit. Meet Margaret and learn more about her colorful world!

Veggie Parchment | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
My mandolin. It a special cutter that lets me calibrate the thickness of the veggies and fruit slices. I have four of these and around 40 blades that are sharpened weekly.

My other essential tools are my custom-made marine hydraulic presses. I have two hydraulic presses, both of which were designed and custom built for me. They are are quite large and heavy, exerting pressure of 175 plus and 125 tons, respectively. They are made of steel and were brought in pieces and welded into place in my studio. One is 7 feet tall and the smaller one is 6 feet tall with a pressing surface of a 3 1/2 ft squaremand 4 1/2 ft square, respectively.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
Often just looking at the slices of vegetables or juxtaposition of the parchment sheets will give me new ideas.

I like to keep my studio as unadorned as possible–lots of bare white walls–so as not to have competing visual “noise.”

Cutting Veggies
Veggies

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I do usually work 7 days a week and more hours than I`d like to admit. I have a fairly strict schedule in my work day. I try to take a long walk in the morning before starting work.

My 16-year-old cockatoo, Bintel (his name means “a little bundle” in Yiddish), joins me in the studio most days and his antics and demands for attention certainly provides ongoing work breaks.

My husband and I make sure we have dinner together every night, and that is always a time to relax and recharge.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Not to over promise in quantity to be delivered or dates to be made–and never, ever skimp on quality. There is nothing that will ruin your reputation faster than either not delivering on time or delivering an item not up to standards.

Sometimes things do happen that are out of your control, and having a strong track record as someone who follows through on commitments will see you through these bumps in the road.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
There will always be new and exciting ideas to try. Always make sure that there is time and enough space put aside to experiment and answer those most interesting questions that start with the phrase “What would happen if I…”

trays

How do you set goals for yourself?
I make a variety of items from fruit and vegetables: vessels, kites, garlands, as well as several lines of jewelry. I work with galleries, museum shops, gift shops and of course UncommonGoods! Usually my goals are set for me via the orders I need to fill.

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
A victory or unexpected success usually involves a dinner out with my husband. One that includes chocolate!

What quote keeps you motivated?
“Greatness exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked.”-Leonard Koren. Koren wrote the first book on the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, long before it became somewhat of a cliché.

This quote resonates with me because it speaks to a way of seeing and being in the world — and of finding beauty in overlooked and commonplace things- like fruit and vegetables.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I’m trying to refine my skills in what I do–stretching the limits and working on making more complex, multi-layered jewelry and larger, more sculptural pieces.

Veg_Parchment

How do you recharge your creativity?
I love going to Farmers Markets and seeing what is new and seasonal. I am lucky to live in an area where there are not only lots of Farmers markets, but also multicultural neighborhoods where ethnic produce markets are plentiful. Chinatown, Koreatown, and the Hispanic area are all places nearby where I can see unusual varieties of fruit and vegetables that spark my imagination.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I am a bit of a loner, and so I haven’t done much collaboration with other artists. I did do a line of handmade shoji screens (daikon with fish and seaweed parchment) with master Japanese craftsmen whose family have made shoji for 300 years. I would love to collaborate with a professional woodworker who would be interested in some projects! (Anyone?)

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio With Deborah Stotzky and Erwin List Sanchez

August 15, 2014

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Erwin List Sanchez and Deborah Stotzky are exactly who you would imagine when you think of partners who design Yoga Jewel Pendants for a living : peaceful, positive, and calm. After only five minutes of chatting with the couple and exploring their home, they were no longer just the “Yoga Jewels” designers in my mind, but simply Erwin and Deborah.

I knew the moment I walked down their quiet East Village street that I was about to be welcomed into one of the most charming home studios I’ve ever seen. Their street is the kind of street I wished to move to when I first thought about moving to New York City ten years ago based on all of the NYC-based movies I watched. (Just to name a few: Manhattan, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally.) And by no surprise, my assumption was proven correct when I stepped into their apartment and found myself gawking around as if it were a quaint museum that I just so happened to run into on a Sunday stroll.

I immediately could tell everything that they hung on their walls or displayed on their shelves carried a personal story. “We brought that back from Mexico,” “Erwin designed this, actually,” “We took that photo,” and “We found those on the ground. Can you believe it?” were some of the comments Deborah would say when I inquired on an interesting piece. I loved that their studio had a memory tucked behind every corner– with their work table stationed in the middle of their home —  inspiration was always just at an arm’s length.

