Case Study: Character Projects


I recently had the pleasure of working with my very talented friend, Jonathan Silberman, in helping him launch his latest venture, Character Projects, a vintage lighting and hardware store, period home design services, and real estate specializing in historic homes around northeast LA. This project was very close to my heart, as it took place during our very own search for an arts & crafts-era fixer under Jonathan’s excellent advice and guidance. Talk about getting to know a client’s business! Having first-hand experience allows me to say, without reservation, Jonathan is my top recommendation in all aspects of home restoration with a sensitivity to period accuracy.

Branding for a service business can be tricky, especially one where the customer stewardship will become the most memorable experience for clients. Lucky for the visuals here, Jonathan pairs service with meticulously restored pieces that speak for themselves. At first we created a wordmark that was much more demonstrative of vintage style, but ultimately we decided to back off and go clean and timeless, allowing the products to do the talking.

Cards & Tags
Cards & Tags

Since Jonathan has such rich imagery to show, we went with moo cards, so he could have as many alternate photos as he wants, adding new sets as needed. This business started as an online store, but grew into a physical studio within a few months. Jonathan picked out some nice tags for pricing and product info, and we worked up some stamps he could use in marking these and other materials, such as tissue, stickers and shipping packages.

We gave him a site that allows for changing content on the home page, while putting a spotlight on each of his services on separate pages. His store links directly to Etsy, where he enjoys the overlap of social shopping with targeted demographics there, so all he has to maintain is changing content, which is easy and intuitive on the WordPress platform. Once his site was up, he was all ready to start promoting the opening of his store in Highland Park.

Character Projects is off to a great start, with a small but effective package of identity materials to help Jonathan grow his business. Visit Character Projects online and dare yourself not to consider remodeling your home.

+ See the full project here.
+ Read more case studies here.

If you’re just starting a new business, you’ve got a clean slate to take it in any direction. A starter branding package can get any new venture off the ground, targeting the right materials for promotion without anything you don’t need. Say hello anytime and let us know how we can help.

basic cabinetry wrap-up

i completed my first building class at community woodshop, basic cabinetry with levi brewster. we learned so much, and had a great time. i would highly recommend levi if you are considering custom cabinets, he’s easy to talk to, gives good, solid advice, and prefers quality environmental solutions.

the basic box

on our first day, we got familiar with measuring, planning, and using tools we could all afford to use at home. the table saw is very nice, but at 10x the cost and many times the size of a circular saw, levi thought we might like to have first-hand experience with things we might buy. we measured out our 4′ x 8′ ply to give us the pieces necessary for our basic box cabinet, with extra pieces for doors and shelves. we were also taught different cutting techniques, such as setting up a fence with clamps, or freehand cutting.

once we cut our pieces, we were also given the ins & outs of drivers and drills, discussed the differences between phillips-head and star-head screws, where & when to drive at an angle, what to look for in quality plywood, how to prevent chipping out, etc. you know, all those things you never knew that can make or break a beginner project.

the hand router

for our second class, we took apart our box so we could add tracks for sliding doors. again, they have a really great table router in the shop, but we thought we’d look at the hand router to get some experience with it. we learned how to set it up, how to measure exactly where it will land, the rules for track depth, and how far to safely indent the tracks to prevent chipping.

our doors are pretty small and kinda funny, but they were a nice, snug fit. not in this photo is the drawer box we built, also using the hand router.

concealed cabinet hinges

back again to take apart our work and start with a new technique, the next on the list was concealed cabinet hinges. these seem fancy and complicated, but they often come with a template for perfect placement. the 2 tricks are, you’ll need a special drill bit for 1.25″ holes, and you’ll want to take lots of extra time hanging and balancing the doors. we had a moment of group doubt that we measured wrong, and trimmed our doors an extra .125″ only to find we had indeed hung one of the hinges incorrectly. once the error was corrected, our doors were slightly short. our main lesson for this day was, in addition to measuring twice and cutting once, maybe don’t cut twice before you double-check your hardware.

variable-height shelves, drawer sliders and facing

for our final class, we talked about how to use variable-height shelf templates. you can buy templates for creating stacks of holes, but you’ll want to measure to make sure they’re all level. we talked about techniques for doing this, and the benefits of different templates available. once we checked & double checked our work, we drilled in, set the pins and installed the shelf. it was solid as a rock!

