I recently had the pleasure of visiting Brin d'Ours and getting a tour of their studio, located in a quiet small town in eastern France. For those of you not familiar with this small toy brand, Brin d'Ours designs and makes beautiful wooden animals which Brimful is honored to have in the shop. It was such a pleasure to meet the founders, Daniel Williams and Marie-Charlotte Pagnoux and learn more about their design and manufacturing process. It was such an exceptional experience that I decided to write it all down to share with you'll!
Let me take one step back before talking about the tour and say that for years, I had searched for wooden animals to add to Brimful. In particular, I wanted to find a small brand that was still growing their presence in the US. In my research, I came across many well-crafted animals, but none felt right until I happily stumbling upon Brin d'Ours about two years ago.
Their wooden animals possess a kindness and charm that I had not seen in other animals - and as my children like to point out, the eyes are warm and friendly. I think many of you will agree with this sentiment, feeling similarly drawn to the sweet red fox, the adorable duckling, and spotted fawn.
Fast forward to the visit with Daniel and Marie-Charlotte and I realized within the first five minutes of our visit where the whimsical charm of the animals is rooted! Daniel and Marie-Charlotte met at university studying animation and I believe it is their background in this art form that informs their designs. Daniel trained in furniture making after finishing his studies, which is what eventually led him to starting Brin d'Ours. He still uses his animation skills by designing new animals on an animation tablet and I think it's so neat how he's found a way to combine his love of woodworking and animation. Marie-Charlotte manages the business side of the company while also contributing to product design and caring for their two young children. She is gracious and soft-spoken and even before we met in person, I admired what a lovely person she is through our emails.
My family was also along for the tour and Daniel was very patient with my children's questions and curiosity. He first showed us the linden wood that came in long rough planks from a local lumber yard. After the bark is removed and the planks smoothed out, the wood is cut down into smaller blocks. Taking one of these blocks, Daniel took a stencil in the shape of a fox and sketched an outline onto the wood. With careful precision on a machine, Daniel cut out the fox and then show us step-by-step how it is shaped and formed until the hard edges are softened into two attentive ears, a bushy tail, etc. He made the wood-carving process look so fluid and easy - the sign of a true artist.
Once an animal has been carved out and smoothed, it is ready for paint. This process actually takes the longest, because of the drying process. Each animal is painted by hand and the artist is trained for up to 3 months! Looking at the rows of animals on the drying shelf, it was obvious how much love and patience each employee at Brin d'Ours puts into his/her part of the creation process. We especially enjoyed seeing the personalized items that some of the employees had crafted - like a rabbit with tiny flowers painted on its ears, or a black and white panda bear. Daniel explained that while he now spends most of his time overseeing the manufacturing, he's still involved in making the animals. In fact, if you happen to have one of the wolves in your collection at home, those are Daniel's specialty. I really appreciated how Daniel talked with such love about this brand that he and Marie-Charlotte have so thoughtfully nurtured. They are both humbled by the wild appreciation that customers from around the world show for Brin d'Ours. While it is a brand geared for children, we shared a light-hearted chuckle at how many adults also adore Brin d'Ours. Obviously, I am one of them.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the makers of your favorite wooden animals and be sure to follow Brin d'Ours on Instagram. Daniel and Marie-Charlotte, thank you so much for taking the time to give me and my family such a personal and heartfelt tour of your studio. We can't wait to come back!