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

How did you come up with the concept of your Yoga Pose Pendants’ design?

Erwin: I’m a sculptor and work with various materials.  Although I’ve always made jewelry, in terms of pure sculptures I was more accustomed to working on a much larger scale.  I’m from Mexico and always had outdoor space to make art.  But when I first moved to NYC and into our small, Chelsea apartment, I quickly realized that if  I wanted to make art, I would have to work on a much smaller scale!  That’s how the jewelry idea was born. Deborah practices yoga a lot, so I got the opportunity to see a lot of yoga positions.  I started to sculpt the poses I observed.

Deborah: A friend of ours, Saya Hibino, who is a beautiful jewelry designer saw some pieces and really encouraged us to make a collection.

You were a semi-finalist for one of our Jewelry Design Challenges. How did you discover our contest?

D: Another friend and extremely talented artist named Jennifer Mahlman is a fan of UncommonGoods and saw the Jewelry Design Challenge advertised.  She emailed it to me the day of the entry deadline and we dropped everything to make sure we got our entry in on time!

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Tell us about your journey towards becoming an artist.

E: I’ve always made art, since I was a kid.  And invented things too.  I would come up with new ideas and try to figure out how to make them.

D: Like a magnetic race car set, at age 5!  Art was around him and it became a way for him to express himself.  He made clay animals.  He loved to walk along the railroad tracks and there he collected hundreds of huge nails from which he made an amazing collection of life size animals. He studied art in Toluca, Mexico and then moved to Cozumel, Mexico to scuba dive.  There he made art with found materials like coral, beach wood, horseshoe crab shells – beautiful work.  Nature and animals are subjects that constantly come up in his work.  I remember the first piece of jewelry he made for me was a piece of round coral dipped in sterling silver.  It was inspired by a full moon. That’s when I fell in love with the guy!

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

What freedoms do you experience as artists?

E: You have the freedom of your mind.

What does yoga mean to you?

D: Yoga is like the foundation of my life.  From there everything else grows.  It hasn’t always been that way, but for about the last 12 years it has.  I do yoga as often as I can, daily if possible.  And I teach yoga weekly, give yoga retreats in Mexico, and I’m a part of a huge yoga community.  Yoga helps me live my life more in the way I want to live it.  When I fall, it helps me get back up.  It’s a powerful way to spend some time daily. Also, I am not a huge technology lover but surprisingly to me, social media influences me a lot too – between Yoga Jewels and teaching yoga I am connected to so many yogis around the world.  It is  mostly a pretty inspiring community of people, with insightful things to say and amazing photos to share.

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

What different techniques and tools do you use when creating your designs at your studio?

E: I use the Lost Wax Process when creating Yoga Pose Pendants.  We’re always thinking about different finishes for the pieces and we are starting to set gem stones in our designs as well.

Can you walk us through the step by step process of creating your Yoga Pose Pendants?

D: Sure.  We usually discuss which poses we think would make a beautiful necklace.  Then I ”strike the pose” for Erwin to see it in the flesh. We also look online for photos of beautiful examples of the pose, done correctly with proper alignment and from different angles.  Our Lotus Pose was based on a lovely photo of Christie Turlington and our Bow Pose was based on a photo of yoga teacher Baron Baptiste, who was the very first person I trained with to become a Yoga Instructor.

Once we have the pose selected and great photos to work from, Erwin begins to sculpt it in wax.  We then create a mold and ultimately cast it in various metals.  We normally use sterling silver, 14k yellow, and rose gold.  Then the pieces are polished or finished in some other way.

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Were you first attempts of making these jewels a success? 

D:  They were a success from the beginning.  The first two pieces Erwin made were the Wheel and Bow poses.  When I first saw them completed, I was very moved. They truly capture the grace and strength it takes to do these poses.  They have spirit and movement, it is so cool to see people try them on, because when someone finds “their pose” it just comes alive on them!

Where do you find inspiration within your home studio?

D: I find inspiration when I teach and practice yoga at home.  Both Erwin and I are inspired by nature; I think it helps us return to our natural knowing. It’s very uncomplicated.  It’s hard to connect to nature in NYC – but not impossible.  We try hard to have a super calm environment and we try to surround ourselves with pretty things that feel organic in some way – shape, tone, texture.  We love skulls and bones and flowers and pottery.  And we are both really neat and clean, which goes a long way when you live and work together in a small space!

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

How do you create a work-life balance, not just as a couple and as business partners, but also individually?