we also put a face on our drawer box and installed ball-bearing self-closing sliders. these tend to be fairly standard and have their own foolproofing, but are also a bit tricky to balance. we learned how to tack them with one screw, adjust and balance before tightening the 2nd screw. these fancy hardwares are nice, but each opens a new can of worms in terms of complications with installation. a good reminder to choose what will work well in the long term, but what will also be reasonable for your skill level.

in the end, we graduated officially as professional-level beginners at cabinetry. i’m excited to foist my beginner-ness on my next dream project!

condiments at poketo with zach negin


so, like i said, on sunday i took a condiment class at the poketo store as part of their new series of workshops. our instructor in the photo above, zach negin, is telling us about great books for homemade fermentations. he’s a co-founder at sono trading company whose product, the mustard, i was introduced to at my first artisanal LA event. so cool to see small, handmade food companies making success happen. zach talked about using only natural ingredients, cooking with lard, and highly recommended sandor katz’ books, so we are totally on the same page, food-wise.


we were 15 people, set up around 3 long tables covered with vinegars, syrups, herbs & spices. we had basic instructions and some mixing implements. yet, in a mere 3 hours, we flavored and blended our own mustards, chopped chilis and prepped sriracha to ferment for a week before finishing, seasoned and blended a lacto-fermented ketchup, and cooked up a vegan worcestershire sauce—all with time to spare for a tasting of some of sono trading’s “in development” creations with complimentary wurstkuche fries from next door. what a fun day!


i made a yellow mustard with lots of red flavors, including some red fruit vinegar, pomegranate molasses and cassis syrup. we all made notes about our flavor profiles so we could possibly try to recreate them again, or compare with future recipes. i can see that mustard on its own is a pretty exciting world of possibilities. i can’t wait to try some variations on my own, but i’ll try to eat this up first so i don’t end up with a fridge full of mustard.

poketo has a great write-up here. they were gracious hosts, keeping our equipment clean, visiting and saying hi to each of us, giving gift bags [!] and offering a discount on same-day shopping [of which i took advantage]. they announced that the next class will be about kimchi, so i know i’ll be watching the site to make sure to get in.

condiment class


one of my recent monday mornings at the back door coffee club introduced me to zach negin, co-owner of sono trading company, and the instructor of poketo’s upcoming condiment class. i tasted their mustards at my first visit to artisanal LA and really enjoyed them. of my experiments with condiments, these 4 are not ones i’ve tried yet, so i figured why not learn from a pro?

spaces are limited and nearly sold out, but sign up if you’re interested: condiment workshop with zach negin.

completing the cutting boards


last month, i talked about community woodshop and the first half of our cutting board class. last week i completed the class and came away with 2 nice cutting boards. the first step in finishing up is to trim the uneven edges, which i am doing with a squaring template on the table saw above.


once i got my trimmed pieces, it was time to decide if i would do any cross cuts and flips. the wood grain itself will always look pretty on its own, but i used the trimmed edges to see where they flipped cuts would match up. i decided to cut the board into 5 pieces and flip symmetrically.


after these final design edits, when the glue is dry, we plane both surfaces and decide on any edge finishes. i decided on simple rounded edges for one, and only one round for the other. then it’s off to the sander to get all surfaces perfectly smooth.


once they’re ready to go, we got out the beeswax. it’s more of a heavy grease that smells like fine bath products and soaks into both wood and your hands, giving both a nice finish. the color of the wood really came alive with this application. i think they look great, but now i’m a little hesitant to take a knife to them. next up, i’ve signed up for basic cabinetry. i can’t wait to see what manner of trouble i can get into there!


what i learned in my month without a car

here's something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!
here’s something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!

it’s been a month! it kinda flew by, but lo, i am dropping my car at the mechanic today. i learned a lot about transitioning to transit this month, and as i found myself planning my day, strategically combining a few lessons i grossly failed at mere weeks ago—all excited about how perfectly it would work out and how i would challenge myself to even walk the last leg rather than ride a bus to my stop—my epiphany became clear: i am hooked on avoiding driving!

but i can totally see how hard it is to make the transition. i’ve gone through periods of more transit and those virtually without, and it takes a different mindset. as timing would have it, our city’s pro-pedestrian ambassador, alissa walker, just wrote this piece for LA magazine, better off ped, with tips for living this way. i love her suggestions for success, but i found myself making far more novice errors, so i thought i’d take it from a much-more-recently behind the wheel stance.

