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wood

Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Amie & Matt Van Susteren–Spreading Sustainable Holiday Cheer

December 7, 2015

As a B Corp certified company, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green” – we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always excited to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

Filling Snowflake Boxes

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft – those who are making an uncommon impact. Meet the owners of Nestled Pines Woodworking, Amie and Matt Van Susteren — who make Maple (and Cherry) Wood Personalized Snowflake Ornaments — and see the ways that they’re helping preserve forests.

Living in Lone Rock, Wisconsin — about an hour west of Madison — is inspiration enough to make sustainable art, Amie tells us. “We’re on the Wisconsin River nestled in a valley. There are coyotes wandering through the backyard. It’s everything idyllic you can imagine about Wisconsin,” she says. “It’s beautiful, and there are so many resources here to be inspired by and pull from.”

Amie and Matt Van Susteren

Amie and Matt Van Susteren 

Seven years ago, the couple decided they wanted to change their lives and embark on a creative endeavor together — but they wanted to make sure any eco footprint from their business would be small. “That part was a no-brainer,” says Amie. “I can’t even imagine not moving forward under this philosophy.” Next, the painter and her hardwood-floor-making husband looked around to see what was at their disposal. “You’re sustainable by using what you have,” she explains. “That’s our motto.”

Forests are plentiful in their area, so it’s not a surprise that, as Amie says, “the wood came first.” Establishing their source material helped them see the laser wood cutter they’d recently acquired in a different light. “It was, ‘Well, we have this and we have this — what can we do with it?’” The answer: intricate wooden ornaments. “There’s a market for crafts in the U.S. and holiday ornaments always feel special,” says Amie. “There’s that sensation you have when you pull your ornaments out every year and they’re new all over again. We want our customers to get as much joy out of the product as we get out of making the work.”

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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.

Sculptures 2
Sculptures 1

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m inspired by the chaos and energy in this building. From hoarders to mad scientists, and everything in between, there are a lot of people here doing a lot of different things. I’m the guy in the corner with the loud machines.

What are your most essential tools?
The table saw is the center of my shop, but the CNC router is the epicenter. Everything that leaves my shop spends some time on the router bed. Other notables – ear protection, music and podcasts, a triangle, and a tape measure.

Dave in his San Francisco Studio
Router

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time is usually unplanned. Some days I hit the ground running and don’t look up until it’s time to go home. Other days I pace or pause between tasks, knolling and tidying. Some days I wander through the workspace and end up somewhere on the other side.

Outside of Dave's Studio
Outside of Dave's Studio 2

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Nothing works perfectly the first time. I now accept and expect problems and trials with every first attempt. Life and work are a series of mistakes and corrections. Rarely do you get it right on the first take.

How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I’m a serial dabbler. I was experimenting with a handheld shop router, cutting designs in relief into wood, which led to intentional designs I would cut by hand with the router. With increased demand I eventually bought a small CNC router, and then a larger one. It was an organic and progressive process for me.

Dave's Tools

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Less talk, more rock. I tiptoed into many new experiences and decisions, sometimes over deliberating. Have more trust in yourself and don’t worry about the hiccups.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I believe in lists. I keep a running list of bite-sized goals and tasks that need to be completed within a window of days and weeks. I also have broader lists of design ideas and plans for business growth that I need to keep checking in on as the months progress. Finally, I have those big, hairy goals that I let marinate in my brain, keeping me dreaming about things that seem almost out of reach.

Wood
Stable

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Immediately and always.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.” -Daniel Burnham

I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have larger plans for myself. Being self employed by making things was always a huge goal of mine, but I had no idea how I’d ever get there. It’s good to get riled up and make bold plans.

Daniel Burnham Quote

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Currently, wood turning on the lathe, welding, and metal casting.
I often try to kickstart creativity with heightened focus or by visiting art blogs and museums, but I’ve found this rarely works for me. Most of my creativity arrives unannounced and often at inopportune times. I usually stop what I’m doing to focus on it. It’s important. It’s the fertilizer of my work.

