Rick McDonald got his start in the furniture-making sector because of an auspicious location. Growing up in south-west Victoria, his neighbours had a purpose-built grandstand for their annual bull sale. With no use for it anymore, McDonald’s neighbours provided him what amounted to kilometres of messmate wood in exchange for him taking it down. McDonald says, in his Brunswick studio, that it is worth a lot of cash pulling a piece of wood out of a still-considerable stack out the back of his workshop. His furniture business, produced by Morgen, is about three years old.
You may have seen McDonald’s minimalist reefs round town at health and wellbeing studio Universal Practice, KX Yoga and smoothie-maker Green Cup in South Yarra. You can also now find his pieces at design shop Simple Form, but the vast majority of his job involves custom orders for architects, interior designers and people.
Recalling a current project that involved him blowtorching a boardroom table for a dramatic, charred effect, he observed that architects know how to design a room, but they do not always know how to design furniture from laminated glulam timber products for the area. He also sells his made-to-order solid wood tables and sideboards direct from his website.
Feeling disillusioned after nearly a decade in the construction industry, a second storey home extension and renovation a couple of years ago triggered McDonald’s shift in direction. He bought an apartment in North Melbourne and did most of the fit out himself. He says that that was the first time he got to be creative and functional at the exact same time.
One look at the smooth, clean lines of his work and you’ll understand what McDonald did and how he did it: he travelled to Scandinavia. He spent over a year in Denmark (as well as Berlin and London) working and studying with a couple diverse manufacturers. Drawn back to Melbourne for a variety of friends’ weddings, McDonald did not plan on staying. But, incidentally, his friend was going to open a smoothie shop. Green Cup was his very first job. McDonald says of this fit-out – tables and stools made from Tasmanian oak and powder-coated white, it gave him confidence.
The “Morgen” in Produced By Morgen (which he formally launched in 2014) was a nod to the title given to him by his father – a man with a trend for dispensing random nicknames. A studio visit can show a lot about an artist. Among ceiling-high silver exhaust pipes, sanding machines and one quite threatening mechanism which flattens wood at high speed are a lot of touches that counter the industrial vibe.
Above his immaculately organized carpentry tools and engineered architectural timbers and frames hangs an art by McDonald’s friend David Aldous – who rolls ink on felled trees, then transfers their “fingerprints” onto paper – while a cascading fern adds some life to the white brick inside. Like his workshop, McDonald’s bits walk the line between warm and cold – using Scandi minimalism offset by subtleties like dovetail joins (which resemble fingers interlocking) and no steel runners. His pieces are free of complex flourishes, and place wood firmly in the spotlight.
Motioning to a mini-assembly field of bedside tables for Simple Form in Seddon, McDonald says he does not wish to cultivate his company much beyond the present operation, which includes only one other fulltime carpenter and buyers who tend to be home extensions and renovation builders in Melbourne. This implies, like a lot of small-business owners, he frequently has to force himself to take the odd weekend away.
He enjoys working on the weekend when there’s nobody there. He says the stresses of the job are completely different to the pressures of his old job. “There’s good stress and there’s bad stress.”