thoughts on adapting to transit

travel light. whether you’re walking, bussing or biking, you’re not going to take a giant shoulder bag with everything you need. you’ll want something that carries your accoutrements [a book or notebook? a water bottle? a snack? anything you’d keep in a purse?] without killing your posture. you might eat out strategically rather than carry a lunch, or switch to a backpack on the days you need to carry extra cargo home. this is true for shoes, too. i got some cute sporty shoes that work well and stand up to a good walk.

get the lay of the land. locate your local bus stops, take note of the busses that stop there and look up the routes on you can download pdfs online, or store them in ibooks on your phone. load up your tap card so you don’t have to worry about change. you can download the metro LA app to get info on maps, stops & next arrival times on your phone when you’re out. after your first few trips, you’ll find yourself at new stops with new connections. you’ll learn a lot more about the possibilities as you go.

you’re going to mess it up a few times. it happens, you look up a trip and it seems to work out, but one of many things go wrong, and now you’re late—only you can’t do anything about it. this is a great opportunity to learn about acceptance and the inability to control a situation. the lesson i’ve learned about control is that we often distract ourselves in thinking we’re controlling something that we’re not. like stressing out about being late? call ahead and explain what happened and move on.

plan weeks, not days. when i drive, i do errands all in one day, they are all off a main route and it makes sense to do them all together. it seems that transit is better geared to smaller clusters and more simple destinations, lest you end up on a marathon trip or carrying too much. i have learned to generally arrange the next week in my head, figuring out appointments first, clustering any errands that make sense with them, and deciding what is a priority of what’s left to do. which day will i walk, when should i commit to a transit trip? it will also help you place the more critical time-sensitive trips so you don’t run out of cat prescriptions without rearranging your whole day at the last minute.

understand that some people are going to feel sorry for you. i got a lot of shock and dismay at the idea that my mechanic was booked for a month. it didn’t bother me, but to some, it was an outrage. i also got a lot of insistence at accepting a ride home when it was found out that i took the bus to my destination, in the way you know a person wants to help you but it sounds like they’re suggesting you should never have to do something as lowly as public transit. sometimes it feels weird to have people pity you for something you feel good about. the complicated feedback loops at work here are not about you. you can comfort them that you are okay and the bus is okay and everything is okay.

but some people are going to offer you the much-needed ride home! there were lots of times that i wasn’t exactly going to ask for a ride, but when one comes up that keeps you from waiting around at night for a 3-legged trip, you take it graciously! this might be the ultimate lesson in acceptance, but it also got me wondering how i’m really living without a car while in someone else’s car. i didn’t wonder about this too long though, because a carpool trip is a great time for conversation.

you will become more comfortable all up in everyone’s grill. you will see the best and worst of people. it will be a barrage of fashion, attitudes, fragrant discoveries, conversations, exercises in avoidance, all kinds of hilarious and treacherous first-world urban survival skills will surface. some new shit will come to light, man! you will learn about yourself, and people, and about more acceptance, and it will all be okay. i try not to dwell on this, because it’s mostly not a big deal. then every once in awhile something jarring happens. some guy will not want to stand next to that other guy. someone might want to talk loudly about racism, or jesus, or share their paranoia or ask for money or suggest you are a scoundrel for refusing to loan them your phone. great social upheaval will happen! and then it will resolve itself. nothing jarring happened to me this month at all. everyone was cool. thank you, everyone, for being cool this month.

what’s the cost breakdown of this experiment?

the truth is, unless you completely ditch your car, benefiting from maintenance & insurance savings, if you don’t drive much, you are trading gas expenses for transit fares and conveniences. a week metro pass is $20, and though i don’t quite ride often enough to need one, my week would sometimes max out right at $20 on the tap card. a tank of gas in my car right now runs around $50, and i was doing 1-2 tanks per month. so my gas money would go to mostly transit fare and little snacks i’d buy along the way unless i was a daily commuter who stood to cut high mileage out of my life. however, like many things, the cost tradeoff alone shouldn’t be your only guide. on how many normal days do you just sneak in 2-4 miles on foot? or get to relax and enjoy the scenery? my body just caught up with all the exercise last week and i started to lose weight, so …!

what happens when the car comes home?

keep it up! so, last night when i was planning my day and realizing i wanted to walk part of my trip, the big takeaway is that i am going to keep walking as many trips as i can. i’m also going to keep taking the bus to all the daytime destinations i’ve been doing. the times i’m going to make exceptions are for 1 weekly run to an inconvenient errand of my choice [basically, the ones with heavy cargo] and any inconvenient night events.