D: That’s probably the biggest challenge for us, both as partners and individually. Erwin teaches scuba diving and is a photographer.  I am studying herbs, particularly those that grow in the Northeast of the US.

The pros of being a couple and business partners is that it’s really fun and rewarding and we are an excellent team. The con is that we work a lot!  Which I guess really isn’t a con, because we feel really lucky about it all. I thought technology was supposed to make things easier! And it does in some ways, but  it also makes us reachable at all times.  And our minds are constantly going – new ideas,  looking at art, receiving new orders – there’s a lot of mind stimulation!  And that is what we want, of course, but sometimes we need to stop, be present and just be. This area of life, the balance between work and the rest of life is really challenging for us.

So we go out with our dog, Ella (who fell in love with the UncommonGoods crew when you all met!), and walk along the Hudson River everyday. We try to see the sunset as often as possible. We love to be in the country with Ella as well. And Erwin and I love to travel together.  We first met in Mexico and go there often, as Erwin’s family is there.  But we are going to Thailand in the fall and I cannot wait!  And because it’s summer, if we are in the country on Saturdays, we wake up early and drive around to all the yard sales!  We get great stuff!

If you’re not a yoga fan – would you recommend Yoga Pose Pendants to someone?

D: Certain poses I would!  From a distance, the Bow Pose appears to be a beautifully sculpted circle until you get up close and see it’s a person doing a Bow Pose!  And that pose is really about opening our hearts so it is a great message for everyone.  A non-yogi once told me that she wore Bow Pose over her heart to remind herself to live life with an open heart.  I thought – YES!  She has totally gotten the deeper meaning of yoga and what we are thinking about with Yoga Jewels!

Are there any major projects, collaborations, or ideas you’re working on now that you want to talk about?

E: We are constantly working on new ideas for jewelry and sculpture and ways we can use our work to raise money for causes that are important to us like animal conservation.

Yoga Jewels Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

 

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.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods
What are your most essential tools?
My hands.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My inspiration comes from working the clay, and inside my head… that’s where the designs come from.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhere does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time??? I am supposed to have down time??? Elwood disagrees! (Though we do have company outings, and frequent lunches where we attempt to take turns making various foods for all to enjoy.)

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
I was never a “young” designer. I started learning to make pottery when I was 40+ years old. The best lesson I learned was the harder you worked, the luckier you got!

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhat advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Advice to the me of five years ago…learn bookkeeping.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I set goals HIGH… then stretch to reach them.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsWhat quote keeps you motivated?
I don’t have only one quote… there are several: “If you argue for your limitations, then all you get is to keep them.” “Well-behaved women never make history.” “Never teach a pig to sing… it’s a waste of your time and it only annoys the pig.” “Behind every successful woman is a man who’s surprised.” I guess what they all mean to me is that you have to keep going, keep motivated and put your energy where it will do the most good.

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
New skills? Every day is an opportunity to learn something, but I am not attending workshops or classes personally.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsInside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoodsHow do you recharge your creativity?
Vodka, definitely vodka.

Where does collaboration come into play with you craft?
Pottery is one on one, me and the clay. However, when I come up with a new design, I do run it past my crew to see if it will be viable. As an artist, though, I tend to make things I like, things I’d like to have around me.

Inside the Artist's Studio with JoAnn Stratakos | UncommonGoods

Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn | UncommonGoods

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

A Tale of Two Studios in London

May 12, 2014

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods_7115

If you knew me well, you would know that my absolutely favorite thing to do in life is to travel. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my beloved Brooklyn. But anytime vacation time rolls around, I’m the first one to hail a taxi straight to JFK –wide eyed, bushy tailed, and passport in hand. There’s nothing better than experiencing a new city,  a new language, new food, and a new culture.  My most recent destination of choice was London. (Okay, I wouldn’t exactly be experiencing a new language in London, but beautiful British accents have to count for something, right?) As I was planning out my itinerary — London Bridge. Get lost in the tube. Brick Lane thrift shopping. Enjoy a cuppa. Big Ben. Borough Market. Run into Kate and William. — I realized I still had a couple of free days to burn. I was traveling alone, so why not take advantage of the situation? I decided to do my second favorite thing ever: meet creative people.

