“It was timing. We heard Matt and Alan were coming to Manila to source materials. We’ve distributed Umbra for close to 10 years, and we thought it would also be great to introduce some of the designers behind the brand,” says Nelson Guevarra, chair of Garden Barn Inc., Umbra’s exclusive distributor in the Philippines.
Matt Carr and Alan Wisniewski are two of Umbra’s most prolific designers.
Owing perhaps to Umbra’s extreme prolificacy and regular roll-out of new products, we tend to forget just how ubiquitous Umbra products are in the home.
Some examples of great Umbra design: wall-mounted invisible bookshelves where books seem to float in the air; Photo Falls, tree-inspired design which displays photos in wire branches equipped with clips. The mounted photos look like leaves on a tree.
Carr and Wisniewski came to Manila to look for local materials they could use. At Dimensione, which sells Umbra, Inquirer Lifestyle interviewed the designers about aesthetics, tips for first-time home decorators, and gift ideas for Christmas.
Where do you derive inspiration?
Matt: It comes from so many different sources. One would be a trip like this, we visited some vendors, factories to see what materials they’re using, what their capabilities are, and we’ll kind of reinvent what they typically do with that material, give it a completely new use, look and feel.
What type of materials did you see here that interests you?
Alan: We’ve seen a lot of natural materials like woven rattan, sea grass, hand-carved wood. It would be nice to incorporate [these] and put our spin on it. We also saw some cool recycled glass.
Matt: We really came to the Philippines to get more of a “handcraft feel” to the collection. We want to focus on a gift collection for August 2013, on honest materials with a handcraft look, still modern and contemporary but with very high perceived value.
What is your favorite Umbra product of all time, designed by you or someone from the team?
Alan: My favorite piece is the Postino mailbox.
Matt: It would be from the U+ collection, the Wobble Chessboard. I think it’s just really a fantastic gift with a high surprise level to it. It’s very interactive and representative of what Umbra is as a brand—affordable, casual, fun and playful.
Have you thought about designing for pets?
Alan: Oh yeah, we both have pets and a lot from the design team have pets, we talk about them all the time. It’s definitely something we’d love to explore, it’s a big market. We not only want to have a product that looks good but with a fun spin, an added function and feature.
What Umbra products are in each of your homes?
Alan: I’ve got a couple of things from the U+ line, which is our gift line. I’ve got some Rolly side tables, Suspend mantel clock, the Ribbon clock, some bath accessories, kind of a mix throughout the home, not completely outfitted in Umbra like most people think, but here and there, for sure.
Matt: I’ve a lot of Rolly, everywhere I can put it, I think it’s a good piece and has a timeless feel to it. Of course I have Postino in front of my home. I have functional items in my kitchen, I use the Tub dish rack, it’s just great, indestructible.
How did you come up with the design for LBD, Matt?
Matt: I wanted to work on closet storage because it’s so boring (laughs). The only time I really get to focus, when I have peace and quiet, is on a plane. I was flying to Hong Kong from Toronto so I had 13 hours to think and I was just thinking about what people have in their closets. It seemed really obvious that it was clothing shapes, but there was no clothing shape relative to storage, so I just sketched out like a T-shirt and a dress and it just stuck right away, as soon as I sketched it.
As soon as I got back to the office, we did a paper mockup for the overall form, got a sample done, and people really understand it.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Alan: I think, just clean, I really am a strong believer of simple design, I hate things that are too over the top, or designed for the sake of designing. Things that are simple, pure, clean, honest.
Matt: For Umbra, we’re focusing on casual solutions, modern, affordable—we want to make design affordable, it’s not fair that only the super-rich can obtain some designs, right? So we want to bring that home. Just keep it fun, playful, make people smile with our products.
What are your tips for first-time home decorators?
Matt: You don’t have to do it all at once. Start with the basics for sure. Don’t be afraid to mix things. My home is full of eclectic finds I’ve found over the years traveling and whatnot, sitting next to a modern simple frame.
You don’t have to rush it. Let it show your own personality.
Alan: A few pieces you can be really proud to put up, something that’ll last, something you won’t get tired of. Over time, add to that.
What keeps you guys fresh?
Alan: Living design, we don’t always consider coming in to work, doing our work and then leaving, it’s constantly thinking and seeing.
Matt: I just love taking in new experiences and relating it to the customer, so even if it’s a really interesting dinner I had or a problem I had with my own closet, all these things are relative to my life.
When I interview designers, I try to get one thing out of them, how curious they are. How much are they going to question why things are. The more curious somebody is, for us, the better it is.
What’s your design forecast for next year?
Matt: For the Umbra collection, we actually design a product a day. Focus categories for us are kitchen, there’s a lot of great kitchen items coming out, functional and playful. Wall decor will continue to grow, jewelry storage, the LBD is going to have more friends. Gift items that are between P300-P800 that can really add flavor to a wedding shower or housewarming—definitely key categories for us.