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Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jewelry Designer Trudy James

January 31, 2019

Jewelry maker Trudy James in her California studio, photos by Emily Hodges

Trudy James’ gorgeous jewelry designs, like her Nest Egg Necklace and Elephant and Her Little Peanuts Necklace, quickly became some of our bestselling gifts for daughters, mothers, and grandmothers. The artist handcrafts her nature-inspired pieces using high quality material that she’s collected from around the world. I dropped by her workspace in Oceanside, in between Los Angeles and San Diego, to discuss the concepts behind her sentimental pieces–she often celebrates motherhood, gratitude, and love–and to learn about her everyday inspirations. (And, of course, to try on all of her beautiful treasures.)

Trudy includes 1-4 little amazonite eggs to represent your baby birds in her Nest Egg Necklace

Trudy’s workspace is located in her home, in a room 100% dedicated to her craft. Her sweet dog, Layla, greeted me at the front door when I arrived and, alongside Trudy, led me into the well-lit studio. Stacked and organized against the back wall were “in-progress” and “completed” jewelry pieces inside labeled boxes, and her desk space proudly showcased tools and the necklaces she was currently tinkering with. At every corner of the room, I spotted photos of family and friends, travel keepsakes, and…bird’s nests, lots and lots of bird’s nests! Trudy’s space, like her designs, is truly one-of-a-kind. The moment I stepped in I could easily see that she put her entire self into her special oasis to reflect herself and her passions.

I later learned that the nests sprinkled around her studio played as small reminders and tokens of gratitude for the success of her Nest Egg Necklace design–inspiring her to not only focus on her business, but also to keep her creative vision alive. Read on to learn how Trudy came up with the concept for another design hit, how Albert Einstein influences her day-to-day work, and when her creative chaos usually begins!

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio: Luke Hobbs Sheds Light on Industrial Design

October 5, 2018

Industrial designer Luke Hobbs in his Hollywood, California, studio, photos by Emily Hodges

Knowing that Luke Hobbs’ handcrafted lamps carry a mix of industrial-vintage flair, it wasn’t a surprise that his space held the same allure. Luke’s Hollywood studio is the perfect spot for a scavenger hunt if marquee signs, tiny brass animals, and posed mannequins are on your list. A corner display mimicking an old-timey parlor—charming bookshelf wallpaper, steel cocktail shakers, and antique encyclopedias—was revealed right when I walked through the garage entrance.

A few steps away from what Luke calls “the whiskey lounge,” lamps were placed in sections that were in different stages of production: wooden block bases being cut, bases ready-to-be stained, and tiny sculptures about to get polished. “How did you come up with this hand-touch concept?” I asked as I placed my index finger on and off the Mr. Owl Touch Lamp, watching the light bulb flicker. “It’s honestly not a brand new concept, it’s the design that makes it different.”

When I continued to check out the rest of Luke’s garage space, alongside several of his tools and machinery, dozens of spray paint cans and paint buckets were lined up against the wall shelves. In the very back, I noticed piles and piles of sculptures ranging from airplanes to cats—waiting to be selected for his next lamp design. In awe of Luke’s organized chaos, I decided to challenge him a bit by asking if he had my favorite animal, a whale, swimming in these piles. Challenge accepted! He disappeared and returned in two minutes with a little brass whale sitting on his palm. He went on to tell me why he can’t complete one lamp in one day, how Mack Trucks inspired his first design, and why a getaway car might be needed when it’s time recharge his creative juices.

 

What are your most essential tools?

Hands. My hands definitely qualify for the most essential. Nothing would get done without them.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?

I’ve created different areas within my workspace, including the “whiskey lounge” which is generally used as a finished display of product staging, but also for inspiration. And maybe some whiskey.