drive 1 tank or less of gas per month. when i did my taxes recently, i noticed i was averaging 500 miles per month. my car gets 300 miles per tank of gas, so my first measure is going to be to drive only 1 tank of gas per month. considering how few times i would have used the car if i had the choice this month, i think this is going to be easy. the next discovery will be, exactly how little can i get away with driving below that tank? and how soon before something jarring challenges my comfort zone?

these are the mysteries that await! in the meantime, i got myself a pedometer app and i’m going to start tracking my trips. time to start measuring a different kind of mileage [i just walked 4 miles home from the vet after dropping off my car, cat meds in hand well before we run out this time! thanks myfitnesspal pedometer app!]

alissa has a follow-up to her LA magazine piece on her own blog: better off ped full of resources for making your transition. share any you have here!

natural egg dyes


are you decorating easter eggs this year? personally i prefer poached eggs and don’t really want to hard-boil so many of them, but there are so many beautiful techniques for decorating with natural dyes and pigments, i thought i’d share the round-up posted on the blogs i follow.

> naturally dyed eggs from
> all-natural easter egg dye recipes from better homes & gardens
> 6 resources for making fun and colorful, naturally-dyed easter eggs from
> natural egg dyeing techniques from

have fun & happy easter this weekend!

community woodshop


thanks to my fantastic design network, i found out about community woodshop in the keystone arts spaces in glassell park just a few months after they opened. community woodshop is both a workspace and a learning space for people who want to learn about and work on various techniques in wood working, but maybe don’t own or have space for all the equipment. after taking the required safety class, you can join various levels of membership to work in the shop, or take classes. since i’m a beginner, i opted to start with the cutting board class.


we were given all the samples in the above photos for inspiration of what we could create, though we were discouraged from cutting too many angles, since it would complicate the gluing process for those of us with less experience. we could do straight cuts, cross & flip, round corners, cut handles, or route a trench. cool!


we were provided with maple, alder, walnut and mahogany pieces, squared on 2 sides. to get a feel for the process, we were told to smooth the other sides. here are 2 students using the planer and joiner to get perfectly-smooth starting pieces.


our teacher, bob, reminds us of all the safety precautions of the table saw. there are many. when cutting with wood grain, the wood goes through the blade effortlessly, but going against grain can be a much more tricky cut. we cut all our on-grain 1″ pieces, and bob cut all our against-grain requests for us. then we went to worktables to arrange our pieces and design our boards.


gluing is the fun part. you get big clamps and glue paper and turn all your pieces on their sides, run the glue down the center, and stick them one by one to their neighbor. then tighten the clamps and watch the glue squeeze out the seams.


finally, we let the glue set and cleaned it from the surface. my board looks oddly plain here. the table saw burned the maple wood as it cut, which is normal since it is a very hard wood, but leaves it looking dirty. all of that will be sanded away though, it will oil up nicely and all the grain details will show through. i’ve heard we use some sort of beeswax to do this. we’ll find out in next week’s class when the beauty of our projects are revealed!

how i made my errands walkable

there’s a post i’ve been itching to write for a long time, but it wasn’t quite finished yet, so i left it on the back burner. recently, a talk by alissa walker, which included the suggestion to make 1- and 2-mile radius maps, completed the puzzle for me and i decided to write the whole thing. funnily enough, my car needs a repair and my mechanic is booked for a month, so i get to put all this information into practice immediately!

awhile back, i decided to integrate walking a lot more into my day, and figured if i was exercising while doing errands, taking an hour to walk an errand loop would no longer be seen as taking too long—it’s merely displacing an hour workout. in my determination to do as many errands as i could on foot and within my 1-mile neighborhood, i mapped out as many businesses as i could and replaced further / driven errands with places i could walk to, or pass on my way home from the bus.

