AS HOMES get smaller—as in 20 square meters—designers are finding solutions by creating multitasking products.
Umbra Shift, the upscale category of the innovative Canadian design company Umbra, invites designers to reinvent functional objects. “If the product can be used in multiple parts of the home, it’s a bonus,” said designer Matt Carr.
Take the Nest Caddy. Its modular ash wood rack can work as a tray, a storage box and a tablet stand. The Cup Lamp contains an LED lamp for bedside reading, a pen holder and a built-in USB hub to charge the phone.
“I used to be out of battery in the morning all the time. Now I’m fully charged to start my day,” said Carr.
For its 2016 collection, Umbra Shift has expanded from small items to furniture pieces.
The Folding Wall Shelf, designed by Umbra Studio, is built with two rails at the back of two identical shelves that can be positioned horizontally or vertically or be cropped.
“There’s a big gap in the market between cheap shelves and really expensive shelving solutions. This addresses the business of the shelf.
“People are always changing what they want to display. You can change the shelving at any moment to go horizontal or vertical. If you have two nice frames or two nice magazines that you want to display, you can take this one shelf and just flip it vertically. This changes your environment very quickly without drilling anything or major commitment to renovate,” Carr said.
Japanese-American designer Jonah Takagi’s Tier Side Table and Coffee Table provide storage for tight spaces. The tables can be used for serving or as a console or TV stand.
“The sizing is very appropriate. You can use this in small spaces against the wall or next to your sofa. It works all over the home or even at the end of the bed,” said Carr.
The abaca Coiled Stools designed by Harry Allen and made in Cebu feature weaving patterns from the Philippines. The latest edition is a higher stool that complements the counters found in condos. “As kitchens become smaller, they leave off the center island counter. That’s why we did the 65-centimeter height of the bar stool,” said Carr.
Made to be used
London-based designer Philippe Malouin, who made the famous folding Hanger Chair, created the Balance Box with removable dividers that can be used to keep anything from jewelry to office supplies. It has a round bottom that lets the box tip at different angles.
Carr explained that the design lends an element of play. “Nobody needs it, but it brings interaction when you’re touching this object every day, whether you’re putting your change, watch or phone in there.”
Then there’s the Switch Table Tray, an ash wood computer tray that can be turned over to become a serving tray. The handle is covered in leather that mimics the wrapping of a tennis racket.
“A lot of people work from home or are more mobile. Here is an item that can transform from a laptop tray to a serving tray in a simple flip,” said Carr. “This addresses how people are working and serving in the same rooms now. They’re not really any different anymore.”
Malouin’s Brick Lamp is a desk lamp that was inspired by the building block. It features a long LED lighting rod that can be attached to any one of the holes. “You can rotate, direct or twist, which creates ambient light. It’s got a three-stage dimmer on it as well so you can choose your capacity of light,” said Carr.
Umbra Shift has also introduced tableware products. A hot item, the Sediment Tableware is a series of stackable round containers in different sizes, made of glazed porcelain. Designed by the Dutch firm OS & OOS, it is valued for its handmade speckled finish on the glaze.
“You can buy each component separately, stack them and you use it for storage and whatnot. It can be a dessert plate and then the bottom one is a good-sized cereal bowl. All the containers are referenced to different uses. You can even use this for an organizer as well. The cups can be used as a small platter just as easily as they can be used for tea,” said Carr.
Inspired by the Canadian’s love of outdoor camping, Montreal-based designer Zoë Mowat created the reversible Leather Campfire Trivet that protects the table from hot pots and dishes. The beech wood dowels are arranged like wood around a campfire.
Still another nod to Canadian camping, the Cowboy Coffee Kettle by Castor Design is an enamel coffeepot with a beech wood trivet. The water is boiled in an open fire, and then coffee is steeped and brewed for a gritty taste.
“There aren’t many solutions in the market right now with this kind of enamel plate that integrates trivets. It makes it a little bit more ‘bring it to table’ rather than just leaving it in your kitchen. So, you know, it’s down to the element of kitchen-to-dining experience,” said Carr.
For all its quirky and whimsical touches, Umbra Shift aims to be functional. “We don’t want them to gather dust. We want to be interacting with it and enjoying it very often,” said Carr.