Mr. Owl Touch Lamp, photo by UncommonGoods’ creative team

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Michale Dancer

January 5, 2018

Michale Dancer in her Bay Area studio, photos by Emily Hodges

From fallen leaves found during nature hikes to pasta bow ties that just so happened to be dinner for the night, there’s nothing that Michale Dancer can’t dip in 24-karat gold… or copper, or silver! Michale is a creative director, product developer, and jewelry designer extraordinaire based in the Bay Area of Northern California, and the one question she’s constantly asking herself is, “Can I dip this in gold?” Usually the answer to that question is, “Why, of course.”

When I visited Michale’s studio, I was shocked to see so many random items, objects we usually take for granted, carefully tucked away or patiently waiting for their gold/silver/copper makeover. Four leaf clovers, coffee beans, peanuts, sand dollars, maple leaves, dog biscuits, and pieces of kale are just a few items Michale has learned to perfect transforming over the years into stunning jewelry pieces or soon-to-be heirloom ornaments. Michale says, “Truthfully, we can’t stop designing. We have to control ourselves as we already have so many [designs]!”

Prior to my visit, I knew that Michale dipped the actual items and didn’t replicate shapes through a molding process. But seeing the pieces right there in front of me—a peanut’s natural “before” state and then its glamorous “after”—I definitely started to feel skeptical. “So, every single piece you work with… it really is the actual item behind the gold?” I asked. Michale smiled and nodded her head. “Every single piece! It’s real. Shake the gold peanut necklace you’re holding right now.” I followed Michale’s directions and, sure enough, I heard the little peanuts inside bounce around the walls of the shell. From that moment, I truly understood that Michale’s inspiration is literally… everywhere, which can be a blessing and a curse. “I’m always stopping. Whether I’m hiking right outside my house or going to the market or cooking with natural spices, I always find something that I know I can potentially use as a design.”

We’re used to nature decaying throughout the seasons or eating and throwing away food every day, yet Michale gives a second life to certain items and elevates their beauty for others to treasure as a keepsake for years to come. Read our Q&A below and find out how many hours it takes Michale to complete just one design from start to finish, plus why Steve Jobs keeps her motivated every single day.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Christine Schmidt

September 7, 2017

Christine Schmidt soaking up the San Francisco sun, photos by Emily Hodges

Colorful. That describes the running theme inside Christine Schmidt’s home, and also sums up the very core of the artist’s personality. (What type of artist you might ask? Oh, just a printmaker, jewelry designer, illustrator, author, painter, and home decor extraordinaire.)

I was invited into Christine’s home to go behind the scenes of her quirky and offbeat jewelry pieces, like the Color Wheel Pendant and the Taco and Hot Sauce Mismatched Earrings (my personal favorite for obvious and delicious reasons). I knew the visit would be a success the moment Christine uttered the words, “Alexa, play 2 Dope Queens.”  The studio tour quickly unfolded into us playing with paints like art school girls and exchanging love-hate stories about New York City. We drank tea from mugs (that Christine designed herself) while listening to Jessica and Phoebe chuckling in the background. In my head, I’d basically found my new best friend in San Francisco.

Christine’s illustrations definitely bring out the playfulness in me and fill the Lisa Frank void I never even knew existed. Yet, what I admire even more is that Christine herself is super relatable and isn’t afraid to be different — very much like her jewelry designs. As an unapologetic feminist who naturally marches to the beat of her own drum, it’s no surprise that her company, Yellow Owl Workshop, has been a success for almost a decade. She also recently published her third crafting book, Make It Yours. Discover how Christine entered the world of design, what she loves most about San Francisco, and why she thinks you should never apologize.

 

Christine Schmidt’s Color Wheel Pendant

 

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with George Roumanas

July 7, 2017

George Roumanas working in his Athens, Greece studio, photos by Emily Hodges

Given that I “prepped” for this particular Studio Tour by watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding and listening to Mama Mias soundtrack on repeat, I knew that my visit to George Roumanas’ creative space was definitely going to be a fun one. George is a self-taught sculptor from a small village in Southern Greece and he’s the maker behind a collection of brass and wooden art pieces, including our much-adored Pop The Question Wall Sculpture. Being the avid wanderluster I am, I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the process behind George’s romantic designs in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. (Insert overly excited squeal and triple axel jump.)

