Canadian design company redefines utilitarian style | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

MATT Carr with the Hanger Chair by Philippe Malouin

A long maple shoe wedge doubles as door stopper. An earthenware planter, with self-watering wick supplements the various cycles of the plant. A spice grinder, shaped like an oven knob, catches the residue of the pepper.


Although you can’t reinvent the wheel, you can update the design by making it more playful.


That’s the philosophy behind Umbra (Latin for “shade”), a Canadian homeware design company that has been popular for its mass market products.


One of its most ubiquitous designs is the molded plastic Snap Frame, which allows you to draw or scribble on it with your dry erase markers.


The brand has recently launched a cutting-edge line, Umbra Shift. The  14-piece collection of its winning designs is on display at Dimensione at Bonifacio High Street.


The products reflect trends such as combining diverse materials, weaving techniques,  integrating color into natural textures and adapting design to technology.


MULTITASKING products for compact spaces: Knob Grinder, Pleated Dish, Vase, Planter,Nest Caddy, red Hot/Cold Carafe, Wedge Shoehorn

“We wanted to focus on an elevated brand adventure so we could get to our target audience—the finer retailers across the globe like Dimensione,” said Umbra design director Matt Carr. “It was also a way for us to experiment with emerging designers and creating a portal for them to design with flexible manufacturers. In the end, we would like to do products that sit well in urban environments with common space challenges.”


Lightweight, minimalist and geometric in design, the Hanger Chair by Canadian designer Philippe Malouin is an interpretation of the common folding chair and the hanger. Designed for easy storage in compact spaces, it could be neatly hung as a statement piece and unfolded to seat a person. The wood frame with metal embedding makes it light and durable, such that it could even seat a person weighing 300 lbs.


Made in the Philippines


COILED Stool designed by Harry Allen uses traditional Cebuano basket-weaving thread with plastic threads.

“For Umbra and Umbra Shift, we are looking at sustainable, long-lasting materials that can be appreciated and are honest to manufacturing techniques. We use plastic where it should be used like in injection molded items. Take a dish rack; you can only use this style and aesthetic of a dish rack with this feature and function in plastic.


“In Umbra Shift, we do something in ceramic which is appropriate in ceramic. Doing the Hanger Chair in Baltic birch plywood makes it super strong. If you were to do the chair in another type of wood, it wouldn’t have the linear strength,” explained Carr.


To interpret the designs, he travels around Asia to find manufacturers who specialize in their fields.


The Coiled Stool, by American designer Harry Allen, integrates the traditional weaving methods of Cebu with polypropylene (PP), a plastic thread, commonly used in packaging.


PP doesn’t absorb water or get moldy and is extremely durable.  The stool base is made of rattan, steel and gemelina, a sustainable wood.


SPOON Clock by Albert Lee is a maple-wood clock with a mirror that can sit on a pecil cup or be hung on the wall.

The common woven abaca mat from Bicol is updated with colorful dyes and geometric designs.


“Abaca is heavyweight, moisture-resistant and odor-free. You normally see it in natural or black. We made it more progressive through graphic application,” he said.


Canadian designer Lukas Peet’s Asymmetrical Candle Holders invite the users to interchange the stone bases and brass cones to create their own styles. “The end user wants to mix and match and make his own composition. What is special about these pieces is that they look so different on the table versus the shelf— as if they have two identities. On the shelf, they cast a strong profile. On the table, they look like magnificent concave brass vessels that reflect the light in interesting ways,” said Carr.


One item that borders on fashion is considered a home accessory. Made of felt uppers and woven rope soles, the Felt House Slippers by Canadian design studio Fugitive Glue is as soft as a sock but sturdy as a sandal. “When we think of household items, the slipper is taken for granted. But when you set up a room, slippers are a common part of the environment. A soft item in the collection balances the hard products. It makes it more homey. You can roll it in our dust bag, give it as a gift,” said Carr.


Salable designs


CUP Lamp in spun metal can be used for storage; also provides illumination and power supply. PHOTOS BY ROMY HOMILLADA

These objects were developed in response to inhabitants who edit their homes to keep mostly items with enduring qualities. These objects can also work in different areas of the home, like the bedroom and office.


Korean-American designer Albert Lee put a new spin on the common desk mug and clock. “There were too many mundane desk clocks, and we didn’t want another saturated design. Lee was thinking about how people lived in their office. He noticed that people used utensil crocks on their desk.


“The Spoon Clock is a lively way to put the clock in the mix. There is more value by putting a mirror on the back side. It doubles as cover for the watch movement which is normally exposed and quite ugly.  You can check your teeth before a meeting,” said Carr.


The Hot/Cold Carafe reflects the trend in mixing materials. While most tumblers and thermoses are made of plastic and aluminum, this drinking vessel comes in traditional stoneware with contrasting technical material, the silicone strip. Umbra Studio experimented with the texture and glazing on the stoneware and modernized it with silicone, which serves as a pinch point. “If you have a hot ingredient, you can grab the pinch point that’s like an insulator for the hand,” said Carr.


A TRADITIONAL stoneware vessel is updated with stackable cups and a silicone band for the hands.

Instead of developing a pivoting lamp, Malouin’s Brick Lamp pays homage to the brick with its concrete finish imbued with an ajdustable LED lamp. “Though rudimentary, the lamp is high-tech with its on/off switch. It has the ability to rotate and create directional lighting,” said Carr.


The most salable products in the collection are the Nest Caddy storage solution and the Roll Bottle Opener, a sculptural piece for undoing caps.


The Nest Caddy echoes the trend in contrasting ashwood with its elegant grain, with a smooth steel handle which doubles as a stand for the tablet.


Carr explained that as devices are created for a specific model or design, they tend to be obsolete. The simplicity of the Nest Caddy allows for flexible use, such as for small electronic devices, putting spices or cosmetics and toiletries.


“At home, I use it to hold knickknacks, receipts and change from foreign currency. This could live in any area of the home,” said Carr.


The Roll Bottle Opener, which is the most affordable at US$35, is a conversation piece. The intriguing design resembles a brass bangle with horizontal rings. “You roll the top of the bottle inside the ring and hook off the cap,” said Carr.


The Cup Lamp by German-American designer Paul Loebech is one of Carr’s favorites for its versatility. The LED lamp sits on a storage cup with a built-in USB port. “My phone is always charged and I like that my stuff has a home inside the cup. The lamp gives great light.” he said.