Born over thirty five years ago, the Toronto-based homeware design company emerged when graphic designer Paul Rowan was struggling to find a window shade to hang in his apartment. Along with his friend Les Mandelbaum, he created a solution to the problem by making his own which others instantly took a liking to and from there Umbra (Latin for shade) was formed. From this point forward Les and Paul began reimagining everyday items into modernware which retained their functional value but added design innovation to take a firm step away from unexciting practicality.
Design didn’t just fall to Les and Paul and it wasn’t long before a wide selection of designers had taken up the Umbra mantra to add to the brand’s steadily growing collection. In 2016, Umbra still boasts an in-house team of international designers who work tirelessly to come up with original designs that speak to customers both on a universal and personal level. The journey that began in Toronto continues to this day and Umbra is now globally renowned for bringing intelligent design to everyday items and enjoys great success in over 120 countries.
Umbra’s portfolio now includes wall decor, shelving, cupboard organisation, bathroom accessories, photo displays, jewellery holders and casual furniture which are just a few areas of their broad scope. The ordinariness of these types of products is consistently juxtaposed with the brand’s designs which transform the most ordinary home essentials into extraordinary pieces to be marvelled at, not hidden away. The brand also fosters and nurtures relationships with countless design schools across the world through internships and design competitions with emerging designers to spot and encourage the big names of the next generation.
Celebrating their 35th anniversary in 2015, Umbra reinvented their flagship store in Toronto’s Queen West District last year which now serves as a design hub and contains a state-of-the-art multimedia studio, meeting space and a showroom where customers can shop for products created by the in-house design team. Visitors to the hub are also able to soak up Umbra’s colorful thirty five year history via a retrospective of some of the brand’s most distinguished designs including the original shade which started it all, vinyl placemats from 1986, the iconic Garbino rubbish bin and the OH chair.
In 2014 another key element of the Umbra brand was launched in the form of Umbra Shift. This brand new sub-brand is a limited, exclusive extension of Umbra and their key focus areas are contemporary materials and influences in the design community. With a long history of breaking the mould, Umbra has created entirely new categories that apply thoughtful design to everyday items and Umbra Shift revisits these roots with their product releases. The roster of established, emerging and in-house designers who all share the key principles behind the brand, re-think everyday items by designing personal objects that they themselves would want in their own homes. The result of the this project is a collection that expresses diverse points of view even more out-there than the core Umbra collection, which yet still comes together with a common belief in functional, familiar and forward thinking ideas.