My visit began with George’s upbeat business partner and wife — Stella Spanopoulou — personally picking me up at my AirBnb rental. I suggested I could easily catch a cab to the studio, but she insisted on giving me a ride. That should have been my first clue that Greek hospitality is genuine and is never to be mistaken for coyness. According to Stella, “When something is offered, just accept it. It’s the Greek way!” During our short drive to the studio, she apologized for three things: how “non-American” and messy their studio was, the fact that George only spoke Greek, and the economic state of Greece. I assured her that the messier the studio the better, that I’ve dealt with language barriers before, and despite Greece’s economic hiccups — everything I’d seen so far was absolutely beautiful.

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Suzie Thomas

March 6, 2017

Suzie Thomas in her Santa Cruz, CA studio, photos by Emily Hodges

My favorite studio visits are the ones when I walk in and immediately feel at home–and that’s exactly how I felt when sea glass jewelry artist Suzie Thomas opened her doors and welcomed me into her Santa Cruz, CA studio.

Her oasis is, no doubt, ocean-inspired: air plants dangling from inside sea urchin shells that mimic the shape of jellyfish, bright blue abstract art work–painted by Suzie herself–on display, and whales peeking from the corners of her desk and swimming along her walls. Suzie features local artists’ work within her studio, including her son’s “Mom” rainbow, a charming masterpiece.

With Santa Cruz’s gorgeous sea coast and redwoods as Suzie’s backyard playground, it’s no surprise her home and studio space are very much aligned with nature. But it was a surprise for Suzie when she realized she could turn sea glass into jewelry and eventually grow jewelry creation into a full-time business. “At first it was just something I did alongside my full-time marketing job,” said Suzie. “But then the orders continued to grow substantially. I crunched the numbers one day and decided to take the plunge, quit my job, and launch my business full time. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Read Suzie’s interview below to find out how she initially discovered the concept for her sea glass jewelry line, what happened when she got swept up by a wave while hunting for sea glass, and why Albert Einstein keeps her motivated every day.


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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio
with Alex Monroe

July 14, 2016
Alex Monroe

Alex Monroe in his London shop, photos by Emily Hodges

It’s only natural to “ooh” and “aah” over Alex Monroe’s handmade jewelry, which is inspired by beautiful botanicals, woodland animals, and beloved everyday objects. He has the craftsmanship to shape precious metals into delicate designs through traditional jewelry-making techniques and the keen artist’s sixth sense to capture the smallest intricacy. Through Alex’s eyes, no detail goes unnoticed. What’s really magical, from the engagement rings showcasing whimsical twig bands to watering can necklaces with sapphire droplets dripping from their spouts, is that a different story can unfold from each of Alex’s designs depending on the individual wearing them.

How Does Your Garden Grow? Necklace by Alex Monroe | UncommonGoods

How Does Your Garden Grow? Necklace by Alex Monroe | UncommonGoods

Upon entering Alex’s London-based shop, I was pleasantly surprised to be standing in a room that mimicked The Jungle Book. Lush trees and green plant decor covered the walls and pineapples seemed to float against the windows — yet signs of old-school civilization like binoculars, globes, and magnifying glasses peeked out on top of the jewelry displays and handmade wooden cabinets. One glance around the shop and it’s obvious that the natural world and useful objects are ongoing themes in Alex’s designs.

After visiting his shop, I had the opportunity to stop by the charming Victorian cobbled yard in south London where he first started making his own jewelry in 1986. Today, he has a team of skilled jewelers recreating his designs in that very same studio.

See inside this whimsical world and learn more about Alex’s journey as a world-renowned jewelry designer who has worked to perfect his aesthetic over the past 30 years.

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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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