A true Canadian artisan, Brett is inspired by the Toronto area, “but it’s not as though I’m carving beavers or CN Towers.” (He has, however, used fish as well as duck motifs.) Brett strives to make original furniture that has a place in 21st-century life, whenever possible using Ontario woods — “the best are cherry and curly soft maple.”
Brett started Merganzer around 2000 but dates his real start to a course he took from Canadian furniture maker Michael Fortune about 15 years ago. He’d previously studied with American furniture makers, but Fortune gave him both the technical knowledge he needed and the focus on exploration he finds critical to creativity.
An important influence was a book his father gave him, about Toronto artisan Stephen Harris (Stephen Harris: Designer Craftsman; Hart Massey, 1994). Fortune and Harris, along with British makers Alan Peters and John Makepeace, inspired Brett’s goal of designing “elegant and energetic” furniture. Often, he finds the most difficult pieces turn out best. They may be challenging, even frustrating, “but if in the end the piece expresses my initial inspiration with elegance and clarity, it is a success.”
Brett loves sharing his woodworking knowledge. He’s had a few employees over the years, including Megan Tilston, who stayed eleven years. A fine artist, she didn’t have much woodworking experience, so Brett gave her tasks requiring enormous concentration, such as the drawers on his Wavy Dresser, and worked closely with her while she learned. Eventually she began designing her own pieces.
Many people who see Brett’s Wave tables comment that they must include a lot of math. In fact, he says, it’s simple: a single curve is mirrored. The design nearly didn’t happen. Brett tried making a wave out of stainless steel wires between two wooden plates, similar to his Doric tables, but it didn’t work. In desperation, he and Megan figured out how to make the wave out of wood. As they carved the wave, it was often upright, “and we saw how dynamic that orientation was. The Wave was born.”
Favourite pieces Brett has designed include his Dining Chair, “the first really original thing I made.” He also likes his Starry Night Bed, which features a intricately carved, textured headboard resembling the classic Van Gogh painting. The dark wood makes the engraved picture somewhat difficult to see, “so the best way to explore it is through touch” — like much of his work.
Still, you can enjoy exploring Merganzer pieces with your own eyes, on their website merganzer.com. Don’t be surprised if you ‘duck’ into Brett’s way of thinking.