Wooden Routing Art  by Dave Marcoullier  | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
Ultimately, the greatest collaborator of my work is my wife. She has a strong instinct for design that I trust. I bounce all my new ideas off her and take her suggestions seriously. My wood shop is within a small collective of about a half dozen craftspeople, and this collective is within a giant warehouse of about 250 people. My shop mates are metal workers, blacksmiths, glass artists and engineers, which means I’m exposed to other crafts and ways of working. It’s helpful that when I need to venture into metal work there is usually someone to help me, and I them. I thrive in solitude but need bursts of interaction.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Cassidy Schulz Brush

February 2, 2014

IMG_0452

No matter how much I prepare before a Studio Tour, I never know exactly what to expect when I step into a creative workspace. On the way to my most recent artist encounter I traveled up New York Avenue by bus, out of my own Brooklyn neighborhood and into a close by, but unfamiliar, area somewhere between Bed-Stuy and Willaimsburg, I wondered what I’d see when I arrived at Cassidy Schulz Brush’s studio, Urban Chandy. After getting off at my stop, I wandered down a street that seemed to be a mix of industrial and urbane. I walked past warehouses and large trucks making deliveries, but also passed several people who looked like they could be on their way to art shows or coming from trendy coffee shops.

When I entered Cassidy’s studio, I found that same juxtaposition of city chic and industry. Of course, it’s what I should have been expecting all along, considering that Cassidy and her team so beautifully combine mechanical elements (like wires, sockets, and bulbs) and gorgeous reclaimed materials (like barn wood or vintage ceiling tiles) to create her chandeliers–or chandies, as she calls them.

The space is lit by a combination of sunshine pouring in large windows and the exposed bulbs hanging from its many chandies. Stacks of wood, various tools, and spools of wire line most of the walls there, and the remaining wall is covered in chalkboard paint and filled with chalky lists and numbers. Surrounded by so many details, I felt like I could explore the studio all day examining the many combinations of old and new. Here’s a closer look inside Urban Chandy, and some great advice from Cassidy Schulz Brush.

Industrial Chandelier | UncommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
The coffee maker, I couldn’t live without it! Seriously, it has helped make many a chandy.;) Besides coffee, my three most essential tools are wire strippers, the drill, and the belt sander.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I’m inspired by the materials we bring in, every lot of wood is different and brings new challenges and surprises. I have to make time to develop all of the ideas I have between filling orders which is difficult when also chasing after a 3 year old.

IMG_0460
Urban Chandy | UncommonGoods

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There is no down time in the studio! I cherish every minute that I get to spend there so I keep very busy every second, so much to do so little time. It’s not yet a place I can bring my daughter, with all the small parts, power tools, and stain odors, so I make each day count.

Wood and Tiles

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
It’s a tough lesson to learn that others will knock off your ideas. Instead of getting angry, I try to keep looking forward and creating new and better products.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
I would tell myself to have more confidence and trust my instincts more.

How do you set goals for yourself?
My one goal is to keep making the best that I can do better. I’ve said many times over the last two years that this business just took off by itself, I’ve just been along for the ride. I feel my role is to just focus on the product and design, constantly improving it.

Getting Organized
Tools

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I try to remind myself often how lucky I am to be where I am with this business and my career. I’m very ambitious and like to challenge myself, but I try to internalize every achievement as a small victory and appreciate the hard work I’ve done that lead to it.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
There are a few quotes by Thomas Edison that I find inspirational! Edison, an inventor and businessman was quoted as saying, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” It’s one of my favorites along with another I have written on our blackboard at the studio: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Edison QuoteWhat are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Right now I’m learning about patinas and how to create different colors on copper and brass with various compounds that speed up oxidation and other chemical processes that tarnish the metal. I’ve only been fabricating for two years now, so I still feel like I learn something new everyday. I studied Business Administration in college!

How do you recharge your creativity?
I like to recharge by playing with my daughter and spending time with my family. I love building things for my daughter Lucy and with her as well. We like to build forts together, it gets pretty involved at our house. Anything is game to become part of a fort…including the dog!

Painted Sockets

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I enjoy sharing ideas with other makers and feel lucky to know a few great people who always inspire and encourage me to keep doing what I’m doing. Matt and Steve Loftice at RecycledBrooklyn, Tyagi Schwartz of Dog Tag Designs, and Chris Harth of NY Cutlery have been great friends and mentors to me the last year.