A Tale of Two Studios in London

I sent out an email to our buying team asking if we worked with any interesting artists living in London in hopes of setting up a studio tour. When I received responses, I couldn’t ignore the fact that we worked with two different graphic designers who place their designs on tea towels and lived in London. The blog team brainstormed the idea that I should meet with both versus just meeting with one. One seven hour plane ride, two near-death experiences because I didn’t know which way to look while crossing the street, three “you’re on the wrong bus” moments, and one tightly squeezed tube ride later — I was finally sitting in a cafe with the two designers: Stuart Gardiner of Stuart Gardiner Design and Lahla Smart of The Food Guide.

This was the first time they met each other, and given the fact that they produce similar products, I do have to admit I was a bit nervous about how awkwardly this coffee rendezvous could have unfolded. Yet, with our lovely stroll near Walthamstow Central Station and chatting in-between our sips of coffee inside a quaint cafe, I would have to say it was such a success that I was this close in creating the hashtag #BritishTeaTowelDesignersUnite! A bit after our coffee and chat,  I visited Stuart’s studio first, and then ended my afternoon at Lahla’s. Lucky for me, their studios weren’t too far apart from each other — I promise I only had to ask for directions once.

Read what each artist believes sets their graphic designs apart from the next, their takes on switching roles from a graphic designer to a product developer, and their thoughts about living and running a business in London.  

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

What’s the biggest challenge you had to conquer with your business running in London while UncommonGoods is located in Brooklyn?

Stuart: It’s not been a big challenge at all really, just that there’s larger order volumes (which is great!), and the boxes travel further. I’m not a very numerate person, so fluctuating exchange rates confuse the hell out of me when I’m working out costings. Also the American way of writing the date (month/day/year) as opposed to the UK’s (day/month/year) causes mild confusion on purchase orders. Other than that, it’s no big deal.

Lahla: Working with UncommonGoods has been surprisingly easy, considering we are 4000 miles apart! I guess the hardest thing has been making sure I use the right grammar in my designs. Us Brits eat ‘yoghurt’, whilst Brooklyn folk eat ‘yogurt’.

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

One of my favorite things about Stuart’s studio is that it’s tucked away inside a garden-esque courtyard, only welcoming those who are lucky enough to know about it.

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

From a designer’s perspective, what are the advantages of living in London?

S: Inspiration is everywhere. It has so much history, culture, and ethnic diversity that just walking around gets ideas flowing. Even though I’ve lived here 15 years, I’m still discovering surprises all the time. If I ever need to recharge creativity, then some of the world’s best galleries and museums are on my doorstep. Not that I ever get time to.

L: In my opinion it’s the best city in the world! (Sorry NY, a close second). London is always changing, areas can morph surprising quickly – which means fresh faces and new ventures are always popping up. It’s an inspiring place for a designer – everything seems accessible, on a very practical level. London is so much smaller than NY, I can cycle to just about everywhere I want to visit.  If there is a new exhibition going on it’s ‘just down the road’ !

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Are there any other cities that you feel can give you more creative freedom?

S: Having never lived in any other cities I can’t really say, though I love visiting NYC, and would imagine it would be just as inspiring as London.

L: Umm yes, NY would be a great place to live and work for a while. I’ve visited a couple of times over the past few years and love the buzz of the city. Like bits of London, but scaled up! As a self-confessed foodie, I was in complete heaven in Brooklyn. The US has such a love for ‘good’ food and ingredients in a way that you just don’t see so much in the UK. I had a seriously good time at the taco competition at Smorgasburg last month!

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Stuart, your studio is great! What’s your favorite aspect about it?

S: The fact that it’s a 3 minute walk from my home, it’s light, spacious, airy and has character – it was once a stone mason’s workshop. There’s also some very talented other creatives I share [the space]with, an architect, two silversmiths, and a fine artist.

If there was one thing you could change about it, what would it be?

S: A table tennis table or skate park within. It would be bad for business though.

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoodsA Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Not only are you graphic designers, but you work heavily on placing your designs on everyday, convenient products. Do you mind speaking about switching roles from a graphic designer to a product developer?

S: It’s been a very liberating experience. My background was that of a client-facing graphic designer. In that role you are constantly compromising your work in one way or another to the client’s whim – just ask any graphic designer and they’ll emphatically concur. This is all just part of the job, but can be frustrating as your initial concept gets watered-down, tampered with and often designed by committee. Now I get to design my own products, just as I want them. They either sell well, or not so well, so I learn from my mistakes.

