Umbra Shift: Thoughtful design for everyday living
LIVIN’ AND LOVIN’ - Tetta Ortiz Matera (The Philippine Star) - August 30, 2014 - 12:00am

I have a confession to make: I am a frustrated interior decorator. If I were not a lifestyle writer I probably would dabble in interior design. While shopping for clothes is fun, I get a different kind of pleasure from browsing through interior design stores, picking up pieces and closely examining them, and imagining how certain objects would look inside my home and other dreamt-up spaces.  While I am drawn to beautiful designs, I am just as big a fan of function. Umbra Shift is the perfect combination of both.

Umbra Shift is the extension of the Canada-based home accessories company Umbra, a 30-year-old pioneering brand of thoughtful design for everyday living. Fun, creatively designed and easy to use, the Umbra Shift collection of home décor is a response to the way people live in the 21st century. With a multi-tasking, social media-wired generation and lifestyle-savvy population, Umbra creates a no-nonsense, ecologically aware product line of practical yet innovative, contemporary designs for modern living.

Take, for example, the Cup lamp by Paul Loebach, a furniture and product designer based in New York City and Berlin. He takes the lowly lamp and gives it an upgrade so it can also serve as a storage cup and USB port. This playful LED lamp fits perfectly on a desktop or a bedside table, be it for an adult or a child.

What about the Roll bottle opener by Umbra Studio, the brand’s in-house design studio? At first glance, it looks like a sleek gold metal bracelet, but upon closer inspection is actually a very effective bottle opener. Flexible in function and cast in solid brass, this product could very well find a home in your vanity as well as your kitchen drawer.

Get ahold of the Hanger chair by Philippe Malouin, the French-Canadian designer behind the architectural and interior design practice called Post-Office. This simple, unassuming piece of furniture is given a makeover to mimic the ultimate in storage systems — the modest hanger. Made of Baltic birch plywood in marine, gray, yellow, black and coral, the chair hangs and stows in a compact, orderly fashion. These are great to have just in case family or friends come to visit.

While you’re at it, check out the hot/cold carafe by Umbra Studio. The hand-cast carafe in unique-colored stoneware comes with two stackable cups that allow for easy storage. Two silicone bands keep your hands safe, whether you fill it with something hot or cold. This product does away with the problem of having to balance a cup in one hand and a carafe in the other; no need for trays, either.

I cannot get over the gorgeous Asymmetrical candleholders by Lukas Peet, a Vancouver native and winner of the first annual RBC Emerging Designer Competition 2014. Visually unbalanced yet physically sturdy, these stone resin and brass candleholders have an off-kilter appearance that is sensual and chic; the interchangeable bases and cones make them versatile as well. In the candle-filled living spaces of today, these candleholders offer a unique and striking design alternative to the predictable ones flooding the market right now.  

Plant lovers will swoon over the Pleated dish, vase and planter by MSDS, a Toronto-based, multi-disciplinary design practice between a Caucasian and an Asian designer. The very attractive handmade earthenware pieces sport geometric pleats, a separate base and a self-watering wick that absorbs the water. Bye-bye to the pesky problems that result from spills while watering plants; these ingenious products allow you to have as many plants indoors as you want without having to worry about wet and damaged floors.

If natural is your thing, you may want to purchase the Above Home floor mats in abaca by Hlynur Atlason, the Icelandic native now residing in New York City who owns a design studio bearing his name. Made in the Philippines, the hand-woven rugs depict backyards and swimming pools as patterns in predominantly soothing green and yellow colors. Traditional and contemporary at the same time, the mats are odor- and moisture-resistant and durable, certified to last a very long time.

Talk about an unusual pairing: the Wedge shoehorn by Umbra Studio looks like a dustpan from afar but is actually a shoehorn and doorstop in one. Made from cast iron and maple, the product is a removable shoehorn that fits quite snugly into the metal frame and when placed under a door, serves as a stopper. What an accessory to greet you at the entrance of your home!

Not to be outshined is the ergonomic Coiled stool by Harry Allen, an award-winning designer whose works sit in many collections, including the Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) in New York City. Inspired by the basket-making techniques of the Philippines, hand-woven threads cover a rattan core to create a surprisingly comfortable tractor seat despite having no back panel for support. Produced in aqua, red and gray, the stool fits just as easily into casual as well as formal environments.  

Another awesome product in the Umbra Shift line is the Brick lamp by Philippe Malouin. A nod to brick, this concrete aluminum lamp is aesthetically blunt yet stylish and functional. Adjustable and portable, the LED task lamp is a great accessory and light source for any desk or shelf.

No kitchen is complete without the ubiquitous spice grinder. The Umbra Studio version called Knob borrows its form from the oven knob, an archetype for turning, which is what you do with the grinder. It sits atop a base that catches the spices and can be used separately as a grinder and pinch pot. Made from beech wood and the CrushGrind trademark mechanism, the Knob spice grinder functions quite smoothly with very little effort.

Joining this roster of awesome products are the Spoon clock by Albert Lee, the Nest caddy by Umbra Studio and the Felt House slippers by Fugitive Glue. 

For more than three decades, Umbra has been continuously breaking the mold by creating entirely new categories of thoughtfully designed everyday items such as Umbra Shift, which express diverse functional, familiar and forward-thinking points of view in the design-centric community we all belong to.   What I love most about the Umbra Shift collection is that it does not matter what size or style your living space is — each and every standout product can fit quite nicely into any home.

Umbra design director Matt Carr, a designer himself with an impressive resume and vast experience in the industry, explained that the goal behind the development of Umbra Shift was to foster exchange with leading members of the design community outside of Canada and to experiment with new ideas that best represent the concept of function and form.

This inaugural collection was launched at the NYCxDesign ICFF this year and won the Editor’s Award for best accessories. Carr is now leading the brand with a focus on design, manufacturing and global placement. He hopes to continue evolving Umbra towards a more minimalist aesthetic with a focus on function, materiality and curiosity. Given Umbra Shift’s appeal, it seems he is on the right track.

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Umbra Shift will be available in September at all Dimensione stores.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @tettaortiz.

ABOVE HOME ALBERT LEE DESIGN NEW YORK CITY PHILIPPE MALOUIN SHIFT UMBRA UMBRA SHIFT UMBRA STUDIO
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