Maker Stories

Jeff Knight’s Dreamy Cutting Board Wins the Woodworking Design Challenge

April 4, 2013

It’s not news that we’re extremely proud of our artists, and our newest UncommonGoods artist is no exception. From almost 100 Woodworking Design Challenge entries, Jeff Knight’s Nimbus Cloud Cutting Board made our judges sigh, giggle and announce Winner!. But the more we learn about Jeff, the more we realize the breadth of his talents. Meet Jeff – woodworker, graphic designer, t-shirt entrepreneur, travel writer and the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family.

What is the most uncommon thing about you?
I think the most uncommon thing about me is my renaissance-man attitude toward projects. I’m the kind of guy who likes to roll up my sleeves and figure out a way to make a good idea happen. If that means learning a new tool or trade, then so be it. I have a pretty big range of hobbies and interests. I keep myself busy and always look forward to learning something new. This past year I’ve been involved in various projects from co-founding a design club to partnering in the launch of a pop-up t-shirt store.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by a variety of things; nature, comic books, toys, games, classic films, art, midcentury design, social events, friends, family, etc. I try to keep my eyes and ears open to things, and when inspiration strikes I’m usually prepared with a sketchbook close by. A weekly trip to a thrift shop sometimes helps rekindle my inspiration. You never know when looking at an old dinner plate or album cover will provide inspiration for a future project.

How did you get into woodworking?
My dad was a woodworker as long as I can remember, so naturally, as a child, I used to hang out in the wood shop and build little things from the scraps of his projects. Sometimes a block of wood could be a pirate ship or an airplane. Much later in life, I found making things from wood familiar and comforting because of my upbringing. My dad had everything to do with my love of woodworking.

How do graphic design and woodworking fit together in your craft?
Form and function are important in what I do for both design and woodworking. I’m heavily guided by both concepts. There’s a back and forth tendency of wanting to make things function as a usable object, but also to craft that thing into a beautiful form. I find both graphic design and woodworking require a mastery of certain tools, but they also both require a sense of wonder, creativity and imagination to produce engaging results that resonate with people.

How do you market your designs on the web?
I’m not a huge marketer of my own work. So far I’ve found the best success through social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo. Like this contest, I couldn’t have gone very far without a strong group of supportive friends and family. There are so many tools available online to help get your name out there, it just takes some time and a little bit of strategic planning. If people like your work, they’ll share it and pretty soon folks take interest in what you’re doing and eventually that turns into sales.

Describe your workspace.
Luckily my woodworking takes place at a co-op space called DIY Wood Studio. They help keep the place neat and tidy so whenever I need something, the right tool is in its place. My workspace for graphic, however, is a complete mess. I surround myself with good, inspiring design in the form of toys, posters, magazines, funky objects, books and tons of other stuff. Because of that, I have Post-Its, drawings and other notes all over because I get ideas often and need to write them down or sketch them out.

Any advice to artists and designers thinking about entering an UncommonGoods design challenge?
Take a risk and enter. Be sure to rally up your friends and colleagues, they can be some of your best chances to filling in votes. But, above all, don’t let negative comments get you down. Constructive criticism is one thing, but personal preferences and insults are not necessary in the creative process.

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Urban Lumberjack

November 23, 2012

The Urban Lumberjack may reside in the city–a forest of concrete and steel–but that doesn’t stop him from embracing his manliness. No one’s really sure exactly what his chin looks like, since it hasn’t been without a beard in years. He looks great in a flannel. His stocking cap is his favorite accessory, and to him, calloused hands aren’t a problem, they’re just the result of a good day’s work. He’s ruggedly handsome; sophisticated, yet street smart; and stylish in a down-to-earth fashion. Sure, he’s not always easy to shop for, but if you’re pining to find the perfect gift for this masculine metropolitan man, one of these city-chic gifts with outdoorsy appeal will surely get you out of the woods.

Cardboard Moose Head / Wooden 6 Pack Beer Tote / Pancake Plate / Mushroom Kit / Wood Tie / Upcycled Tent Dopp Kit / Penny Bottle Opener / The Man Can Grooming Kit