The Wolfsonian Museum Shop carries a line of beautifully crafted rocking animals created by Miami-based Wee Rock Toy Co. Made of bamboo plywood manufactured with a soy-based adhesive and finished with a food-safe conditioner, the toys are chemical-free and sustainable. The company currently offers five rocking animals ($300 each): horse, gorilla, elephant, rhino, and giraffe. We caught up with Wee Rock’s designers to learn more.
Go back about a year, and Catherine O’Sullivan and Michael Galea had no intention of starting a business making heirloom-quality rocking animal. A year ago, the two were seniors studying architecture at the University of Miami and wanted to make a baby gift for one of Catherine’s cousins in Ireland—something that could be transported easily. They settled on the idea of a rocking horse “because it is so classic and iconic,” Catherine says, and because Michael does a lot of woodworking. That decision also may have been influenced by the handcrafted wooden rocking horse from the 1940s that Catherine had as a child—and still has.
Today, they are the co-founders of Wee Rock Toy Co., which means that they finish each piece by hand, pack it themselves, and ship it out—all while holding down full-time jobs related to architecture and building.
They approached the baby gift project as if it were a school assignment. “We gave ourselves a challenge. We wanted it to fit into luggage and to have no small parts. Every weekend we played around with the design,” Michael says.
After they designed and built their first rocking horse, they showed it to friends and family and were surprised by how many people said they wanted a horse of their own. It didn’t take long before they began experimenting with other animals and soon the idea of launching a business was born. As they researched materials and manufacturing techniques, they kept their end goals in mind: “a product that is high-end and all-natural and that wears well—we want it to last for generations,” Catherine says.
For Michael, one of the most enjoyable parts of the project has been designing the animals in a way that is efficient and user-friendly. “We did a lot of self-editing, asking ourselves how we could do more with fewer parts,” he explains. A favorite element is the way in which the handles are integrated into the animals’ shoulder panels. As for user-friendly? Each animal arrives as six separate, flat pieces that can be put together in less than five minutes—and the pieces fit together without hardware.
“We wanted our animals to be simple yet elegant, and to be timeless. The bamboo plywood is smooth and warm. We didn’t want to create a bright green toy that people might get tired of,” Catherine says.
As for Catherine’s cousins, the original inspiration for the first animal? “They love it. They are absolutely thrilled with it,” she reports.
Rocking Animals, Wee Rock Toy Co.