L: Having the freedom to do several roles is what I love most about running my own business. I have always been really interested in the geekier side of business (AKA: spreadsheet queen.) as well as hands on making and the creative process. I’ve spent the last 5 years , since graduating, working with other small businesses, picking up marketing skills, and learning the ins and outs of actually running a business and getting products made. I try to use a different material or manufacturing process in each product I make, this way I learn a little more each time.

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Stuart, one of your favorite quotes is “Design is thinking made visual.” What does this quote mean to you?

S: It’s by Saul Bass – one of my all-time favorite designers – so that’s reason alone. Also it’s quite a broad and vague statement which is similar to the way I go about my work. I have a very organic unstructured approach to design: the opposite of methodical. I design visually as I think, working with color, type, image, and form in no particular order, until I’m happy with a final design. Or tired of looking at it, and need to move on.

A Tale of Two London Studios | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Lahla, how did the birth of The Food Guide come about?

L: I still blame (thank) my housemates for the birth of The Food Guide. I love to cook and they would always ask me questions about nutrition so, one day, I put together the Vitamins & Minerals design to hang in our kitchen. After that friends and family asked for copies so I put caution to the wind and ordered 100 printed towels – that was 14 months ago. Last week I sold my 2000th towel. Hurray!

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Compared to many of the home studios I’m used to seeing in Brooklyn, Lahla’s space was spacious, airy, and very much a creative haven for any artist to walk into and be immediately inspired. 

You’re living in an apartment that is also your studio. What’s the biggest setback about this?

L: Space is the biggest problem. The lounge is usually full of overflowing boxes, especially before Christmas. Luckily my boyfriend is forever understanding (so far)! We live in an old print warehouse so the rooms are large and bright, it’s a nice place to work and there is always tea on tap. We were recently given a rather large and fancy looking coffee machine too – a massive highlight in my day. I have several friends that also run their own businesses, so we often meet to work or chat in a local coffee shop. This holds off the cabin fever!

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

What sets your graphic designs apart from other designs?

L: Am I the right person the answer that!? I hope that my designs inspire people to take an active interest in the foods they eat and where their food comes from – everything I make has to carry information or encourage playfulness, not just look good. My degree in Sustainable Product Design made me realize that the key to a lot of good designs, products and services is communication. As a designer, I try to tell a good story – to make complicated things appear simple. Hopefully my designs embody a little of this thinking.

S: In terms of my commercial info graphic pieces, I think that the depth of research and detail involved in creating them makes them stand out from other products on the shelf. They just simply aren’t be economically viable for a high street brand or chain to churn out for their quarterly collection, as the hours of work put into them would be too much for a profit-driven business plan. I also believe that people enjoy the fact that they’re gaining knowledge and insight on a subject matter that they’re passionate about on product that looks appealing.

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Lahla, are there any big projects or ideas you want to speak about?

L: There have been a lot of new developments this year – I’m very excited about the launch of my new ceramic collection. The Pot & Shovel collection includes three unique pieces. Pot & Shovel is flowerpot shaped bowl perfect for summer desserts or serving up an impressive soufflé, Eggpot & Shovel is to delight egg-lovers, and our Salt ‘n’ Pepper Pots  are for table-proud friends. I started hand making the miniature shovel teaspoons for the collection in my bathroom last November, borrowing my friends kiln and spending many sleepless nights getting up to check the temperature was right (at 4am).  Since then (and for an easier life) I now work with a family-run pottery in Stoke-On-Trent, the town where traditional English bone china is made. As you can imagine, they are experts in what they do!

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

What’s always at an arm’s reach while you’re working?

L: A cup of tea and my wonderful Apple Magic Mouse.

S: My visual reference books. I’ve been collecting them since art school – nearly 20 years. They’re rather neglected these days though, what with the internet at hand.

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Lahla, One of your favorite quotes is “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” What does this quote mean to you?

L: A few years ago, I was pondering what to do next, I couldn’t decided whether to start up The Food Guide now or wait, find a ‘proper’ job in the city or study first. A friend then told me to ‘just get started’ – she said I should start small and just see what happens, but just start. The Food Guide was born a week later. For any designer, it’s the ago old problem, nothing is ever finished or quite ready. The advice I’d give to anyone with the same dilemma is start, and learn the rest as you go.

A Tale of Two London Studios | UncommonGoods

A big thank you to Stuart and Lahla for meeting with me and making my London trip that much more special! I hope I’m able to see you sooner than later, knowing that New York is your second city of choice. Cheers!

A Tale of Two Studios: London | UncommonGoods

Stuart Gardiner Collection
Lahla Smart's Food Guide | UncommonGoods