We’ve kind of got a thing for hanging out with makers. We love hearing stories about how they got their start, visiting places they find inspiring and learning what their go-to karaoke songs are. Today, we’re keeping things local with our newest online class instructor, Ben Uyeda. His brand new class on DIY Concrete Design is a must-take!
Based in both Boston and LA, and a frequent visitor to our lovely city by the Bay, Ben has a passion for design that is beautifully calculated. He doesn’t just throw colors on a canvas (though we are all about that too!) — his take on creativity is very clearly informed by the fact that he’s an architect by day and a maker by night. Ben finds inspiration in functional delight. In his eyes, “you can make that” and “you can use that” go hand in hand. When I asked him what places he’d like to visit after shooting his online class, here’s wrote: “In general I am into coffee, whiskey, scavenging for materials, and building stuff.”
So for our creative walkabout, we went to the sea. Or more specifically, to the Embarcadero and Ferry Building. I highly recommend taking this walk if you’ve got an hour or two to spare. Taking in the salty scent of the ocean alongside a smattering of delicious food, drink and handmade goods is quintessentially San Francisco. And that’s why we love it! Follow along to check out four of our favorite spots.
1. Heath Ceramics: If you aren’t familiar with Heath, it’s time to get in the know. Founded in the Bay Area by a husband and wife team in 1948 and continued by a husband and wife team in 2003, Heath is a decidedly family affair. Their Ferry Building showroom opened in 2010 and has served as a mini flagship for Heath ever since. “We’ve always wanted to be more accessible to our San Francisco customer, and this is the perfect match,” says Heath Ceramics Creative Director and co-owner Catherine Bailey.
This 500 square foot showroom packs a serious punch. At first glance, you might think you’re getting a bite-sized version of Heath. But in actuality, this spot carries their complete line of wares as well as home products created by like-minded designers and makers from across the country and around the world. Designed by LA design firm Commune, the shop is flexible, adaptable and versatile, making it easy to change up each season, each year and so on.
2. Blue Bottle Coffee Next on our list of seaside stops, we’ve got Blue Bottle. At this point, Blue Bottle has grown far beyond the boundaries of San Francisco proper, so it’s fairly likely that you’ve had a taste of their handcrafted pour-over coffee. Ben swears by his daily (possible more than once daily?) cup of joe. It’s how he gets into the creative zone, and Blue Bottle’s been a longtime favorite of his since they opened, a little over 10 years ago.
We decided to do a little digging on how this modern espresso bar got its start. To share what we learned, it’s time for a history lesson straight from the Blue Bottle website:
In the late 1600s, the Turkish army swept across much of Eastern and Central Europe, arriving at Vienna in 1683. Besieged and desperate, the Viennese needed an emissary who could pass through Turkish lines to get a message to the nearby Polish troops. Franz George Kolshitsky, who spoke Turkish and Arabic, took on the assignment disguised in a Turkish uniform. After many perilous close calls, Kolshitsky completed his valiant deed, returning to give the Viennese the news of the Poles’ imminent rescue of their city. On September 13, the Turks were repelled from Vienna, leaving everything they brought: camels, tents, honey, and strange bags of beans, which were thought to be camel feed. Kolshitsky, having lived in the Arab world for several years, knew these were bags of coffee. Using the money bestowed on him by the mayor of Vienna for his heroic deed, Kolshitsky bought the Turks’ coffee, opened Central Europe’s first coffee house (The Blue Bottle), and brought coffee to a grateful Vienna.
319 years later, in Oakland, Calif., a slightly disaffected freelance musician and coffee lunatic, weary of the grande eggnog latte and the double skim pumpkin-pie macchiato, decided to open a roaster for people who were clamoring for the actual taste of freshly roasted coffee. Using a miniscule six-pound batch roaster, he made a historic vow: “I will only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster to my customers, so they may enjoy coffee at its peak of flavor. I will only use the finest, most delicious and responsibly sourced beans.” In honor of Kolshitsky’s heroics, he named his business Blue Bottle Coffee, and began another chapter in the history of superlative coffee.
And they’ve definitely stayed true to that mission. Coffee is roasted on vintage gear and gets to their customers within 48 hours. At the Ferry Building location, coffee beans are delivered from their Oakland kitchen five mornings a week.
3. Outside the Exploratorium: As we wandered beyond the Ferry Building along the water, we found ourselves at Pier 15, the new home of the Exploratorium. A leader in informal education, the Exploratorium prides itself on igniting curiosity and inspiring creativity in people of all ages. We can certainly get behind that. Dubbed the North Gallery, the outdoor exhibits allow you to explore winds, tides and other natural phenomena.
The first thing we spotted was this Rickshaw Camera Obscura. Once you step inside, you’re in a dreamlike world where the city you were just walking through is flipped upside down and projected onto the table in the center of the rickshaw. Super cool.
From there, we came across this amazing bus/trailer/truck made of skateboard decks. Our natural next move was to do a trust fall. Obvs. The Exploratorium itself is absolutely worth a visit, but you need a full morning or afternoon to truly experience and take advantage of all that it has to offer. Put it on your to-do list, especially if you’ve got little ones in tow.
4. Hard Water: Located at Pier 3, our last stop was a place that celebrates one of Ben’s other true loves: Whiskey. The space itself is fairly modest, aside from that mega wall of whiskey. Unlike many traditional whiskey bars, this one isn’t all about underground vibes and dark wood paneling. It’s bright and modern with that touch of rustic hipster (yes, “rustic hipster” is a thing and you know it) that makes it feel slightly industrial, or of another era.
Ben opted for a flight of whiskey and I went with a mint julep. Cheers to an afternoon well spent. Now, how about those outtakes?
Well, we obviously had to introduce Ben to the magic of One Brown Hand — this being the uncropped version ;)
This photobomb is everything.
And this might be the most laid-back take on a Wrecking Ball re-creation that we’ve ever seen. Props Ben, props.
But wait, there’s more! Here are three more ways for you to get up close and personal with Ben Uyeda.
LEARN: Take Ben’s Concrete Design class! In under an hour, you’ll learn everything you need to know about creating your own objects and custom molds using concrete.
FOLLOW: Follow Ben and his DIY adventures on Instagram @benjaminuyeda.
MAKE: Check out Ben’s archive of DIY projects here on Brit + Co!
Know a maker who’s got a story to tell? Or perhaps one that would make an awesome teacher? Send a note my way or leave us a comment below.