echo park landmarks

1. cookbook: small, organic market with fresh produce and specialty foods.
2. blue collar working dog: it may be primarily dog supplies, but they have high-quality cat food in single cans, for times when i’m between the larger packs i buy elsewhere.
3. house of spirits: the local liquor store with the biggest variety.
4. beauty box / sunset beer co: beauty box is an excellent local hairdresser i’ve been using for years. next door is sunset beer co., a specialty beer store that doubles as a comfy bar.
5. friday farmer’s market: we have our very own weekly farmer’s market right here in echo park on friday afternoons, 3-7pm.
6. echo park & lake: a great place to take a walk or run around the .88-mi path around the lake. we’ll have to measure the new path after the rehabilitation is complete.
7. the echo: we have one of the coolest night club & venues [there are 2 on-site] right here in echo park. being able to avoid parking and have a few drinks without thinking about driving is invaluable!
8. edendale library: i’ve been trying to do all my reading on borrowed books. combine the library’s online book request system with a walkable library and you have reading material at your fingertips within a couple days.
9. mohawk bend: not just the local watering hole with the most taps, but also a client! i do a lot of meetings here, so the walkability is key. it should be mentioned, though, that there are tons of places to eat all over echo park, and mohawk bend is maybe the furthest from my house, so there are plenty of choices anywhere in-between.
10. vons: i don’t do much market shopping, but there are times when i do need something in a pinch, and vons is the only market that carries our preferred cat litter, so i go there to get that, and withdraw cash on my atm transaction to avoid any bank visits & foreign atm fees.
11. rite-aid: i currently don’t use rite-aid, but after walgreens [on sunset & echo park] stopped working with my insurance, i figured i’d see if i can fill prescriptions here. currently i’m at CVS and the walkability is much lower.
12. edendale post office: i do a fair amount of mailing, and this post office allows me to get some secret stairs in on the way over.
13. yogala: a great yoga studio a 10 minute walk from my house, with 2 alternatives: the longer / flatter route, or hiking up a hill and taking the avalon stairs.
14. elysian park / dodger stadium: when walking purely for exercise and sight-seeing, the beginning of the portola trail is just steps from my front door. dodger stadium is just through elysian park via academy road.

BUS, glendale blvd: there are a few convenient 92 and 603 bus stops at points on glendale blvd. that i use. taking it north, i can get to atwater village, where i also shop, take sewing class, exercise at heartbeat house, or visit my mom [this bus also goes to downtown glendale & burbank]. my new use of this bus will be to avoid biking over glendale blvd so i can more easily get to the river bike path. to the south, this bus goes downtown.

BUS, montana st.: the 200 bus takes alvarado and hoover streets to meet up with the expo line going to culver city. on its way, it crosses wilshire, which is a great way to catch the 20/720 west to LACMA or other points in mid-city.

BUS, sunset blvd: at sunset & echo park, i can pick up the 2/302 or 4/704, and take them anywhere downtown, to meet up with the trains at union station, or travel west to hollywood, anywhere on the west side, or the beach!

last year, i made a rough draft of this map to see how much was covered within echo park. i think it’s pretty impressive! there are very few things i can’t do on an afternoon break / errand walk. i should mention, i have alternative solutions to the bank [mailing deposits / cash at atm transactions] and some i’ve gotten lazy about and reverted to driving. jason has chosen to hold a premiere amazon account, so sometimes we order inconvenient items on free shipping as well.

what alissa put into perspective was mapping 1-mile and 2-mile radius terrain around my home and trying always to walk the 1-mile routes. i didn’t realize i had already done this [or at least figured it out, if i didn’t always stick to it]. the challenge then becomes, will you walk to the 2-mile destinations? here are what mine look like:

1-mile radius

looking at this map, i’m right on track with my errand plan—even the dreaded CVS / pet store walk, which is only a pain because that stretch of glendale blvd is busy and has scary tire tracks where people have clearly driven up on the curb as they speed toward the 2 freeway entrance. i’ve decided that’s too clear a sign of danger, but maybe i can take the 92 bus instead.

2-mile radius with 1-mile overlay for comparison

this map makes me cringe when i think about walking this far anywhere that’s not sunset blvd or through elysian park via stadium way into chinatown. those walks are direct and i’ve done them with predictable turnaround times. however, anywhere directly east or north outside of glendale blvd. is not really a clear path. hills and dead-ends north of sunset rule out those routes, and the length of the walk if i go down to sunset and back up north makes it a trip i’d more likely bike. similarly, to get over the river in the quadrant directly north to east, the only through-way is stadium way, which is not safe to walk due to low visibility by speeding commuters. when i want to get there by bike, i have the choice of glendale blvd., or the roundabout trip through the park to chinatown, north on broadway to where it meets figueroa in cypress park. that works on a bike, but i’d never walk it if given the choice.

interestingly, in both cases, i didn’t realize just how much is covered in 1 and 2 miles of my house. it’s more than i thought, and a great reminder that there’s almost nothing you can’t do with the combination of walking, biking and using transit. now i have to figure out how to cart things that don’t fit in a backpack or pannier bags. since i’ll have no other choice for the next month, i’m going to strategize and put it all into action. i expect to learn a great deal, so i’ll share the unexpected surprises