Anyone living in the Prairies has experienced that outsider feeling at one point or another—Canada’s great plains are (sadly!) often disregarded in favour of the flashy big cities on either side. But our Furniture Designer of the Year (and Winnipegger) Thom Fougere finds something inspiring about being on the margins. “I find it empowering when searching for something original, an angle on a project,” he explains. “There’s this kind of overlooked beauty about the Prairies, and I think the overlooked is generally what I’m interested in.”

xFurniture Designer of the Year Thom Fougere, photographed by Ian McCausland.

Fougere grew up in Regina and graduated from the architecture program at the University of Manitoba, and while his near-decade-long stint as creative director for Canadian design brand EQ3 took him all over the world, he happily makes his home in Winnipeg—and finds his creativity here too. “There’s a fairly subtle and pragmatic quality to life here, but also some pretty exciting mid-century modern architecture,” he says. “There’s a subtle and introverted beauty to the Prairies that I try to not take for granted.”

asdThe bar cart was one of Fougere’s many designs for EQ3 during his tenure as creative director, and serves to function as both serving cart and side table. The three-legged design is manoeuvered on its two back wheels; the top level detaches to become a serving tray, lined with buttery leather. Photo by Thom Fougere.

You can see the impact of that fresh perspective on Fougere’s quirky pieces, like his sleek, solid-ash bar cart, which is manoeuvered on its two hind wheels, or the asymmetrical Saddle chair, which offers the best of both recliner and easy chair in a streamlined, blush-pink package, reminiscent of an unfolding paper box. “Thom is not afraid to innovate, experiment and explore the next generation of seating,” noted judge Wendy Youds, creative director for online furniture company Article. “I imagine each chair will tell a story about the life of the user long after it has been handed down.”

x“The thoughtful choice of a vegetable tan leather, resulting in a beautiful patina over time, gives an insight into a design that has been built to last and endure,” said judge Wendy Youds of the Saddle chair. Fougere describes it as “a new typology of chair”: one can use the piece as an easy chair, lounger or anything in between. Photo by Thom Fougere.

This is the second time Fougere has won a Designers of the Year award—the first time as Industrial Designer of the Year in 2015, the same year he launched his eponymous label as a side project while he worked for EQ3. And while he’s done excellent work for both the company and himself these past five years, it was his recommitment to his personal brand that made this another watermark year for Fougere. In February 2019, he stepped down from his EQ3 post, though not before leaving them with a beautiful parting gift—his first stand-alone building design, which would be the brand’s new flagship in Manhattan. From there, he kicked off 2020 (and his independence) with a bang, launching a line for Toronto producer Mjölk (“They’re kindred spirits,” says Fougere). The collection features the sliding-door Tambour cabinet, which takes its cues from vintage roll-top desks, and an elegant daybed topped with a cushy down mattress. In the works now are some new pieces commissioned by a handful of hush-hush Canadian and international clients.

xIn his Mjölk Tambour Collection, designed for the company’s 10-year anniversary exhibition, a down mattress veritably floats atop the straightforward wood frame. “The attention to detail from a craftsperson perspective is strong,” said judge and furniture designer Kate Duncan. Judge Brent Comber of Brent Comber Originals praised Fougere’s “unique perspective” and “purpose-driven execution.” Photo by Peter Andrew.

Fougere’s skill lies in both his design acumen and his ability to delegate. “I admit I’m not a craftsperson, but I do like to be very involved and in constant dialogue with collaborators during the development process,” he explains. “In a way, I’m always a student.” His work starts with his own DIY scale models, which are then turned over to the experts—local woodworkers, brassworkers, leatherworkers—to be brought to life. He watches, he tweaks, he learns, he waits, bringing the resourcefulness and calm of his home region to every project. “I like being on the outside looking in. It’s helpful in gaining a new perspective on the everyday or overlooked.”

xFougere took his inspiration for the Mjölk Tambour cabinet from his grandparents’ roll-top desk. “It always fascinated me,” Fougere recalls. “There’s something so satisfying about a tactile piece of furniture, and this is just a continuation of that fascination.” Photo by Peter Andrew.