When Thom Fougere was studying architecture at the University of Manitoba, one of his assignments was to design a residential building for a pianist and his family in Montreal.
The building got done. Eventually. But a lot more time was spent on designing the home's furniture, which he started first, before the structure to house it all. It was a reversal of what he was taught.
"Usually architecture starts on a macro scale and goes smaller," he says from Winnipeg, where he was born 25 years ago. "But I started with the small stuff first, which, in my opinion ended up being more interesting than the building."
Reading the writing on his own chair, so to speak, Fougere shifted gears shortly after graduation in 2008, concentrating on furniture design which he practised as a kind of secret pleasure, making it exclusively for himself. Because he was his own client he followed his own design preferences, primarily adopting a modernist aesthetic shaped by a love of the prairies on which he has grown up. "I am inspired by the prairie topography. It's very flat and sparse. It's actually sky," he says. "A lot of my furniture pieces speaks to that prairie vernacular."
Those pieces include the Tyndall Table, a low-lying coffee table made from a 68-kilogram slab of Tyndall stone that is quarried only in Manitoba and was also used to make the legislative buildings in Winnipeg and Regina, where Fougere lived as a child.
Another is the Bench Rack, a combination seat and open wardrobe created in collaboration with Nils Vik. It's made from a clean piece of landfill-diverted Manitoba elm connected to powder-coated steel forming legs and a clothes rod. "A lot of modern furniture tries to hide clutter and imperfections, but my furniture celebrates that," he says. "I like clutter, but controlled clutter. Why hide clothes that are beautiful?"
The Bench Rack was showcased at the 2011 edition of the Interior Design Show in Toronto and, as of this summer, will be sold to the public through thomfougere.com, an online retail site the designer is launching as a separate entity to his day job as creative director of Winnipeg-based furniture manufacturer and retailer, EQ3. "I'm definitely leading my own way as far as furniture design," he says. Following the sky instead of doing it by the book.